I met up with Kendell Harbin in the nearly empty parking lot of the Midwest Genealogy Center. We sat on the curb and chatted for a few minutes, waiting for the library to officially open. Today she was scheduled to do a digitizing session, one of the services provided by her project Roaming Center for Magnetic Alternatives (2017 Rocket Grants Recipient). Central to RCMA is the notion that much of queer history and culture exists in these corroding tapes—home movies, pornos, films. They become forgotten, trapped in obsolete media.
Two years ago when Kendell started digitizing home videos she was working out of her own home, but for now the Roaming Center has a temporary location. When we entered the library Kendell already had a corner devoted to the RCMA: shelves of VHS tapes, a table with a microphone, several old TVs, a hard cases of cables. During the digitizing process Kendell and the tape’s owner watch the VHS together, with a mic set up to capture the owner’s commentary. The product is two digitized versions of the tape—one without commentary and one with—to provide context to future viewers.
What did it look like to be gay in the 90’s, living within the margins of the margins, far removed from the coastal spotlight and unconcerned with the hype of major metropolitan cities?
Over the next year Kendell plans to continue hosting digitizing sessions—like the one I sat in on—starting in October. She will also be attending a residency in the Prelinger Library in September, and is programming guest artist-led events and workshops for next year.
In addition to offering a digitizing service, RCMA is a VHS lending library, a digital archive, and provides workshops and screenings. Kendell considers the project to be in its chrysalis stage.
Drea DiCarlo, August 2019