Ari – Did you feel like going through a tattoo apprenticeship, and being so enmeshed in the tattoo industry, influenced you as a piercer?
Bethrah – Oh yeah, it influenced the entire piercing community in some really interesting ways that people don’t know. I think they’re really different sensibilities – I think there are some interesting up and down sides of both disciplines. The downside of tattooing is you’re judged exclusively for your capacity to make really beautiful art, or really interesting art, and how well you’re applying it to the skin. But you’re not necessarily critiqued on other aspects of what you do like health and safety and general sanitation; the burden of you as a professional isn’t placed on that. You can do amazing art and just be the most dirty, grimy tattoo artist and people aren’t going to worry about it very much. You won’t get blasted for it in the community. I see that in tattoo shops – I can’t even tell you how many times the owner has been super proud and their shop is really beautiful, but the biohazard is in a closet on the way to the bathroom where from a health and safety perspective it’s like, “Oh this place is horrible! I would never get tattooed here.” – but they’re famous! Granted these are sweeping generalizations, and not always the case. There are plenty of tattoo artists who are amazing who are super clean and conscientious and have well thought out studios in all aspects of what they’re doing. It’s just a pitfall based on what’s considered a value. It’s almost the opposite on the piercing end. People are so heavily critiqued on their method that the aesthetic of what they’re doing is almost completely under-addressed. Does it look straight or does it seem even can be addressed at times but whether or not it’s on the right place in the body falls by the wayside. I had this discussion with a guy from Russia – is it art or is it technique? – and I said it’s both. If you don’t know about art or understand color theory and don’t understand spacial perception and composition, it shows in your work. It’s clear in your work if you don’t have these things. Continue reading “BSTA: Bethrah Szumski”→
Ari: I always like to kick these off with an introduction, so tell us a little about you, Mama.
Vidra: My introduction to the industry was 1978. I met a gentleman by the name of Linus Herrell and he owned a store in Cleveland called Body Language and that store, how do you explain it? It’s like one of the first alternative bookstores. We didn’t sell any porn, nothing like that, but it had a rubber room and a leather room, where there were all different types of books and little novelties and stuff like that. Also, he had a piercing room. He had magazines like PFIQ, the whole nine yards and I was like, “OK, this is fascinating.” I met him when he was a bartender at one of the little leather bars in Cleveland, in fact the oldest one in Ohio. He had a huge bull’s tether in his septum, and I was just staring at him, because number one it was very attractive and number two I was like, “hmm, how did you do that? How did he get something that thick into his septum?” I asked him a couple of questions. He explained it to me, explained the process of stretching and piercing. When I asked him where do you get something like that done he said he’d gotten work done at the Gauntlet in L.A. by a gentlemen called Jim Ward. That was my first introduction to Gauntlet, and even that was through Linus. He told me about PFIQ and the new shop he’d be opening, etc etc, and then in his psychotic manner he said, “So what are you doing tonight? I get off in two hours.” I said, “eh, probably just going home” and he said, “Well let’s go home and fuck”, and I’m like, “okay.” Now realize back then I was working for a Catholic Church. I was the rectory cook, as well as directing theatre for the deaf and blind and just about any other handicap you can imagine and normal people all on the same stage. It was a lot of work, it was a lot of fun, and I loved doing it. That’s what I did for a living back then. Cooking for a church rectory for the priests and the nuns who ran the Hunger Center in a pretty impoverished area of Cleveland, but it was also the deaf and the blind center for the Diocese of Cleveland. I had worked with almost all types of disabilities really from the time I was 13. Continue reading “BSTA: David Vidra”→
After ending his tenure at the New York Gauntlet, Keith Alexander moved closer to home and opened Modern American Bodyarts in Bay Ridge Brooklyn. The studio was very much an extension of Keith’s personality.
He submitted these photos to the spcOnline site in the late 1990s.
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 “BSTA: Paul King”→
“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 “Alan Oversby”→
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 “The Boy From Nowhere: Traveling Nicholas The Geezer leaves Visions of Medway, MA”→
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.