Phil Barbosa was the event photographer for all of the ModCon (and the first Scarwars) events; shooting on analog film he captured modified subjects in a studio atmosphere right in the heart of the chaos that was an underground surgical convention.
Occasionally he’d step in front of the camera in between documenting the goings on. Here he is alongside Blair at ModCon 4, 2003. Images from MC4 never appeared in the books or media associated with the events, so this is a rare glimpse inside the penultimate Toronto modification gathering.
The core value of Sacred Debris is to resurrect old mementos and put a new shine on them. Photographs, videos and body modification culture ephemera from the last few decades all polished and presented in a new context..
Which is sort of what I’ve done with the site’s layout. I was never (even remotely) in love with the WordPress theme we’ve been using since launching the blog in 2014 and, frustrated, I made the move tonight to aesthetically merge Sacreddebris.com and it’s tattoo sister-site Occultvibrations.com to add some consistency to my two history sites. They’re remaining their own unique entities (with the occasional shared post) but will look like one cohesive site.
It may be confusing, but I assure you it’s for the greater good. Or at least my own satisfaction.
In the photo: Dustin, Phil, Blair.
Procedure: Scalpelled Tongue Piercing.
Year: Unknown. 2001?
Received some great news out of Canada today from my friend Philip, which makes this post perfectly timed. This photo originally ran in the early 2000s on the spcOnline website and features body piercer Dustin, photographer Philip (center) and modification artist Blair and was taken shortly after Philip’s large gauge tongue scalpelling by Blair. The jewelry, Phil tells me, was nylon and apparently was very prone to being stained by just about anything he ate.
“Dennis who used to make Jewellery at Stainless Studios (maybe he worked at newtribe too…) made it for me. At the time Denis was mostly making prince wands out of his loft under DMT or design machine technologies. Since it was only meant to last long enough for the initial healing it was made from nylon. At the time many many body modification practitioners where playing around with nylon jewellery and implants. The implants back then where not the fancy sculpted anatomy changing things you see today. Often it was some nylon rods inserted with needles and a push bar. You would see them if you pinched the skin. Teflon came along as a more common material for things like this a year after I had mine done.” – Philip
Philip was the photographer for all of the ModCon events as well as the first Scarwars. He’s wearing the event t-shirt from the second Modcon.
Ten years ago today I was nervously pacing in a Port Richmond 1 warehouse, hoping that the months of planning the inaugural Scarwars event- from assembling the artists, hand picking the attendees, making sure the photographers had what they needed and praying that the warehouse owner believed my ‘we’re shooting pornography, please give us our privacy’ cover story- would be enough to make sure that the weekend would go off without a hitch.
We made some amazing memories that weekend; the artists made some beautiful scars and while there were some glitches (the gentleman walking around dripping blood comes to mind) by and large it ended up being one of the most laid back events I’ve ever hosted. In the decade that followed we’ve seen decorative scarification flourish; while not getting the same widespread acceptance that tattooing and body piercing are currently enjoying people are finally starting to come around to the idea that a cutting isn’t always mutilation and that sometimes our scars make us stronger. I hope that in some small way we had something to do with that.
I’ve asked SW1 staff, artists 2 and guests to share a memory from the event- here are their stories:
Angela (Medical Liaison) As someone who was relatively new to the BME community and also now as “modified” as others, this event was extremely inclusive. I attended as a spectator as well as someone on the medical/biohazard team. A very distinct memory, may it be good or bad, was of a young gentleman who had just got some work done and was walking around shirtless. He happen to drip blood EVERYWHERE. I followed the blood trail to him, cleaning up as I went. Finally as I got to him, I drew a circle on the floor and told him he wasn’t allowed outside of the circle…. Over the years of scar wars, this def happened less and less as people were much more aware of themselves… But that was the first… Oh yeah, and I was topless for most of it.
Brian (Staff Fixer) When you asked us to look back at the inaugural Scar Wars, I literally had to go through pictures and re-read diary entries to jog my memory. After being flooded with nostalgia and thoughts of “I miss them”, I searched for what it was like those important days. It was hectic. I remember being the first ones there and the last to leave almost everyday. My role in the event was a catch all. I documented what I could, helped wherever possible, and most of all was privileged to witness amazing humans enduring painful experiences that ended with huge smiles. Being part of the chaos was grueling at the time, but come 10 years later it stands out as a defining moment of my life. i also can’t believe how many titties there were.
Kathleen† (Staff) My memories of Scar Wars are mostly about the people who attended. Many friends from around the world who I was meeting for the first time or seeing together in one place when they usually were so far apart. I had seen scarification done many times, but not in such a concentrated group of skilled practitioners, and it was great to walk around the room and watch them all work. The collaborative spirit was something that struck me as well- so many artists with different styles and techniques, all willing to share information and learn from one another. It and the subsequent Scar Wars events are some of the most positive memories I have of any body modification event I’ve ever attended.
Jesse Villemaire (Scarification Artist) Scar Wars had so many great memories! 10 years later and I’m still proud to be friends with many of these great artists. I remember connecting with Ron Garza immediately as he put a camera crew in my face to interview me as soon as I arrived. Ron then made me comfortable and allowed me to ask as many stupid questions as I needed too in order to excel my techniques.
I also had the honor of collaborating with Brian Decker on a large bamboo scar piece on Corinna’s back. Corinna dealt with every emotion possible as many friends were coaching her through this intense project…still so unreal. It wasn’t just about cutting people, it was about bonding on a level that’s hard to describe.
The enjoyment of learning with many others, realizing there’s multiple ways to create a scar, watching Dave create “shading” with his cross hatching technique, seeing other artists collaborating for the very first time…it was all very inspiring.
Scar Wars is a significant part of our history. Thanks Shawn for having a vision that brought so many talented people from around the world to showcase the art we were truly passionate about.
Ryan Ouellette (Scarification Artist)
Scar Wars was the first time that I felt like I was part of a larger scarification community and that I really had colleagues in it. I knew there were other people out there doing it and getting it but I was in this little bubble of only seeing my pieces and only knowing my techniques and aftercare. Being able to watch other people doing it really helped me expand my own methods. I grew a lot from that experience and scarification really came into its own as a respectable art form, rather than just an internet fad.
Allen Falkner (Photographer)
So many fond memories form that weekend. Sadly most stories cannot be shared with the public due the nature of the indiscretions and the people involved.
Julie (Guest) Scar Wars was an intensely personal experience among friends and strangers, unique in a way that doesn’t feel possible anymore. I got cut at Scar Wars and love it ten years later, but it was not the most memorable thing about the event. What I remember most was an inherent trust in the people I was surrounded by that I’ve since learned is rare. It is hard to put succinctly into words how this event (and others like it) helped me personally grow. I’ll leave it to a simple thank you to everyone involved.
Shawn Porter: (Host) The first Scarwars was fun. It was supposed to be serious, life changing, important.. but more than anything it was fun. The staff worked overtime (literally) to make sure that by the time I walked in the door everything had been taken care of so I was free just to enjoy myself and have a good time. Everything lined up perfectly and I was humbled to be part of something that meant as much to the artists and guests as it did for me.
Port Richmond is a neighborhood in North Philadelphia, several miles from the downtown area. ↩
The artists at the first ScarWars were Ron Garza, Dave Gilstrap, Vampy, Monte, Jesse Villemaire, Brian Decker and Ryan Ouellette ↩
I received a package full of goodies from photographer Philip Barbosa today. The contents are a story unto themselves, but we’ll get to that later, after I locate a negative scanner. In the mean time, here’s a placeholder-
Blair Mclean, Jon Cobb and Philip sharing a drink at a party I threw in May 2004. The 48 hours preceding this snapshot were an amazing chaotic blur and like the contents of the package that turned up in the post today, are a hell of a story.
Before the first ModCon book, which covered the first and second events, there was a limited run ModCon 1999 Event CD available on CD-Rom. It was basic HTML formatted with three size gallery options for the photographs that included printable resolution images of Toronto’s Philip Barbosa amazing black and white portraits.
Other ModCon media includes two books, a vcd and a dvd of procedural footage.
In 2003, a small crew sponsored by BMEZine founder Shannon Larratt started a North American tour to film Body Modification enthusiasts/practices for what promised to be a very unique documentary.
Shannon sent out DVC cameras to people not on the tour’s path who he felt could contribute something unique, equipped Jon Cobb with a camera for a tour of South East Asia and even managed to make a website and trailer for the film- Uvatiarru– that ultimately never got produced.
This image is from the first stop of the US Tour on 04 May 2003. While the tour allowed for the crew to go to the homes/studios of the people they were filming, some folks stepped it up and hosted parties and events when the tour came through their town.
IAM.BME community members Lauren and Sam organized a suspension event in NYC for the first stop of the tour, which found CURED member (and ModCon/SCARwars photographer) Philip Barbosa suspending with an assist from ROP’s Emrys Yetz. A Cured crew member- Johnny- films in the background.
I’ve been told that these tapes still exist; they’re just waiting to be put together and celebrate a time/place that was very influential in the development of the Body Modification community worldwide.
Consider a piece of body jewelry.
Not some piece of mass produced low quality mall kiosk belly button ring with vibrating dolphin charm, but a beautiful handmade piece of wearable art made by an artisan company that takes pride in producing the finest jewelry available. Each piece takes time to be realized, created and quality checked before it moves to the next step in the chain- the folks who pack it up with care and send it to you knowing that you’re sitting around your mailbox counting the seconds until it arrives.
It’s a process with a lot of moving parts that works well in harmony and leaves both ends of the transaction happy.
Consider Sacred Debris.
Today is our one month anniversary. In that time, we’ve had almost 10,000 visitors. The most popular post for unique page views was Evolution of a Subculture: ModCon, the most traffic from a referring link was from Luis Garcia’s tumblr and we’ve had contributions from myself, Allen Falkner, Ron Garza and Luna Duran. During our first month I think we’ve managed to set a tone for what you can expect in the coming weeks.
As readers, you folks have left 214 comments on the 21 posts we’ve created. One of my main worries in starting a new project (with SPCOnline and Scarwars.net under my belt) was that it would be a one sided thing. Our team (which is mostly me right now) doing all of the work and having nothing to show for it in the end. I’ve been pleased to see that level of interaction- of community- with the Sacred Debris project. It may seem to be an afterthought, but discussing the articles really does make a difference. It shows us that the content is being read and appreciated, that there’s a market for something as incredibly niche as Body Modification history. The reblogs on tumblr, twitter and Facebook are also incredibly helpful in bringing visibility to what we’re doing, so keep that up. We’re going to be doing random contests for comments and reblogs- tshirts, original photographs from the SPC archive, posters- so there’s going to be some fun stuff coming (starting tonight with the ‘Do you remember your first PA’ contest) so stay tuned.
That brings us to the little button beneath this post. DONATE. Both sides- reader and editors- working together.
We’re never going to do a ‘hard sell’ on donations; this is not a paid site (our PG rated videos come with google ads and we may accept paid ads from reputable shops/jewelry in the future, but there will never be a fee to view content) but the site does cost money to create and maintain. At the moment, our server space and bandwidth is being donated but we have no escrow account if that were to ever change. Given the explicit content of our site we can’t run on WordPress.com’s servers, so should we lose our server we lose our site.
Then there’s the hardware.
To date, most of the videos I’ve added- of Body Modification icons like Jack Yount, Ed Fenster and Til of Cardiff- has been content I’ve previously captured for other projects- videos that were sitting on DVDrs unedited. Capturing new content means needing storage space. Capturing an hour long video (such as Sailor Sid’s Guide to Safe Piercing) at full resolution for archival clocks in somewhere around 30-60gb depending on the settings. When they’re uploaded they’re considerably smaller, but to preserve these tapes for future generations requires storage- more storage than I have.
We also need to purchase- or arrange donations- for a variety of media players including mini-dv and 8mm, as well as negative scanners for old analog 35mm print archival.
Last but certainly not least is time. With my current setup, adding a 10 minute video to Sacred Debris takes as much as ten hours to get online. Sorting the tapes that are often unlabeled. Scanning them from start to finish to make sure that all the content on the tape is accounted for. Importing it into my macbook. Cleaning up or removing audio, editing it down into a usable movie when then has to render and get uploaded before I sit down to write the article that accompanies it.
As a reader, you then sit down, watch a five-ten minute video, possibly leave a comment, share on social media and wait for the next update.
My hope is that the folks who care about this kind of content will want to see the project continue and will throw a few bucks into the hat to keep it going. If every viewer who checked us out in the first month would have dropped $1 into the pot- we’d have a workable budget for years to come.
So. I’m asking you folks for a little help.
The donation button is here in this entry as well as on the sidebar of the main site. If you see an update you really love and think it’s worth a buck or two… please feel free. Trust me, every little bit helps.
Thank you all so much for a great first month, and here’s hoping for more where that came from!
I recently shared the story of how the ModCon events came to be with the promise to chronicle the other events in time. That’s still on my to-do list, but today we’re going to talk a little about the ScarWars events; how they started and their connection to ModCon.
ScarWars One happened in May of 2005 in Philadelphia, PA with seven of the world’s leading scarification artists working and attending, but it’s roots go back to 2004 at the ModCon4 event in Toronto, Ontario where a guest named Chris and his then wife Danielle asked about doing a collaborative cutting/branding piece with all of the attending artists using different techniques to make a wholly unique scar. Brands, cutting and flesh removal all on the same client. At the time it was unheard of, and as I watched Blair, Ryan, Danielle and I believe Brian work on it, I realized that we had reached uncharted territory.
Trade secrets. When you looked at other body art disciplines- tattooing, body piercing, suspension… at the time there wasn’t a lot of sharing going on. Every new person who knew how to do what you do was one more person who could compete against you. Tattooing and Body Piercing weren’t a community- they were an industry. Tattoo supplies had yet to be an eBay/Amazon accessible purchase and body piercing supplies weren’t available in the mall. As niche as piercing was (and by 2005 it had sort of already reached it’s fever pitch apex) scarification was still it’s distant cousin- never quite gaining that popularity that other forms of modification were enjoying.
Watching multiple artists work on the same client- asking each other questions (“is that how you do flesh removal? I use hemostats”) and sharing tips and tricks… I realized that the culture of scarification was still untainted by commercialization and that if we acted now there was a possibility of getting the top artists together without ego or competition and to see where we could go with it.
Scarification/Branding had always been about simplification- bold geometric designs cut or branded by the legendary Keith Alexander, Raelyn Gallina, Fakir Musafar and a handful of others were the standard. Tribal shapes, runes, sigils. But times had changed thanks to the electrocautery work of Steve Haworth, the tattoo flash inspired cuttings of Ron Garza and the flesh removals from Toro; new possibilities were emerging and the younger generation of scarification artists had a whole new aesthetic and were already seeing where they could take it.
After ModCon, with Shannon Larratt’s encouragement, I took over IAM/BME’s scarification forum and we started talking about collaborations of style, technique and artists envolved and several weeks later the idea of an event was on everyone’s mind. Having already co-created ModCon with Shannon and hosted a score of IAM related events, I volunteered to take the reigns and with the help of my sister in law Carmela, we began working on what would become the world’s first Scarification ‘convention’.
We knew off the bat that it would be a niche event; the scarification community was small and opening it to the public would be a bad idea so we decided to go underground. Rent a private studio space. Only invite people we knew or that were able to be vouched for. Organize a staff. Arrange hotels. My sister in law Carmela worked overtime getting all of the practical stuff planned out while I concentrated on artists, supplies, artwork, shirts etc. We knew that we had to name the event and inspired by the weekend it was planned to happen (which saw the opening of StarWars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith) we decided to go with SCARWars. It was a little tongue in cheek and had great potential for marketing, so with no fear of George Lucas caring about us (much like he didn’t care for the prequels) we went ahead with it.
Officially, no invites went out to artists. That caused a little bit of ruffled feathers long term, but at the time the event was a small thing and the artists who took part in the IAM.bmezine.com Scarification forum were the core group of people expected to work it. We were open to folks who, after seeing the website or the mentions on BME (most specifically Shannon’s GLIDER profile on IAM- mentions on which got us a lot of attention) contacted the group and asked about attending, but when it came to inviting folks to work- that never happened. Sadly, egos got bruised (One artist said that it was ‘totally American to make cutting about Wars” and somehow managed to equate him not being invited to the event with why September 11th happened) and there was a little bit of hurt feelings, but ultimately the event went off without a hitch.
Not exactly a stranger to having underground events I was able to creatively explain to other residents of the building we used for the inaugural event why they couldn’t peek into the studio we were using to see what was going on (“sorry. We’re shooting porn” tends to get people to leave you alone) despite the occasional scantily clad and sometimes bloody people we were parading in and out of the space.
We had reached out to my old friend Philip Barbosa to document the event and along with cutting and branding stations we set up a small studio for Phil to take portraits of the clients who made the trip to Philadelphia to be cut or burned. In contrast to his start black and white work at the ModCon events I asked Phil to shoot in full color with a white background; to not focus necessarily on the cuttings themselves (that was handled by suspension pioneer and sometime photographer Allen Falkner) but on the clients themselves. Philip is one of those guys who never gets the credit he deserves; someone who was there with us on the front line hosting events and getting things done but unlike the rest of us had the talent and skill to make art while doing it. His images from the events- ModCon, Scarwars and the IWASCURED events document a collection of communities from the inside; one of us and not an outsider looking to shoot weirdos and freaks to impress his jaded friends. The images that he shot over the three days of Scarwars have joy, personality and a bunch of blood; can’t ask for much more than that.
Once the event got started we had a hell of a time. Artists included:
Some artists only worked on a few pieces, others were booked all weekend. Pieces ranged from small brandings to an almost 11 hour full back cutting by Brian Decker (with assistance from Jesee towards the end) that become one of the most well known scarification pieces ever to grace internet memes. There was a casual fun vibe as folks met each other, got cut, went out on sidetrip adventures and enjoyed the company of people who understood them. Artists worked together on collaborative pieces, sometimes at the same time and pushed the limits of what had been done before us.
For me? It was difficult. I was going through a divorce and really wasn’t processing everything well. I was trying to keep everything afloat- my staff was amazing but I was still in that raw emotional state where chaos was a more frequent guest than calm. I decided to ask Brian Decker to cut my face. Not exactly a spur of the moment decision, but certainly one that meant a lot to me. Towards the end of the last night of the event we started planning things out; a cutting by my left eye that could look natural enough to have been an accident but clean enough to make you wonder. Cutting your face is intense; there’s no hiding it from the world and more importantly no hiding it from yourself.
I needed the vulnerability; I needed the trust and the healing to help me get out of the funk I was in and with the lines drawn on my face, laid down and let Brian get to work. Everyone with a cutting has their own story.. for me it was this feeling of letting go. Of all of the negativity and fear and loneliness that that I had been going through. Trusting a friend to take a scalpel to my eye. I let go and as the blade started making it’s cuts felt a hand grab mine. And another. A hand on my leg and my shoulder. One on my head. My friends, the guests who decided to stay at Scarwars till the end, had wandered over to Brain’s station to support me. It was unspoken. One hand followed the other and soon I felt nothing but love. Right then and there Scarwars became something else for me. Not an ‘event’ I was hosting but a community. A place where people could change themselves- body and mind- and be surrounded by others who understood.
We wrapped it up shortly after and went our separate ways. In time we had two more Scarwars events and were eventually invited to do another- in the open and not underground- as part of a tattoo convention. My old friend Ron Garza continued what we started recently with his own ScarCon in London. But for those who made the trip to a little studio space in Port Richmond back in 2005… you were part of something special and new and you’ll always have my thanks and my love.