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.
Paul King is so handsome it takes a continued effort not to rip the skin off my own face.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s be frank; Paul is a motherfucking national treasure. I honestly don’t know if I can write a proper introduction without it slipping into something so masturbatory that becomes unreadable, so I’ll just say that he is one of the most revered and respected people in this industry, and deserving of every bit of that. We spoke about Paul’s introduction to body piercing, some of the Master Piercers, cultural appropriation, and the Body Piercing Archives. Don’t forget after all of this to reach out and thank Paul for being who he is, saying what he says, and doing what he does. Also, while you’re at it, thank him for being really, really hot.
Ari- I always have everyone do the standard introductions, so tell us your name and how long you’ve been piercing and where you’re currently at.
Paul- My name is Paul King and I’ve been a professional body piercer since 1991. I was inspired and trained at a company called the Gauntlet; it was the first piercing shop in the Western world. I served a one-and-a-half-year apprenticeship under Elayne Angel. I then went on to manage Gauntlet Los Angeles, worked in the San Francisco store, and also managed Gauntlet New York. Gauntlet closed in 1998. In 1999, Grant Dempsey and I (Dempsey of Cold Steel International in London), opened up two tattooing and piercing shops in San Francisco called Cold Steel America (www.coldsteelpiercing.com). One was in the old San Francisco Gauntlet location, the other was in the upper Haight. We briefly attempted to do wholesale and decided to open in 2001. You can imagine how well that went. Wholesale didn’t last so long. So after that we parted ways in 2008. He was moving to Australia with his family and I was heading back to school. We let go of the Market street location, and I now have one shop on Haight street in the old Haight-Ashbury district. Continue reading →
“Alan Oversby, better known by his professional alias of Mr Sebastian (chosen, naturally, after the famously pierced Saint…) was born in Liverpool in 1933 and became enamoured with body piercing in the 1950s whilst working on a sugar plantation in British Guiana. He had seen nipple piercings on some field hands, and persuaded one of them, over a few glasses of rum, to pierce him. Returning to Britain, he trained as an art teacher in the Midlands, and became increasingly enamoured with modifying his own body, first by re-piercing his own nipples, then (imitating an illustration of an African man he had seen in an anthropology book) inserting a ring into his foreskin. Eventually, he got tattooed. Indeed, he first shows up in the press in the mid-1970s, as a customer of long-standing London tattoo artist George Bone, cited precisely to demonstrate the practices middle class credentials. ‘He is a teacher’, the article tells us, ‘ and as such one of the professional minority who frequents tattoo shops:
‘I thought about it all very carefully before I began. If you don’t you end up looking a mess.’ Alan is tattooed solidly from the tops of his arms down the front of his body to his legs with the designs placed in such a way that he can wear a short-sleeved, open-necked shirt without any of them being visible. This is not to avoid incurring opposition in the school where he teaches, but ‘to make sure my mother doesn’t find out. She would be terribly upset if she knew about it’ Continue reading →
Late 1970s- Jim Ward performs a vertical nipple piercing on Rochester’s Rufus Dreyer. Rufus appears occasionally in photos in my archives- his appearance distinct with a full body of dense tattooing, a grey Van Dyke beard and flipped up septum tusk- but I’ve not been able to find out anything about him other than his name.
Jim can be seen using a thimble to push assist in pushing the needle though the tissue; the needles available at the time weren’t as sharp as our modern options and every little bit helped.
“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you.” -America’s favorite Dirty Desert-Gypsy: Mr. Jesus Christ
The view from seat 12A on United flight 203 is an introspective one. “Who am I?”, “What have I accomplished?”, “ What is my identity?”. Ya know, the usual line of questioning you barrage yourself with at 5:30 in the morning, on 45 minutes of restless sleep, as you embark on a life changing 6 month long body piercing tour across America, ending with a move to another country to live with your incredible, Canadian wife. Ya know, the usual. And then I remembered something a dear friend of mine said to me: “Not everybody has the guts to do what they want.”. Continue reading →
It’s been interesting to see how the archetypes popular in the 1960s/1970s Gay Leather scene have been appropriated and assimilated into modern pop culture- from the in your face aesthetics of Oslo’s Turbonegro (“We aren’t really gay but we like that people might think we are. And if it helps some gay kid come out of the closet, then that’s cool. Or if it helps some guy that hates queer rethink his position, then that’s great too.” 1) to the tragically hip “flagging” hankies 2 in their back pockets and wearing leather armbands and a Muir cap, the classic look of a still present subculture has, like it or not, lost some of it’s cultural exclusivity.
Still, for my money, I like living in a world where we all borrow from each other.
This photo from Sailor Sid Diller’s 1978 trip to London features Sid (left) and Alan ‘Mr. Sebastian’ Oversby (right) looking very much the part of 1970s body piercers.
I’ve almost completed archiving the 1978 Sailor Sid London album; some of the highlights have been posted here on Sacred with others in queue for future updates- but this one caught my eye so I bumped it to the head of the line. Sid (left), unknown (middle) and Alan Oversby (right) standing under a sign reading ‘where the action is’ connected via nipple and genital piercings.
Take note of the pubic wing tattoos on Alan and client- In ancient Roman culture the fascinus (winged phallus) was an avatar of the divine penis. it was no wonder that the early T&P Community, which was primarily (but not exclusively) made up of gay males, adopted the symbol as a popular tattoo design. Visually it exoticized the pubic area, and when designed correctly made the wearers penis to appear longer. Typically it was brightly colored bird wings, but as the wings got more popular variations such as bat and dragon wings would occasionally show up. Alan was a driving force in the upswing in Fascinus tattoos.
Legendary photographer/anthropologist Charles Gatewood, under his FLASH VIDEO label, had a successful line of VHS documentaries called Erotic Tattooing & Body Piercing. It used to be taken for granted that people who were into heavy body piercing were more likely to be involved in alternative sexual lifestyles- the roots of the piercing scene were firmly embedded in the gay leather scene and was popular with straight/bi S/M players who used their bodies to display their kinks.
Since tattoos were usually kept hidden in the early years of the scene they provided an avenue to take that concept- using the body to display kinks- quite literally. If simply being tattooed could arouse an erotic response it would only make sense that sometimes the tattoos themselves would be erotic, like the mermen on piercer/tattooer Sailor Sid Diller’s legs.
This photo, scanned from a 3×5 print dated 1978, features Alan Oversby tattooing a Tom of Finland styled Leather Man on Sid’s leg. Sid’s legendary tattooed/pierced penis and scrotum are also on display.
Event: Scarwars 2.
Location: Los Angeles.
Year: February 2006.
Photographer: Rachel Larratt.
Subject: Dave Gillstrap.
My wife and I took a much needed week long roadtrip for Thanksgiving; Philadelphia to Asheville North Carolina, Asheville to Atlanta Georgia and back to Philly, checking out the sights, seeing family and just unwinding from all of our responsibilities. I had packed my laptop and had a few blog entries ready to go out, but you know how it goes with vacations…
I’ve been focusing a lot on the 1970s lately, so I figured a 2000s post may be a welcome change. This 2006 photo, by BME’s Rachel Larratt, features scarification artist Dave Gillstrap at the second Scarwars event in Los Angeles. For the event portraits I asked our photographers to go very simple, white backgrounds and neutral lighting to let the personality of the subject stand out.