Recalibrating the System: Steve Haworth and the evolution of aesthetic body modification

stevehaworthsacreddebris1997

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 use 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.

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Notes:

  1. 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/
  2. Issue Number Needed
  3. Issue Number Needed.
  4. Body Art #23, 1996, article by Jan Seeger.

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 in existence. 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.

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