SF trans filmmaker donates trove of videos to public library's Hormel Center

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday November 29, 2023
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Texas Starr is shown in one of the stills from his collection. Photo: Texas Starr
Texas Starr is shown in one of the stills from his collection. Photo: Texas Starr

Since moving to San Francisco 31 years ago Texas Starr has turned his camera onto the city's LGBTQ community to document it and to make video art. Throughout the 1990s he filmed demonstrations and other actions conducted by the activist groups Queer Nation and ACT UP/San Francisco.

Starr, a trans guy who is a video artist and filmmaker, traveled with other activists to the March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation held in Washington, D.C., on April 25, 1993. He filmed the journey and gathering on Super 8 black and white camera film.

He also filmed the annual Dyke March in San Francisco held over Pride weekend in late June throughout the early 1990s. And he turned his camera on himself, with the footage over the years capturing his gender transition.

"Through my art I documented my transition. I wasn't trying to document a transition, but it is very obvious I am changing," said Starr, 54, whose artist pseudonym is Texas Tomboy Brand Prod.

His footage, Starr suspects, could be one of the first video documentations of a trans masculine formation that exists. He isn't fully certain it is, Starr told the Bay Area Reporter, but he does know during those years he never encountered another trans male filmmaker making such work.

At a time before such things as cellphone cameras and social media, Starr noted it was pretty easy to spot someone with a camera at the various LGBTQ events and protests he was filming.

"Back then, it was very intentional to have a camera. Not everybody had a camera in their pocket," said Starr. "I made friends with the people with cameras. There were no other trans filmmakers or video artists that I knew of, and I was looking. I am kind of curious if other early trans artists were documented."

Starr first began making video art in the early 1980s, and over the decades produced hundreds of titles. He early on also worked to safeguard his footage for prosperity, being trained as a preservationist at the Bay Area Video Coalition.

"I was one of the founding preservation technicians there," he said. "I have been preserving and archiving my own work since 1984."

Every five years he would update the format of his videos to keep up with the technological advances in film, with the most recent upgrade being to a 10-bit digital format.

"It has pretty high-quality resolution of the video," noted Starr.

It also ensured that his footage could still be easily seen and shown to audiences.

"If it is an old format they can't look at, it is null and void," he said.

When the COVID pandemic hit in 2020, Starr used the disruption to everyday life to go through his videos and catalogue his collection. He created a master list of 912 titles and documented each film's running time, year made, the original format it was shot in, and if it was in color or black and white.

Starr also gave each video a short description and a rating system of G through X based on its contents. Once he completed the project, Starr turned to where to house his collection.

Approached Hormel Center

Having had a relationship over the years with the San Francisco Public Library's James C. Hormel LGBTQIA Center, on whose advisory board he serves, Starr approached the city-run archive about acquiring his videos.

"I just asked if it was appropriate to put it in the collection," recalled Starr. "I wanted to contribute something. Now it is part of the Hormel Center and in the SF History Center."

The two archival centers housed at the Main Library in the Civic Center work collaboratively together. One oversight in the Hormel Center's collection is representation of the transgender community, acknowledged Cristina Mitra, the Hormel Center's program manager since 2021.

Trans people may be included among its holdings without being identified as such, she noted, because individuals did not publicly identify as transgender in the past. Thus, Mitra said she is "really excited" about the acquisition last year of Starr's digital archive.

"It is a fully digital archive of a trans artist," noted Mitra.

The library is now working on making it accessible to the public online, with a goal of doing so by early 2025.

"One reason is it is a big project," said Mitra, adding that securing grant funding to help pay for the digitization of the material into the Hormel Center's collection is another reason for why there is such a long time line.

Among Starr's experimental films is footage of the memorial service for the gay journalist Randy Shilts set over music, said Mitra.

"It is kind of artsy and not historical in nature," she noted.

Another of his works is a making-of documentary of Cary Cronenwett's film "Maggots and Men" released in 2009. It was the first film to feature over 100 transgender actors.

"It was made here in San Francisco, and I shot the making of it," said Starr. "We were filming it in 2007 and released it in 2008 at the Castro Theatre during Frameline."

Today, Starr is more focused on being a video editor and no longer is out in the community capturing footage of events.

"I produce other people's films," he said. "I still make my own shorts, but I am not shooting anymore."

He does continue to show his work, and was the featured artist in 2022 at the grand opening of the trans-centering art gallery Liminal Space that Sam Carmel opened near Seventh and Folsom streets in San Francisco's South of Market neighborhood. For the closing of the show Starr screened three times as many of his videos as he had done at the kick off of it.

"It is the gallery that represents my work," said Starr.

As for having the Hormel Center preserving his art, "it feels fantastic," said Starr. He looks forward to now seeing it become widely available via its online platforms.

"I knew I was sitting on a little bit of a gold mine as far as San Francisco history goes, so it feels really great to know it is in a safe, secure place," he said. "Since it is San Francisco, it is not likely to get burned down, as you just don't know where things are going politically in the rest of the country. I feel like it is in its best possible place it could be in America."

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