In December MARMIA’s AV Archivist, Joana Stillwell, finished her last semester in the MLIS program at the University of Maryland as well as a graduate certificate in Museum Scholarship and Material Culture. To finish her requirements, she processed the Melissa Shatto Collection which consisted of eleven silent Super 8mm films of Baltimore bands performing music. This blog post is written by Joana about her work.

Artist Melissa Shatto shot these films between 1989 and 1991. Footage includes the All Mighty Senators, Jade, Cloaca, as well as D.C. band, Jawbox. The performances took place at the Grog and Tankard, Playschool, Hour Haus, and other unidentified venues. The music included punk, grunge, rock, post-punk, funk-punk, and more. The films are silent because Melissa could not find a camera with audio capabilities at the thrift store. 

Screenshot of Melissa Shatto in her home, from the interview recorded by Joana Stillwell

The silence of the films inspired the bulk of my project which consisted of oral histories and audio annotations. I interviewed Melissa Shatto (Baltimore-based artist, creator and donor of the films), Joe Tropea (Baltimore-based musician and Curator of Film and Photographs at the Maryland Center for History and Culture), Shirlé Hale-Koslowski (Baltimore-based musician), and Landis Expandis (Baltimore-based multimedia artist and founder of the All Mighty Senators). We used the platform TheirStory to record the videos and we watched the digitized films through a shared screen. 

A couple favorite moments from the oral histories include when Melissa explained that her goal in recording the films was to “capture the energy.” The films were short and expensive to develop so she prioritized when the crowd and band were at the height of their performance. While watching one of the films of his band performing, Landis expressed, “Wow, I can feel the energy from this… we lived for the next concert. Everything we did in between was just a build-up to it.” 

In addition to the oral histories, I wrote a research paper exploring flexible and collaborative agile project management practices, oral histories, community archives, and reparative description. The goal of the overall project was to enrich the arrangement and description of the collection to help make it more discoverable while filling in some of the silences. The oral histories enhanced the description of the collection by incorporating descriptions and insights by the interviewees, by making the interviews fully available in addition to the eleven Super 8mm films, and by naming the interviews as co-creators of the collection. Typically, archival finding aids project a sense of neutrality that can lead a user to think that a particular way a collection of records happens to be arranged, represented, or interpreted is the most truthful way to understand them, however this arrangement is just one of many. The archival profession has been exploring ways to interrupt archival authority and the Melissa Shatto Collection became a small case study to think through these issues. The collection can be accessed online through the finding aid and in Aviary. 

We are grateful to the participants of this project and look forward to interviewing additional people associated with these films to preserve more of Baltimore’s history and memories. 

Associated post: Meet MARMIA’s AV Archivist