Eyeball tattooing above by Luna Cobra.
Many, too many, news headlines recently had a "point-n-laugh look at the freaks" quality, which seems to be inspired by images from the Venezuela Tattoo Expo, from Jan. 29 to Feb. 1. As this HuffPo piece shows, a lot of the body modification photographed by the press were "extreme," with the greatest attention given to eyeball tattooing and especially to Henry Damon, the Venezuelan man who had undergone surgery to look like the comic character Red Skull (shown below).
While I don't endorse high-risk bod mod procedures, I also don't agree with the way mainstream media vilifies those who undergo such procedures. And more often than not, they get the facts wrong.
For example, despite the headlines from the BBC to AsiaOne to Cosmo to the Washington Post, eyeball tattooing is not a trend or "a thing" today, as described by WaPo. It is true that, since BMEzine's Modblog first documented eyeball tattooing in the body modification community in 2007, more people around the world have gotten the procedure done. However, in reading the headlines, you'd think that the tattoo community en masse has run out to stick syringes in our sclera.
It seems that these outlets have picked up on statements made to the BBC by body modification artist Luna Cobra, who was one of those who performed the cosmetic eyeball tattooing in 2007, noted above. The BBC writes:
Luna Cobra says that what started as an experiment between friends, and fans of Dune, has run out of control. He's also heard that it's fashionable among Brazilian teenagers and in some Russian sub-cultures - and worries that people could be being harmed.
I fully agree that there is cause for alarm when people engage in dangerous practices as fashion, but an odd course does not make an epidemic. And if we did all run out to color our eyeballs, does that deserve that the mocking and vitriol of the media and society at large?
Many of these articles also question the mental state of people who undergo "extreme body modification," but we don't see that same level of discussion when some Real Housewife character blows up her lips and breasts to unnatural and unsafe proportions.
So will it take a real eyeball tattoo or nose-nipping "trend" to quiet the point-n-laughs? After all, it wasn't that long ago when people with just tattooed sleeves were the big "freaks."
Photo courtesy of Modblog.
Yesterday, the body modification community lost a leader. Shannon Larratt, founder of BMEzine.com -- the first definitive online publication and community for those who decorate and alter our bodies -- died, as I've learned from other friends and BME's Modblog and Shannon's final post on Zentastic.com.
This is an incredibly hard post for me to write. Shannon was not just a friend, but he changed my life in many ways. He taught me to open my eyes to see the beauty in all forms of personal artistic expression, not just with tattoos and piercings, but with scarification, suspension, saline injections, skin sewing ... a myriad of modifications that has the masses laughing and pointing at the freaks.
BMEzine and the IAM community -- a pre-Facebook home and townhall -- was like the island of misfit toys, where we "freaks" could all share our experiences, our kinks, art, and random thoughts in a safe online environment and feel comforted that there were others out there who got it. One of the great changes to my life is the incredible and plentiful friendships that sprang from IAM. I am forever grateful for this.
Another great impact was being immersed in the online community through BME, and it's reflective discourse, that led to me to truly explore legal issues within body modification. Shannon encouraged me to pursue research into tattoo law and offered me a forum with my Legal Link column to share my thoughts and get feedback on how the law affected modified people around the world. So many shared their passions and personal stories. These discussions were the hallmark of BME.
Shannon notes the importance of this sharing in his final post:
For a long time the body modification community, while deeply isolated from the mainstream in a way that may be hard for younger people today to really relate to, had a wonderful sense of solidarity -- a sense that we're all in this together, a sense of all supporting each other's personal paths, from the subtle to the extreme -- but now it feels like there's infighting and intra-community prejudice. We once all worked together to better ourselves and share our experiences -- for example the creation of BME's various knowledge-bases (birthed from the earlier Usenet FAQs) that brought the world level-headed accurate information on modifications and their risks, as well as the thousands of detailed "experiences" that people wrote -- whereas now it seems like the majority of modification media is just about posting pictures, devoid of any real stories or information, reducing them to visual pornography for people to "cheer and jeer" at. All of these changes have slowly eaten away at the character of the body modification community and changed it in subtle and unpleasant ways. I do think this is a fixable problem though, and I have talked to many, many wonderful people (both artists and enthusiasts) who have a strong passion for body modification that I am sure could be part of a restoration effort. I truly hope they will fight to keep changing the world for the better.Recently, Shannon and I talked at length about the "cheer & jeer" of body modifications. I disagreed with a lot of his support for dangerous procedures, and he would remind me to be careful not to create "anti-mod media" in my criticism of such (and other issues in tattooing). Our debates were exactly what you'd want a debate to be: respectful, informing and even mind-changing.
In discussing Shannon as the ultimate cheerleader of people's adornment and body morphing, my friend Julien said it best, "He trusted people to do right by themselves." Shannon had faith in people, especially people for whom society treated with little respect. He understood it because he lived it. Even in his last post, he discusses how he was not given the proper pain management for his chronic illness because doctors looked at him and thought he was just a drug addict. His life was dedicated to changing this prejudice and offering support to all of us who have faced so much discrimination because of the way we look.
I could probably write a million more words on Shannon's lasting effect on my life and on so many others. But I'll just end by affirming that Shannon's legacy will live on, and in honor of him, let us express love for each other even more so and make our own positive impact on the world.
UPDATE: Read Shawn Porter's wonderful tribute to Shannon
Feel free to share your own Shannon stories on the Needles & Sins Facebook group page.
All Images Copyright Lars Krutak
Tattoo anthropologist Dr. Lars Krutak is no stranger to Needles & Sins. In February, we profiled the tattoo hunter, discussing his research into indigenous body modification practices worldwide. We also love his Kalinga Tattoo book on the vanishing tattoo practices of the Kalinga people in the Philippines.
This Saturday, July 30th, Lars will be giving a lecture at Sacred Gallery on his research and displaying photos and video from his journeys. Here's what Sacred says of the event:
Unimax is proud to present Dr. Krutak, on July 30th at 3PM, at Sacred Tattoo, 424 Broadway, N.Y.C., who will spend an hour revealing tattoo as a statement of worldviews, where humans, nature, and the supernatural are united. He will show where and how tattoo still represents the reenactment of ancient myths, ancestral traditions, and the actions of deities and cultural heroes. Video clips from his documentary series "Tattoo Hunter," seen on the Discovery Channel supplement the presentation as well as some large format on-location photos by Krutak, from the collection of Wes Wood.It promises to be a fascinating talk. Highly recommend it.
For those of you in and around D.C., this Wednesday, July 27th, from 6:45 to 8:45 PM, Lars will also share his work in "Skin Deep: The History and Art of Indigenous Tattooing." His books will be available for signing as well.
If you can't make it, check out some of his writings and images online at LarsKrutak.com and The Vanishing Tattoo.
This video contains footage of extreme body modification & some nudity. It would fall under the "Not Safe For Work" category, unless you're at Goldman Sachs where you can get away with anything.
This week, a film exploring various body modification has been released in the UK on DVD:
Tattoo's: A Scarred History is a documentary that claims to take a "sociological look at tattoos and tries to answer the question of why tattoos have become such a large part of today's society."
The why question of tattoos, to me, is just as fascinating as the art. When constantly asked about why I have become heavily tattooed, I often simply say. "Because I like it," but naturally there are deeper layers to it, some I may not even be conscious of. In tackling this question, the documentary talks with a variety of experts as well as collectors:
"With help from sociologists, psychotherapists, MP's and Bishops, we delve into the minds of people to discover their emotional and personal reasons for getting a tattoo, including Meg Gaffney's powerful story as she seeks a tattoo artist to replicate her nipples after battling breast cancer."
This promo text from the film got me excited that we'll finally see a film on modern tattooing that takes a serious look at the art and psychology of body modification. Unfortunately, the video above seems to tell another story -- the usual freakshow you see on most tattoo-related films including, but not limited to, the green-scaled tattooed penis. It also discusses other body art like tongue splitting and scarification but with the presenter wincing while saying, "Personally, I'd never have this done [looks off into the distance and sighs]." Sigh, indeed.
Keep in mind that I'm only responding to what is presented in the trailer. As it has only just been released in the UK, I've yet to see the full film and thus this post is not meant as a review. In fact, it has gotten praise from trusted tattoo source Skin Deep Magazine. So I may be unnecessarily harsh here and the trailer may simply have the shock elements up front to attract those beyond the tattoo community.
I reserve full-on snobiety when it becomes available for purchase in the US. For those in the UK, you can now buy the film on Amazon.UK for about eight pounds.