In 1995 I received an email from BME’s Shannon Larratt asking if I had heard about the controversial body piercer who performed a modification at the Houston Tattoo Convention; he had used a technique similar to pearling 1 to implant teflon “horns” into the forehead of Jim Rose Circus Sideshow personality The Enigma. It caused quite a stir; both the public nature of the modification (facial modification always inspires a certain level of concern) and the openness with which he did it- modification which had existed on the fringes of the piercing scene was now being brought out into the open.
Shannon and I were fascinated; while the aesthetics of a split penis or smooth crotch could certainly be appealing to the niche members of our subculture, these modifications were generally done for functionary purposes like sexual gratification and fetishistic value. Moving implants from the penis to the forehead (or wrist, the site of Steve’s earliest implants) was making a statement that the times were about to change.
The same can be said for Steve’s contributions to the scarification world; feature articles in Tattoo Savage, 2 In the Flesh 3 and Body Art 4 would introduce his branding technique with an electro-surgical unit (or ESU) which allowed for a more detail oriented healed scar. The abstract design choices that were popular at the time- chevrons, geometric shapes, modern interpretations of tribal symbols and sigils- were replaced with more representational choices; and with each healed scar Steve was able to refine his process to allow for more detail and longevity. Were it not for his ESU brandings (and the tattoo oriented aesthetic of scarification artist Ron Garza) it’s unlikely that scarification would be as popular (among a certain subset) as it is today.
Over the last two decades Steve’s name has become synonymous with 3D body modification; he’s continued to innovate and his work has had a lasting impact on the generation of artists who’ve come after him.
Photo: Steve Haworth, ESU branding 1997 Philadelphia. Scanned from ink-jet printed 4×6 print, collection of Shannon Larratt.
Inserting pearls or steel balls into the skin of the penis to add aesthetic and sexually functional texture. Pearling was reportedly a tradition among the Japanese mafia- the Yakuza- with one pearl implanted for every year spent in prison. Legendary tattoo culture personality Tatu Scotty had been interviewed about having pearling done in Japan, and Southern California’s Cliff Cadaver detailed the procedure in magazines as varied as PFIQ, Hustler and Body Art. Piercer Sean Philips did a fantastic series of articles on Cliff for BME News that’s worth checking out: http://news.bme.com/2011/02/25/cadaver-chronicles-episode-3/↩
Another contribution from Ron Garza’s video collection, this clip features Ron performing a strike branding on a client’s neck. The popularity of strike branding- applying heated metal to the skin to burn the tissue and form a controlled scar- has waned in the years since the introduction of more predictable forms of scarification like ESU branding and cutting with flesh removal.
I used to run a feature on the Scarwars blog that showed the phases of healing that a cutting or branding went through over a several year span. This branding was one of the most dramatic- a reminder that even when performed by a professional modification artists, sometimes the finished scar can radically change over time.
The initial strike branding (top left) was done in approximately 2005/6. The scar grew significantly over the years- bottom right is 2009 and shows and extreme change in size. The flower cuttings were done in 2009.
The variables in any scarification procedure- past picking a qualified artist- can include genetics, location, aftercare and luck. The Scarwars blog always did it’s best to give people interested in their first scar a realistic expectation of what could be expected during healing.
(The small ‘dot’ scars next to the Pisces were from a chest suspension. In the four years between the first and last photos you can see that the client’s scars are still very pronounced.)
As I get older, nostalgia has become much more important to me. I didn’t get it as a kid; holidays with my parents and Uncles invariably led to annual recollections of since passed family and friends. By the time I was a teenager I could have told some of the stories verbatim; a collection of anecdotes about people who had passed away before I was born but who held a place in my Mother’s heart that was so special that stories were retold again and again for fear of losing them forever.
Eight 1 years ago today Keith Alexander passed away. Out for a bicycle ride on the Shore Road Path in Brooklyn a child cyclist riding ahead of him swerved, causing Keith to swerve quickly to compensate, his front tire hitting a pothole in the path causing him to ride full-speed into the guard rail.. The accident cost him his life. In the years that have passed I’ve found myself telling stories about him; sometimes to mutual friends who’ve heard them a million times, sometimes to people who never had the pleasure of meeting him but who listen intently as I share the “this one time” stories of one of the most dynamic human beings I’ve ever known.
When Keith was around I was always aware that I had to try harder. Not to impress him really; he never made any bones about being proud of me when it was warranted, offering me advice when I asked and kicking me in the butt when I needed it. I’m infamously critical of modern body piercers because piercers like Keith spoiled me. So many practitioners in our community consider themselves Shamans but offer nothing more than the promise of a straight piercing or a sterile suspension. They talk about Rites of Passage, but they’re not self aware enough to realize that it’s not the modification that’s the Rite- it’s the paths we walk. Keith saw the bigger picture, realizing the incredibly personal role a modification practitioner can have in the lives of his clients.
Without a doubt, having my palms tattooed was the single most painful tattoo experience I’ve ever had. Any other infamously sensitive spot: ribs, armpits, inner thighs or throat I’d gladly do again to never have to experience the sensation of having my palms poked.
While putting this video together I couldn’t help but remember the pain and to commiserate with the gentleman whose palm Ron was branding. I can only imagine the hellish healing process.
Ron Garza is an internationally recognized and respected Body Modification artist currently in California, USA. He travels constantly in the role of body piercer, modification and scarification artist, lecturer and teacher. He’s been generous enough to share his collection with the Sacred Debris project, so check his tag for more.