Documenting Body Modification Culture Past, Present & Future
Author Archives: Shawn Porter
Shawn Porter has spent the majority of his life in the modification world. As a body modification archivist and documentarian, he has one of the most extensive collections of documents relating to the early American body modification community outside of academia. He edited the SPC website from 1995 to 2005, co-founded ModCon, was the host of ModCons 3.5 and 4, and created and hosted The Scarwars Project from 2004-2007. In 2011 Shawn launched Occult Vibrations, a blog devoted to traditional American tattoos with a focus on the occult and esoteric. He currently resides in Philadelphia with his wife Julia and their creepy pets Mr. Bailey Papers and L. RonBenet Ramsey.
To prepare for a recent presentation I gave for Death Party Philadelphia on the extraordinary life (and death) of Fakir Musafar, I cracked open my now thirty-plus year old copy of the seminal RE/SEARCH #12: Modern Primitives and re-read, for what was probably the first time in a few decades, what may be Vale and Juno’s most (body modification culture) nodally significant interview. Despite having been released over a decade after Fakir’s official ‘coming out’ at the 1977 Reno tattoo convention, Modern Primitives put Fakir, and his doctrine of body play, into chain bookstores, and more importantly, the hands of an audience who may have otherwise never found him.
“Dian Bailey is a maso! I can hear you all saying it, just as my horrified sister did when she saw my swollen, three day fresh navel piercing. As I endeavored to reassure her, I will you, I did not get my flesh pierced or lie on that bed of nails or that couch of meat cleavers, for that matter, for a love of carbon steel penetration. Some pain did accompany all three performances, despite his holiness, The Fakir Musafar’s, denials. But pain is just a weewee stop on the road to knowledge, as his holiness might put it, and I was anesthetized for my piercing by the vision of my perfect navel sporting a jewel that would never get lost when the Crazy Glue failed. As for the nails and cleavers, the Fakir’s to blame for making it look so easy. Fakir is a noted mystic and PARTNER’s Religion Editor, so it is easy for him. Those spikes were sharp, but I could never pass on a double-dare. Musafar claims it’s necessary to lie at least six hours on the spikes to reach nirvana, a state of unconscious bliss. I know for sure you don’t reach that state after two minutes, though the cleavers’ll make you pray for it. The true answer to maso or not, I fell, is whether, having experienced it once, you’ll climb on again. I’ll stick to old-fashioned penetrants, flesh and blood pokers and lots of spit, please.” Continue reading →
I don’t have much information on this image other than that it was sourced from a newly acquired Kodachrome slide that dates back to the late 1970s and features Sailor Sid Diller at an unnamed San Francisco tattoo show. Photographer, event organizer, (convention? show? his name tag turns to a blur when the image is enlarged) and all other relevant data may be lost to the ages, but at least the image, some forty plus years old now, survives.
Early tattoo conventions were an integral part of the tattoo community developing and expanding before the rise and eventual decline of the tattoo magazine and the ubiquity of the internet, but they often ostracized attendees who were also in the emerging body piercing scene. Still, they provided a space where devotees could meet at local (often gay leather) bars near the convention or in hotel suites to share their passions, and slowly but surely the two subcultures merged and became part of a bigger community.
While Charles Gatewood is primarily known as a photographer, his contributions as an anthropologist/sociologist and cultural engineer shouldn’t be overlooked. For every iconic image he captured on 35mm film (and printed, fetishistically, in silver gelatin) there was a story behind it, and with his FLASH VIDEO boutique label of films he was able to chronicle the behind the scenes experience as well as create an unprecedented time capsule of the subcultures he documented in print.
I asked him once how many copies he’d produce of his Flash titles; “Hey! I used to run 50 VHS and more if necessary. WEIRD THAILAND was my best-seller and the PAINLESS STEEL series sold a few hundred of each title” – which is mind-blowing; particularly the, “more if necessary” as it could mean that certain titles sold fifty or less units/had less than fifty sets of eyes on them in their prime, much less thirty years after their release.The amount of passion it took to have created these films for such a niche audience is commendable.
The last message I got from Charles, in December of 2015, sums it up nicely: “Some people laughed at my strange documentaries. Who’s laughing now?”
Annie Sprinkle’s photo documentation of communities that weren’t paid attention to by the mainstream media – most notably the 42nd Street scene of the 1970s, the world of adult cinema, and the early western body piercing revival – falls very much in line with my view that subcultures should be documented internally; that participants are best suited to chronicle their own movements w/o the academic gaze.
At the 2019 Association of Professional Piercers Conference and Expo, Annie, joined by her long time friend and collaborator Veronica Vera, presented a class on her Herstory of Body Piercing and it’s intersection with early luminaries Fakir Musafar, Charles Gatewood, and Spider Webb.Annie and Veronica were as charming as could be despite the blissfully raw content they were presenting; in a class given by Jim Ward earlier that day it was pointed out that the piercing world has evolved into something that Jim (piercing as a sexual exploration) and Fakir (piercing as a spiritual conduit) could have never imagined, so Annie’s Herstory and it’s sex positive bent was a welcome return to the roots of piercing to the longer tenured piercers in attendance.Unfortunately I was only able to film for a few minutes, but I hope it’s enough to give you folks an insight into when piercing was a much different (and I’m biased in saying so) and more fun pursuit of fringe players.
We launched our new print zine project at this year’s APP Conference and Expo with issue #1 of NODAL POINTS; 100 pages of body modification history and culture culled from twenty five years of archival that includes:
A. Viking Navaro polaroids/prints.
Evolution of a subculture: Modcon 1.
Subtracting. (Voluntary Amputation)
BSTA: Blake Perlingieri.
Correspondence with Bud Larsen.
Annie Sprinkle/Fakir Musafar.
Ari and I are hard at work on Issue #3 1 but for folks who didn’t get a chance to grab a copy in Las Vegas- we’re stocked up at Hex Appeal.
I’m still sitting on a few dozen photographs from the awe inspiring IN PURSUIT OF THE SPIRIT exhibit celebrating the life and work of Fakir Musafar that the good folks at the Body Piercing Archive set up at this year’s APP Conference and Expo; when we finally get the new issue of NODAL POINTS sent to print I’m going to try and commit some time to writing a piece about it.
Until then- I bought a brand new go-pro for this year’s APP Conference, and for some reason left it in my hotel room every time I’d go down to the Fakir exhibit; so everything I shot was on my iPhone8+ and as such is lacking in quality. And because of the size of the files… I ran out of space on the first day.
Along with Steve Haworth, Ron Garza stands out as one of the most influential artists who’s work contributed to the popularization of aesthetic scarification in the post 1990s body modification scene; with a style informed by time spent piercing at tattoo shops (as well as innate artistic talent) Ron was able to bridge the gap between basic geometric shape cuttings/branding and larger, more intricate representational designs.
Ron was photographed by his friend and TSD collaborator Allen Falkner in Philadelphia at the first Scar Wars event back in May of 2005.
I’ve been so overwhelmed lately with print projects that I’ve been neglecting the blog; while procrastinating on the latest issue of Nodal Points I was digging through prints and came across this great snapshot from the 1980s. No info on The Who/where/when, but it was too good not to share!