New Article Posted! (Working-Class Cyborg)


A little while ago, Phil and I spent the evening with Rob Spence, the gentleman in the above photo. When he was a boy, his right eye was severely damaged in a shooting accident. Three years ago, he finally had it removed. Now, he’s not satisfied with a vacant lot in his face, and, with the help of a brilliant young engineer, is trying to build a miniature video camera he can wear as a prosthetic eye. We talked about the difficulties of being a recession-era cyborg, whether he’s setting a bad example for future generations, how to get laid as an amputee, and much, much more. If nothing else, go read it just to see Phil’s wonderful photography. (And there’ll some great video from Chris coming soon, too!)

To read Working-Class Cyborg, please click here.

[Ed. note: Comments on this post have been disabled. Run amok in the forum attached to the article. Thanks.]

Working-Class Cyborg


People are angry at Rob Spence. It’s April Fools’ Day, and his prank of choice was to make a morning post on Facebook that a battery exploded in his eye and that he was in the emergency room awaiting…well, whatever sort of treatment such an accident requires. But he’s quick to shift the blame.

“That was your idea,” he scolds Kosta Grammatis, the brilliant 23-year-old aviation electronics engineer who’s been living in his home office for the last two months. Kosta laughs him off and goes back to his dinner. We’re sitting in Harry’s (along with BME photographer Phil Barbosa), a bar near Rob’s home in Toronto’s Parkdale neighborhood. Less than an hour ago, we were in Kosta’s makeshift bedroom while he assembled a prosthetic eye for Rob—a clear, rounded silicone case housing a small red LED light—to give us an idea of the technology with which they’re experimenting. To be fair, his April Fools’ joke seems entirely plausible.

When Rob was 13, his right eye was damaged in a shooting accident on a family member’s farm. Six separate surgeries were performed over the years to repair the eye’s vision, but each time it regressed, and the eye grew larger, turned white, and became increasingly disfigured and painful. “I’ve had a doctor stick a needle straight into my eye about 10 times,” Rob says, “and I was thankful for it. Like, ‘Please stick the fucking needle in my eye.’” Several years ago, the ophthalmologist father of a friend of his told him he had to prepare to let go of his eye, and after a year and a half of deliberation and anxiety, he decided it was the right move. “It’s a hard thing to let go of a part of your body,” he admits, “but it was time for that garbage to go.” Three years ago, he finally had it removed. Now, Rob, 36, a filmmaker and videographer, wants to make good use of the vacant lot in his face: He’s trying to build a miniature video camera to wear as a prosthetic eye in the empty socket.

This is where Kosta came into the picture. He contacted Rob after hearing about his project and realizing, hey, he was more than qualified to run point on this. (Or, at least, he was no less qualified than Rob.) The two met in San Francisco while Rob was there visiting his father—Kosta, at the time, was squatting in a coop warehouse—and found they shared a similar vision. Kosta came to Canada and took up residence in the back room of Rob’s house, and the two have been teammates since, trying to devise a working prototype. The main difference between their operation and a proper lab, of course, is funding; that is, they have none.

Rob is broke, he says. His credit cards are maxed out. He borrowed $500 from his little sister earlier in the day. Plus, you know, he’s trying to build the world’s first miniature prosthetic eye camera, and now he’s pissed off a whole lot of people with this April Fools’ stunt. Now, thinking about the LED he was just wearing in his eye, he realizes the whole joke could have thoroughly backfired. “Imagine if the battery really had blown up in my eye tonight after I’d cried wolf on Facebook?” he says. He remembers, though, that his brother-in-law had a good point. “Do people think if I’d really blown my eye apart, and I was sitting in the emergency room, that I’d be talking about it on Facebook? It’s come to the point where people feel like sitting in the E.R. with my eye bleeding profusely is a perfectly reasonable time to update my Facebook status.”

Except, if anyone were to do such a thing, Rob would be a prime candidate. Ever since the initial accident, he’s developed a talent for drawing attention to himself. “When you’re a kid,” he says, “and you have a dramatic accident, it’s like the origin of a super hero. When I came home from the hospital, I’d turn to my little siblings and say, ‘My eye really hurts, can you get me a glass of lemonade?’ And they would actually fuckin’ get it for me.”

The Tiny Tim act only lasted so long, though, and, with his current project in mind, he realizes investors won’t be refilling his glass if all he has to offer is a sympathetic story. This is the part of the job Kosta calls “skepticism management.” According to Rob, the typical engineer mindset is that a person should build a prototype of an invention first, be modest about what he’s created, and then start showing it off to people. Not him. He’d rather create excitement for the project among the people working on it, the people expecting and, ideally, the people financing it.

“I’m all about the sizzle before steak,” he says, grinning, “because sizzle can buy you steak.”

Kosta perks up at this. “We shouldn’t even be building anything,” he says. “You don’t even need me.” Kosta is equal parts easy-going, sun-kissed southern Californian and genius scientist; it’s a disarming combination. And, to be sure, Rob does need him. The pair have two working prototypes for Rob’s camera-eye, success Rob attributes largely to Kosta, due to both his technical skills and his ability to seek out the right people to do the jobs they can’t. Thus far, they’ve built devices that create wireless NTSC signals—the sort of standard wireless signal a television uses—and are now working on getting this to work in sync with a miniature camera and a battery, all attached to a printed circuit board, all of which has to fit inside a prosthetic eye.

What about what we saw earlier in the evening, though? Rob sporting a glowing red light in his eye? Does that count for anything?

“Oh,” he says, taking a draw off his scotch, “that’s just bullshit for press like you.”

“Yeah,” Kosta adds, “that’s just for your entertainment.” Right. Sizzle before the steak and all that. And all of a sudden, they’ve just driven a truck through the fourth wall. It’s an admittedly respectable sort of transparency: Phil and I thought we’d captured something unique for our article (which we had), and Rob and Kosta thought they’d done due diligence in drumming up some more attention for themselves (which they had). They’re not approaching this project like seasoned veterans of the scientific community: They’re trying to make a breakthrough on a shoestring budget.

“Can you write, like, ‘Rob and Kosta looked emaciated, as if they hadn’t eaten for days’?” Kosta asks, laughing.

“Hey!” Rob says, pointing a finger at Kosta. “You look emaciated. I look fuckin’ fine.”

In the search for funding, they scared off National Geographic by requesting $75,000; apparently, the publication thought they could achieve their goal with closer to $10,000. This is a common experience, Rob says, and one that betrays a sort of myopia. He compares it to Alexander Graham Bell’s first success building a telephone: “How much more money do you think he needed to build a robust version that worked all the time?” Even as far as video devices go, he thinks he’s being reasonable. “People tell me I’m crazy if I want a hundred grand to build the eye,” he says, “but the standard high-definition camera they shoot with on T.V. is worth about $120,000 to buy. How much do you think it cost to develop?”

So in the meantime it’s bullshit red lights for guys like me, but even stunts like that can be beneficial—that’s the sort of sizzle that earns them credibility with the cyborg culture. This, it seems, is something of a concession for Rob. Support is welcome regardless of the source, he says, but this is a segment of society with a bit of an identity crisis. Lots of people have fake eyes, so what’s the difference between a cyborg and someone who just has a prosthetic?

“Someone with a wooden leg is not a cyborg,” he says, “they’re a pirate. Meanwhile, I have a fucking eye patch on…but if I take off my eye patch and you see a red light, then I tap into the cyborg culture that you know and love.” This, it seems, is the extent of the difference. “That’s really what a cyborg is. A fake eye with a red light in it is different from a fake eye.”

And therein lies the problem with the amorphous definition of “cyborg.” Clothing, he says, technically makes you a cyborg, because it enhances a human’s ability to live in the world as a naked animal; the same goes for glasses, pacemakers, breast implants and any other invention people use every day that’s been welcomed into the mainstream. “It’s adding shit to our bodies within the context of popular culture,” Rob says, that makes a person a cyborg.

“That’s why we went for the Terminator eye,” Kosta admits. “It’s quickly identifiable.” But the truth, he says, whether or not he’s just trying to sell me sizzle, is that once funding comes through, the possibilities for Rob’s eye are endless. He talks about an idea for installing a laser in the socket that he could bounce off mirrors and panes of glass, and with the right piece of technology, the reverberations off those surfaces could be translated to hear what people are saying in the rooms in which said glass could be found. “We could make you a bionic eye-ear! We could have a little transmitter that transmits audio into your ear.”

Rob belches in response. One of his dreams is to be able to screen movies from his eye. “What I want to do eventually,” he says, “is walk around always shooting Breakfast At Tiffany’s onto a wall, because chicks love it. And Dukes Of Hazzard, because guys love that. That’s why I’m mutilating myself and letting Kosta stick batteries in my face—because mostly, I want people to love me.”

He’s joking, but there’s a kernel of truth there. As much as Rob doesn’t deign to treat the loss of his eye with much seriousness, he admits to the difficulties in adjusting to life after the surgery. “You don’t feel quite right,” he says, “you don’t feel like you’re as attractive as you used to be, you feel like you’re not quite the man you were. It might sound stupid, it’s not like I lost a leg or something, but you don’t feel quite as confident as you used to.

“But,” he says, “if you start to feel like you can actually be cooler by replacing the shit you lost with something better than other people have access to, then that’s when you start to feel pretty good about yourself.”

“There are already scientists working on connecting [prosthetic eyes] to the optic nerve,” Kosta says, “so imagine if, all of a sudden, having a night-vision eye was possible and available to people who were missing an eye? Wouldn’t you be like, ‘Fuck, I want a night-vision eye’?”

And so is presented a modern predicament. For years, it seemed like the ostensible purpose of prosthetic limbs was to as closely resemble the original appendage as possible. Recently, however, this has been uprooted by a focus on mimicking the function of the missing part (and, in some cases, exceeding the original’s capabilities), with aesthetics becoming a secondary concern. Now, these two paths are converging; limbs and organs that look “normal,” but that carry possibilities far beyond what the human body can accomplish in its natural form.

Rob foresees a disturbing trend. “One day,” he says, “I might have a grandkid that will actually want to remove an eye voluntarily, and I would tell that kid not to do that. But, I know that kid would just say to me, ‘Well, grandpa, you did it!’” For him, there is a significant difference between him augmenting himself because he lost something, and a person purposely chopping off a limb with the intention of “upgrading” it. He worries that what he’s doing, playing the role of “Eyeborg” and whatnot, will make people think that he thinks it’s cool to remove parts of their bodies. “Which,” he says, “it’s not at all.

“But,” he admits, “I’m open to the idea that that’s where things are going.” He goes on: “I think the main point is, how can our kids shock us? My kid could be a gay punk rocker and I’d be like, so? I don’t give a fuck. Gay punk rocker—big deal! The way they’re going to shock us is, ‘Dad, I’m gonna get a new fuckin’ hand.’ And we’re going to say, ‘Well, I’m not sure you should be doing that.’ But we’ll be the worst offenders, because we’re all in the movement. We won’t like it. Even though we’re already buying into it, we won’t like it.” It’s the duality of the conscientious cyborg: How do you balance a desire to improve your own life—and find someone to give you hundreds of thousands of dollars to do so—with not wanting to set a precedent for future activities of which you already disapprove?

But maybe this is all just so much navel-gazing without grant money in hand. Until funding comes through to ensure Rob will be able to cement his legacy as Grandpa Hypocrite, there’s still the matter of living his life as a one-eyed man—which is not without certain high points.

“When he sees other people with eye patches, they give each other high-fives,” Kosta says, laughing. This reminds Rob of Steve Fonyo (“Terry Fox light,” as he calls him), a Canadian who lost a leg and, in the spirit of Terry Fox, ran across Canada; unlike Terry Fox, however, he made it the entire way.

“Except,” Rob says, “he was a drunk, and so was his father driving the van. They made it the whole way across and he never died, but he never gets any credit. And I did an interview with him, and I asked him, ‘So, Steve, did you get laid? When you were running across Canada with your one leg, did you get laid?’

“And he goes, ‘Oh yeah.’ And then, after a pause, ‘Big time.’”

Rob isn’t quite as shameless, but he’s got what seems like a go-to maneuver nonetheless. “When you’re at a party and you’re wearing an eye patch, girls are thinking, ‘Are you vulnerable? Or are you mysterious? Or are you a bad boy? Or are you all three of those things?’” he says, cracking up the table and breaking into a snort-laugh of his own. “They’re curious, so all I do is say, ‘Well, I’m curious about what your boobs look like. This is my raw fuckin’ naked eye here, it’s vulnerable for me and I don’t feel so great about it. So, maybe it would make me feel better if you showed me your breasts.’ And inevitably, it’s a fairly good deal.”

Kosta, the sidekick, is picking up life lessons. “You have to have some kind of emotional experience,” he theorizes, “because they’re going to have a unique emotional experience.”

“That’s the thing,” Rob says. “If you’ve got an eye out, and you show someone the flesh inside, it’s almost like you’ve got a pussy in your head. That’s what it feels like. They always want to see it. ‘Pull your patch aside and show me what’s in there.’ And when I do, it’s the same look as a 13-year-old boy who wants to see a pussy for the first time.”


All photos © Philip Barbosa / BMEzine.com 2009. Video is coming soon!

Visit the Eyeborg project online at EyeborgBlog.com. Rob can be found here, and Kosta can be found here.

* * *

Please consider buying a membership to BME so we can continue bringing you articles like this one.

New Article Posted! (Markus Cuff interview)


Even if you don’t know Markus Cuff’s name, you’re probably familiar with his work: For the last 15 years, he’s been one of the chief photographers for Tattoo magazine, as well as an accomplished travelogue and live concert photographer. He recently spoke with BME about traveling the country visiting tattoo shops, the anatomy of a great photo shoot and why he’ll probably never get a tattoo.

To read Markus Cuff’s Got a Head Start, please click here.

[Ed. note: Comments on this post have been disabled. Go tell it on the mountain in the forum attached to the article. Thanks.]

Markus Cuff’s Got a Head Start

© Markus Cuff Photo 2009

Markus Cuff has been cooperative so far, but now he’s stiff-arming me. We’ve been on the phone for a good half-hour or so, having a perfectly pleasant conversation about his 15 years as one of the top photographers at Tattoo magazine, and now this? He gives me the high-hat over a harmless, standard interview question?

“How old are you?” I ask with my typical childlike sweetness and wonder.

“I’m, uh….” He stops himself short. What have you got to hide, Cuff? “I’m 103,” he finally says. “My age is a closely guarded secret.”

“You can be vague,” I tell him. “Just say you’re ‘something-ish.’”

“‘Something-ish,’” he repeats, and pauses again. “A hundred and three.”

Whatever, wise guy. I’m only asking because his story makes it seem like he’s lived through (and contributed to) a number of seminal cultural moments, and these life experiences just seem a little incongruous with his lively, almost boyish voice. But, sure…103.

What he tells me is by the time he got around to photography, he already felt like he was late to the game. If he’d started in earnest as a teenager, he could have been going to concerts and shooting bands like Led Zeppelin and Cream, guys like Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn, and maybe he could published a retrospective book by now, making money off portraits of rock gods. He saw others go that route, but while his potential peers were chasing fame as photographers, Cuff, the boy from suburban Maryland, home of Link Wray, took a detour and made a name for himself as a musician instead. He spent two years handling the drum kit for Emmylou Harris’s band, touring and playing on her Pieces of the Sky album. Some time in the late seventies/early eighties, he moved to Los Angeles and ended up playing in The Textones with Carla Olson and Kathy Valentine (the latter of whom would go on to join The Go-Gos), hitting the L.A. club circuit with bands like X and The Blasters.

It was there in L.A., though, that he made friends with some kids who were taking photo classes at Santa Monica College, and Cuff, who had once long ago learned how to develop prints from black and white film, felt that old passion start to warm. “I looked at their work,” he says, “and thought, ‘Damn! I know I could do as well as that! I think I’m a lot more artistic than these people!’ And I think it just sort of clicked with me—no pun intended.”

As a teenager in Maryland, Cuff would spend a lot of time in D.C.’s cultural institutions—the National Gallery of Art, the Smithsonian, the Freer Gallery of Art—that allowed visitors in gratis. He developed a taste for Hokusai woodcuts and other Asian-style pieces, but more generally developed and nurtured an inclination towards the visual arts—an inclination that would lie dormant during his musical excursions, that is, until he joined his friends at SMC, where he excelled. He got a lot of A’s. He immersed himself in photography. He sorted out his influences: Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, Robert Frank and Walker Evans, and, of course, the master as far as he’s concerned, Irving Penn, who he calls a “dynamo of photography.”

“I don’t think anyone’s ever been as versatile as he is,” he says of Penn, who’s shot everything from portraiture and fashion to cosmetic ads and the “mud men of New Guinea.”

None of this should come as a surprise. A young, eager photographer falling in love with the classical beacons of the art form? Sure, and next you’ll tell me there are freshman philosophers with things for Freud. But what happened next was Cuff, instead of shooting tulips and teapots, got picked up in 1990 by the magazine Easyriders and started photographing motorcycles. “That was fine with me,” he says. “I needed a job.”

Mike Rubendall / © Cuff

Except it was luckier than that. When he wasn’t hanging out at galleries or playing drums in his younger days, he was going to car shows, reading hotrod magazines and trying to copy the custom car designs of Ed “Big Daddy” Roth on white T-shirts with felt-tip pens. He had experience dealing with insular communities of people who liked to go fast—motorcycles were a breeze. But Easyriders didn’t just traffic in bikes; their roster of magazines also included Tattoo and its sister publications, Flash and Savage. In 1994, Billy Tinney, the editor-in-chief and senior photographer for Tattoo, tapped him for a special assignment: To start shooting profiles of tattoo shops in Los Angeles for the magazine. It was an era, Cuff says, when tattooing was still somewhat underground. “This was before you were seeing [tattoos] on every basketball player, every football player,” he tells me, “and way before things like Ed Hardy shirts and Affliction.

“I thought to myself, ‘This is mighty…niche. I wonder where this could ever go?’”

Cuff’s first assignment was to shoot Greg James and the crew at Sunset Strip Tattoo, or, as he describes it, “baptism by fire.” He was accompanied by two other editors under the Tattoo umbrella, Frenchie Nilsen and Dave Nichols, to make sure he knew what he was doing and that he was the guy for whom they were looking. Sure enough, he didn’t freak out or soil himself or anything of the sort. And the tattoo artists? Well, they took to him quickly, too, he says. But I’m not buying it. If he’s not going to tell me his goddamn age, I figure the least he can do is give me some dirt about the vicious hazing he must have faced at the hands of these old school bad-asses…except he doesn’t budge. “I’m kind of a get-along guy,” he says with such sincere cheer that I know it has to be the truth. It’s becoming apparent that this is a guy who trades in gaining access to the famously inaccessible, and that’s the sort of station that requires either authenticity of personality or a high tolerance for fakery. After nearly two decades behind the lens, though, it strikes me that the latter would be too exhausting to cling to.

With Sunset Strip Tattoo in the can, Cuff was anointed “the local guy.” He hit shops all over the city, photographing their interiors, exteriors, staff and clients, building records for each. There are only so many local shops to cover over a year’s worth of issues, though, let alone four or five years’ worth, so the magazine started sending him on the road, first to San Francisco and San Diego and Santa Barbara, and eventually to Phoenix and Portland, New York City and Boston, Hawaii and Tahiti. He learned as he went along, though he still says he wouldn’t consider himself an expert. When he went to Tahiti, he picked up a book about the history of tattooing on the island and, when taking refuge from the heat, read about the English and Russian explorers who came to the island and left with tattoos, only to be gawked at back home like circus animals. It’s in these more “exotic” locales that he typically feels more compelled to educate himself about the culture. “The more literal kind of old school, classic American-style tattoo is a little more understandable,” he says. “It has symbolism, but it’s something you grow up with. You see someone walking by with a sailor-style tattoo and you don’t think it’s that strange. With the island tattooing, I felt like I had to study it a bit more.”

The Dutchman / © Cuff 2009

One of his greater thrills was getting the chance to photograph The Dutchman and his Dutchman Tattoos Studio and Gallery in Burnaby, British Columbia, a few years ago—partially due to admiration, but also because no one had photographed the artist in years. “He pointed to an old article on the wall,” Cuff says of The Dutchman, “and said, ‘See? We’ve been done before.’ And it was from the ’80s! I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’”

But some of his favorite studios are back on the mainland. He raves about Mike Rubendall’s Kings Avenue Tattoo in Massapequa, New York, to which he’s made several professional visits. “The level of the artistry is just so high,” he says. “There’s never one image that comes in front of my lens where I think, ‘Oh no, how am I going to do this?’ or, ‘I’m going to delete this after I leave.’ Because that does happen.” One of Cuff’s biggest pet peeves when shooting clients’ tattoos is going home afterward, looking at the images on his computer, and realizing that someone has tried to sneak a cover-up past him.

“All power to those who can do cover-ups,” he says, “but for me it doesn’t work. I see something underneath the other image and it bothers me, especially nobody’s told me it was a cover-up.”

At this point, he’s got shop-shooting down to a science. Shops are approached far enough in advance to allow time for the artists to contact clients to come in and be photographed, and once shows up and sets up his lights, it’s all business, blowing through an average of 25 clients a day, in addition to any supplementary photos of the shop itself and staff. There are no assistants, no make-up artists, no hair dressers, so part of his success and peace of mind can hinge on the cooperation of his subjects, some of whom, he says, go above and beyond. It’s not uncommon for shops to assign counter staff to handle photo releases and other paperwork and to supply him with coffee and muffins. Beyond that, though, the ingredients for a great photo shoot are somewhat expected. “Some hot girls are always fun,” he says. “It’s always great when you see someone who has it all together. Great makeup, hair, cool clothes…it’s a great feeling and makes my job pretty easy.”

Most shops, he says, have had a convivial atmosphere during shoots, but there have been exceptions. Occasionally, he’s had shoots where he’ll take a staff photo early in the morning, and then need to take another one in the evening—because someone was fired or quit during the day. “That’s not a horrible thing for me,” he says, “but it definitely makes you think, ‘Hey, there’s some drama going on around here.’”

All of this—the travel, the education, the meetings and greetings and inside baseball—and yet, Cuff himself does not have a single tattoo of his own. Sure, he has his reasons—he’s very light-skinned and prefers long-sleeved shirts, so he wouldn’t ever show one off; he doesn’t work out assiduously and isn’t going to be flexing in the weight room with a pinup girl on his biceps—but he largely abstains because he considers himself a sort of cultural anthropologist in the tattoo world. “I’ve dropped in via photography,” he says, “and I’m documenting a world. I don’t necessarily have to participate actively to document it well.” He analogizes the fact that he doesn’t have tattoos to the common phenomenon of great fashion photographers who neither (1) dress well nor (2) walk the runway. “The idea that you have to be a motorcycle rider to shoot motorcycles,” he says, “or a tattooed person to shoot tattoos is kind of a holdover idea from the ’50s and ’60s, when the tattoo and motorcycle cultures were so underground that the only people who were interested in capturing them were from those worlds.” When Easyriders came around, however, Cuff’s focus wasn’t on becoming a biker: It was on becoming a great photographer. “I’m a beauty fiend,” he admits. “I’m not trying to expose an underbelly, and I’m not trying to get at somebody and expose their weaknesses. I’m just trying to document things in the most beautiful and flattering way I can.”


Justin Weatherholz / © Cuff 2008

Following Cuff’s immersion into the world of tattoos, however, he’s experienced a dilemma all too common to the heavily tattooed: a relative lack of mainstream acceptance. Some photographers are able to stack their portfolios with tattoo imagery, he says, “but I don’t think if I sent in my portfolio of images and they were all loaded in that direction that I could get a job with a mainstream ad agency.” He’s approached gallery owners in Los Angeles about potential gallery showings, and has frequently been told of the catch-22 inherent in this sort of work: the people who are more likely to enjoy his work are the least likely to buy it. “It speaks to a certain crowd,” he says of tattoo imagery, “and it’s largely a younger audience, who, in general, is trying to pay their rent, trying to feed themselves, and they don’t have the kind of disposable income an older, moneyed crowd has. So if I print an image fairly large and I mount it and I matte it and frame it and I charge ‘X’ amount of money, it’s something that’s going to appeal to an older audience as far as the quality and presentation, but it’s something that a younger audience is more likely to buy…if they could afford it.”

It’s a tough spot, he admits—all the more reason to not allow himself to get stuck in one niche. As a photographer, he’d love it if people looked at his tattoo work and, in that, saw someone talented enough to do fashion or advertising, or looked at his motorcycle shots and entrusted him with a car campaign. It’s a conundrum for the photographer who worships the versatility of an Irving Penn, yet maintains, “I don’t necessarily want to sell out, I don’t necessarily want to be watered down.” The common thread through all his work, he says, is that he seeks imagery with an edge—work that speaks to what he calls a “knowing audience.” The sort of thing that can be off-putting to people in the “straight world.”

And sure enough, he has branched out: Within his portfolio is his “Wasteland” series, which focuses on broken down, dilapidated rural scenes (with some shots of Hank Williams III included for good measure), as well as some of the live concert photography he missed out on in those early days. “It’s like big-game hunting,” he says of shooting concerts. “You’ve got three songs at the front of a concert. That’s all. You get the thing in your sights and you get it…or you ain’t gonna get it.

“There’s an adrenaline rush when Madonna jumps out on stage; you’ve gotta get a charge out of what you do.”

Nonetheless, he still feels like he’s hustling to catch up and build his body of work. “It’s almost like their classic rock photography is my classic tattoo imagery,” he says of those who jumped on the photography train ahead of him, the artists close to him in age—whatever that is. “Maybe if I live to be 100,” he says, laughing, “there’ll be a retrospective.”

Wait…100? What the hell happened to 103?

Dawn Purnell / © Markus Cuff photo 2008

Visit Markus online at MarkusCuffPhoto.com.

* * *

Please consider buying a membership to BME so we can continue bringing you articles like this one.

New Article Posted! (BME’s Big Question)


In light of the recent developments with Moonshin Tattoo in Ontario, it seemed fitting to assemble our esteemed panel to discuss government regulation and legislation of body modification: Is it good, bad, or just plain necessary for the industry? And how do you determine what the “industry” even is?

To read BME’s Big Question #8: Regulation Time, please click here.

[Ed. note: Comments on this post have been disabled. Hoot and holler in the forum attached to the article. Thanks.]

BME’s Big Question #8: Regulation Time



Welcome to BME’s Big Question! In this feature, we ask a handful of the community’s best and brightest piercers, tattooists, heavy mod practitioners and shop owners for their opinion on one question or issue that’s affecting the body modification community. Many, many thanks to all of the contributors.

If you’d like to be a part of future editions, or if you have an idea for an issue or question you’d like to see addressed, please e-mail me.

This week’s topic:

Do you support government regulation of body modification practices? And if/when there were to be regulation, do you think that tattoos/piercing/scarification/etc. should all be under the umbrella of “body modification,” or would you rather they be kept fundamentally separate in the eyes of the law?

* * *


Joy Rumore
I would theoretically support regulation for the sake of client and practitioner safety, but realistically it would be a NIGHTMARE.

It’s hard enough to find doctors that don’t panic at the first sign of a healing tattoo or piercing, let alone those who would be willing to stand up to their peers and condone body modification publicly and THEN be willing to create and support regulations for the industries.

Even if all that did happen, there are the hurdles of politicians and PTA mothers to clear, as well. Or am I being too pessimistic?


Tracy Baer
My guess is that you’re being realistic, Joy. And pessimistic or not, the politicians and PTA mothers are the hurdles that would be the hardest to clear. Well worth the effort, but still a tricky one.

The rules and regulations on tattooing have caused our industry to improve in countless ways just in the last decade. Ever tightening boundaries on what is considered safe and sane in the world of tattooing has caused those of us who tattoo for a career to improve and adapt. In my opinion, those changes have been for the good.

Long gone are the days of tattoos only being for “sailors and whores.” Don’t get me wrong, I still tattoo my fair share of both groups…but, we see a wide mix of people on a daily basis. Church ladies share a couch in the waiting room with gangster rappers while waiting for us to finish tattooing the cop. The surgeon on his day off stops in for a consult on his back piece, while the renegade biker brings his daughter for her first piercing.

And that’s not even the tip of the iceberg.

There have been many changes I’ve grumbled about over the years, but in reality, it’s the things I’ve grumbled about that have caused my chosen career to become widely accessible to all of those groups, and more. You learn to work around the ones you don’t care for…and find, for the most part, a better way.


John Joyce
I would support regulations if they were made with the support of people in our industry. Too often bureaucrats and health department officials write up the regulations without getting any input from someone in our field. The health inspectors that inspect studios in most places are used to inspecting restaurants. They don’t really know what they are looking for in a tattoo/piercing studio.

California right now is in the process of writing regulations. They met in a few different cities with piercers, tattoo artists, the APP was represented by Steve Joyner, and that is how I feel it should be. That way you are getting regulations that make sense.


Meg Barber
Well said, Tracy.

The idea of regulating the things we do is a double-edged sword. On one hand, rules and guidelines set up and ENFORCED are a wonderful thing, but only when the rules and guidelines are created with input from the practitioners who are professional and on top of their game. I have worked in shops in the past that were about as dirty and unethical as it gets (this was over 10 years ago), but the owner tattooed a health board member and got to make up the rules—that is TERRIBLE. That’s why the autoclave area was also a break room.

Other cities get it right though. In Philadelphia, if I am not mistaken, shops must use internally threaded jewelry for initial piercings. They hit gold when they got Bill Funk to help write legislation.

Of course, the downside to responsible legislation is that it sometimes harnesses what we can do as far as more extreme procedures. The law tends to frown on scalpels, biopsy punches, anesthetics and the like. It’s a cross we have to bear, I suppose: Do we operate within the laws designed to protect the public from the stupidity of people who don’t know what they are doing, or do we break the law because we are responsible and know how to use the tools we aren’t supposed to be using?

If legislation were to go into effect that really, truly protected people—the outlawing of ear piercing guns, the requirement of weekly spore testing for all autoclaves and statims, mandatory bloodborne pathogen training, etc.—then that would be the right start, in my opinion.


John Joyce
Where I live and operate my studio, there are no regulations—other than the state law of not tattooing anyone under 18 or who is intoxicated. I’ve been open for eight years, and worked in this area for almost four years before that. In 12 years, I’ve never seen an inspector, or even heard of one inspecting any studio around here.

I would love to work with the health department or whoever, to set at least a minimum set of guidelines that all studios have to follow. Walk into most studios around here and ask them what a spore test is and when the last time they ran one was? You’ll get blank stares.


Meg Barber
John, being in NY as well, we have NO inspections. We have to hang a sign up that says if you are unhappy or have a complaint, dial 311.

In NYC, where we are, it’s worse than the usual statewide ignorance, I think. There are sunglass vendors doing piercings at sidewalk stands for $30, jewelry included, no age limit. We hear horror stories all the time of the St. Marks piercers doing 14-year-old kids’ nipples and stuff.

Tattoo artists are required to register with the city, get a license, etc., but piercing is totally and completely unregulated. It’s terrifying.


Tracy Baer
I like to think if I were in an area with absolutely no regulations, I would run, not walk, to the powers that be and get started with some input. With a quickness.

This in NO WAY is meant to cause a fuss, or to point fingers, but it’s easier to complain about the lack of (or problems with) regulations if you have no intention of trying to be involved. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but in most cases there should be a chain of command to follow that will lead you to a meeting or an individual with whom you can voice your concerns.


John Joyce
I’ve contacted the health department in the past and was told there was nothing they could do because they just didn’t have the money.

I’ve even had clients tell me that they had called the health department on other studios after having work done there, and were told the exact same thing.


Meg Barber
New York just doesn’t give a flying fig about it. They figure that the people can govern themselves, which is REALLY backwards considering that tattooing was illegal here until very recently because of the health problems associated with dirty tattooing. That’s why the licensing is in place, although from what I understand, it’s pretty useless. Our piercer at our other store has a tattooist license just so he can get wholesale pricing on piercing supplies through a few NYC–based companies.

Funding for such things is very limited here. It’s there for welfare programs and other things, but not there for the general health and welfare of people getting modified. If I was 16 and knocked up here, I’d get the best care, but if I get the hep from a dirty studio? Forget it.


John Joyce
NYC is a little different than the rest of the state. We don’t even have a tattoo licensing process here [in Syracuse]. Although, I have heard that the licensing process in NYC is set up more to make the city money than to actually benefit the general public.

Another big problem I’ve seen is areas that have good regulations in place don’t have the funds to enforce them. Look at Philadelphia. It has some of the best piercing regulations in the country. But, they aren’t enforced at all, and you can walk into any number of studios and get pierced with crap externally threaded jewelry, even though regulations say you can’t use that for an initial piercing.


Meg Barber
True. Money always seems to be best put to use on other programs. Giving everyone who smokes in your city the patch for free is more important I guess.

I asked Maria about the health inspections here in NYC. In 17 years, there has never been one, but about 10 years ago, someone with a fake badge came around and demanded $100 to do an inspection.

Have any of you actually worked with the health departments in your areas?


Derek Lowe
When I lived and pierced in Madison, Wisconsin (’96-’98), I worked closely with the state when they decided to set up statewide regulations. They formed a committee of three piercers, three tattoo artists, a doctor, a public health nurse, an epidemiologist and a few other people. They had a basic template when we started and then we worked on refining the regulations. For the most part it was a pleasant and productive process. The non-practitioners were respectful of what we had to say and in many cases took what we said about our specific industries very seriously. We ended up with what I felt was a decent set of regulations. Unfortunately, I left the state before those regulations went into effect. I can’t speak to how well they are, or aren’t, enforced.

Here in Minneapolis (and they are looking at going state-wide soon), we have a set of regulations that isn’t bad. There are definitely some things that could be improved. The regulations were created before I lived here, but it is my understanding that there was input from at least a few piercers and tattoo artists. Unfortunately, those regulations include bans on branding, scarification, implants and suspension.

I have worked with the Minneapolis health department a fair amount, but they seem to be in the position that most health departments are in: they don’t have the money to do any more than the bare minimum they are required by law. We get our once-a-year inspection (which is okay, but not fantastic) and we don’t see them again unless there is some sort of complaint.

I think the key to good regulations (which I support) is having knowledgeable, ethical practitioners involved in the process from the beginning. It’s much easier to get the regulations right the first time around than it is to try and get them to go back and change things once they are in place.


Steve Truitt
In New Mexico, the laws went statewide late last year—instead of just the city of Albuquerque, like they have been for the last 10 years or so. The laws were written with piercer and tattoo artist input, and there is a piercer and tattoo artist on the board that regulates us (Board of Barbers and Cosmetologists unfortunately).

We have some decent laws, like all shops have to pierce with implant grade jewelry, for example. However, they straight-up told us that they are not going to enforce the laws or shut down any shops that refuse to comply because then they couldn’t make any money off of that shops permits, etc.

It always comes down to money. Even if they didn’t enforce the laws and just sent out a letter or something pretending that they were going to, it might help make a lot of these shops clean up their acts or close down on their own. The stupidest thing they could have done is what they did by telling us that yeah, these are the laws, but they have no intentions of enforcing them because they want to make as much money as possible—and that means giving everyone with $300 a permit even if they don’t meet any of the “qualifications” that the board has set to get a permit in the first place.


John Joyce
I’ve heard that same story a lot—that basically, you send you city, county, or state some money to get a certificate and that is basically it. After that, there is no real enforcement.

I think it’s great that the stories some of you have shared involve meetings with piercers and tattoo artists to set the regulations up, but it doesn’t do any good if they aren’t enforced.


Derek Lowe
I’m not trying to make excuses for health departments or health inspectors that aren’t doing their jobs. I do think it’s important, though, to keep in mind that very few of the people involved in inspecting and enforcing piercing/tattoo regulations know anything about the industries to begin with. So, not only are they being asked to take on additional inspections, and probably for no additional pay, they are also expected to further their education regarding piercing and tattooing with very little, if any, resources (i.e., time and money) being provided by their health departments. Most inspectors are trained in inspecting restaurants, nursing homes, local fairs and possibly hospitals—not piercing and tattoo studios.

Clearly, continuing education is part of any job. Imagine, though, if someone came along and told you that you needed to become familiar with how to do a manicure or a pedicure. After all, those things involve the body just like piercing and tattooing…even though you have no interest in those things. Now, not only do you have to learn that stuff, but you aren’t going to be given any time or money to do it.

I don’t think it’s hard to imagine how much time and effort any of us would put into learning about those procedures.


Ryan Ouellette
I’m terrified of regulation. On the plus side, it would keep some crappy shops less crappy, but I’d be concerned with the state banning procedures they don’t understand. A few years back, New Hampshire tried to ban all piercing because some councilman’s daughter got an illegal piercing. So rather than just making stricter rules, they attempted to outright ban the entire practice. I would love to see responsible regulations in place, but not if it limits what procedures can be done. In the last few years, New Hampshire has actually lessened regulation due to budget restrictions. They can’t afford to inspect shops anymore, so basically everybody works off the honor system, and you can imagine how ridiculous that gets.

I’m sure every body art worker wants reasonable regulations. I don’t think the majority of health departments are educated enough to understand what it is they’re regulating and how best to do so. The double edged sword is that it’s often one individual’s personal opinion that decides what gets a regulation and what gets a ban.


John Joyce
Over-regulation is definitely a major concern, and the possibility of banning certain procedures is part of the reason I’m OK with the lack of regulations we have right now. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t love to see some reasonable safety guidelines set in place. I think there should be checks at least twice a year to make sure at the very least studios are running regular spore tests.

Derek Lowe
“The double edged sword is that it’s oftentimes one individual’s personal opinion that chooses what gets a regulation and what gets a ban.”

That’s very much true. When I first moved to Minneapolis I was discussing the ban on suspension with the inspector who handles piecing and tattoo shops. I asked her why suspensions were banned and she responded with something along the lines of: “Someone brought in a tape of it for us to watch. Have you seen that stuff?! My God.”

Seems as though they were pretty freaked out by it and so they went the route of banning. I don’t think any of the piercers involved in the process were interested in suspension, so I don’t think they fought it very hard, if it all.


Jordan Ginsberg
Would you rather potential legislation be focused on “body modification,” as a catch-all for piercing, tattooing, scarification, implants, etc., or do you think those should all be treated as separate industries?

Derek Lowe
I think it makes sense for cities/states to address them at the same time, so maybe in that sense they should be grouped together. However, I think it’s important that each discipline be addressed individually to make sure the regulations make sense, are effective and are enforceable.

Tracy Baer
They should absolutely, without exception, be treated as separate industries.

Steve Truitt
The problem is, if they’re treated as separate industries, most people don’t know much about scarification, implants, etc., so if they have to go make separate laws about that instead of grouping it all under a body art law they will most likely just make it illegal.

There are enough piercers, tattoo artists, and mod practitioners together to make up a legitimate presence at a hearing to pass laws about those issues. If they break it up separately there are a lot fewer people in each category and that makes it easier for them to pass laws to regulate us out of business completely.

Most laws for public safety in a piercing, tattoo, mod studio apply to any form of modification as well, so separating them is more of a headache for law-makers, too, which makes them less likely to want to do that. It’s much easier for a lawyer, politician, etc., to say, “Make that illegal” than to say, “Make it legal, but make sure that anyone doing it is complying with this 30 page list of rules and regulations I’m going to draw up.”


John Joyce
I don’t see any problem with grouping them together. Like Steve said, it makes it less likely that they will just make certain things illegal. For the most part, a lot of the regulations would be the same anyway: age requirements, spore testing, autoclave logs, single-use sharps, sharps disposal, etc….

Tracy Baer
OK, maybe I’m talking in an ideal world that they should be separate.

Honestly though, how much in common does tattooing have with any of the things that you all are discussing? Aside from the fact that they both are a modification to the body and that these days they share a building.


Ryan Ouellette
I’m sure to all of us the difference between piercing and tattooing is like night and day. But, to someone outside of the industry, they aren’t going to care. They’re just all things that make their granddaughters look like whores.

Steve Truitt
Tattooing has plenty in common. Like John pointed out, autoclave usage, spore tests, use of gloves, using sterilized single-use needles, disposal of sharps, use of disinfectants, etc. I’d say about 90 percent of the laws in most places could go for any type of modification, and only about 10 percent are specific to any one form of it.

John Joyce
Exactly. There are going to be some specific laws for each, but the most important regulations are going to be pretty universal.

What do you think? Let’s hear it in the comments.

* * *

Please consider buying a membership to BME so we can continue bringing you articles like this one.

New Article Posted! (BME’s Big Question #7)


Hey folks! Before we get to our end-of-the-week roundup, head over to the brand new installment of the top-rated cooking show in America, BME’s Big Question! This time around, BME headmistress Rachel poses the question: What’s the deal with microdermals? Now that we’ve been living with them for a few years, what do piercers think about them? What problems have they run into? All this and more, my friends.

To read BME’s Big Question #7: Microdermals, The Universe and Everything, click here.

[Ed. note: Comments on this post have been disabled. Let loose in the forum attached to the article. Thanks.]

BME’s Big Question #7: Microdermals, The Universe and Everything



Welcome to BME’s Big Question! In this feature, we ask a handful of the community’s best and brightest piercers, tattooists, heavy mod practitioners and shop owners for their opinion on one question or issue that’s affecting the body modification community. Many, many thanks to all of the contributors.

If you’d like to be a part of future editions, or if you have an idea for an issue or question you’d like to see addressed, please e-mail me.

This week’s topic comes (and features follow-up questions) from Rachel Larratt:

“How do you guys feel about doing microdermals? Is it the same as a ‘regular’ piercing or different?”

* * *


Meg Barber
I’ll step up to bat with this one.

I hate microdermals with a capital H. I think that while they do offer some possibilities that haven’t been seen before as far as placement and jewelry styles, they are problematic, hard to successfully heal for the long haul, and are just an all-around hassle.

I see a lot of them reject and leave pretty nasty scars, because most of the time the client isn’t looking at it on a regular basis (because of its weird placement) to see if anything is wrong with the piercing. I see a lot of them with massive piles of shmutz built up around them for the very same reasons.

People don’t tend to view them as “permanent” at all. It’s something to get done now, like an earlobe or nostril, and there is no forewarning about the issues that arise with them from most piercers.

When they started to get huge, I admit, we got on the bandwagon, but we have certainly backed off on our enthusiasm with them since watching issues arise. This past month, Vibe magazine had a blurb about microdermals in their fashion issue. It showed a piece on a girl’s side that we did, but what it didn’t show was me resetting that sucker back in there two weeks prior to the shoot because it had been shifting outwards.

I know that there are a lot of people gung-ho about them, and they can be fun, but I think they should be viewed much like surface work with a more permanent edge.


Ryan Ouellette
I was leaning towards a negative opinion of them a few months back, but then I started experimenting with longer stem lengths and now things are going a lot smoother. I’ve done about 250 of them over the last 18 months, I’d say the first 200 were 3/32″ rise, no matter the location. I was getting some tilting, and the occasional failure, but still maybe a 60-70 percent flat heal success rate. I think out of that initial 200 I personally removed maybe 15, and a few were cut out by other shops. Now with the 1/8″ and 5/32″ stems I haven’t had a single significant tilt or failure in about five months. The only ones I’ve taken out have been for work reasons, or people just not wanting them.

[Ed. note: Ryan adds, “I just checked my numbers on past microdermal orders and I'm under on my guess for how many I've done, but the success rates are still pretty accurate.”]

A big issue about them is removal. I’m the only shop in my area that takes them out without using a scalpel. I just use a needle and micro surgical hook to take them out without enlarging the stem hole at all. A lot of people are terrified of trying them because they think they have to get them cut out if they fail.

Overall I’m a big fan of them and I try to push people towards those over surface piercings for all nontraditional surface placements. With how easy they are for me to remove I don’t even refer to them as permanent. I just call them semi-permanent and offer future removal for free for any I’ve installed.


Rachel Larratt
Does anyone else offer free removal as standard practice with a microdermal?

Microdermal rejection scars look fairly extensive from the photos on BME. Do you suggest to clients the immediate removal at the first signs of rejection or do you generally try to reseat the microdermal?

In what situations have you refused to do a microdermal?


Ryan Ouellette
I’ve tried re-seating once or twice but now I think it’s just pointless. And I usually tell people that if they can see the foot through the surface and there is any redness it’s time to remove it before you get an ugly scar. But if I take them out early I get barely any scar at all.

I only refuse if the skin is too delicate to support the jewelry—areas like the inner wrist or high anti-eyebrows. Or areas where you get a lot of friction, like low hip placements.


John Joyce
I have a pretty high success rate with microdermals as well. In a lot of cases I think they are a much better option than surface piercings. However, I think it is the responsibility of the piercer as a professional to go over the risks and make sure the client understands them. A lot of people make a big deal out of their “permanence,” but honestly, removal isn’t that hard. Like Ryan said, they don’t need to be cut out with a scalpel, and a lot of the time I can remove them without even using a needle. Scarring really isn’t anything major with these and it’s a lot less than you would get with a rejecting surface bar.

The only area I’ve seen consistent problems with these is along the collar bones, especially more towards the shoulder. I won’t even do them in that area anymore. Most of the ones I take out now aren’t because of rejection, it’s because the person didn’t want them anymore, or, in most cases, it’s because they were done with inferior quality jewelry. I always remove them free of charge since it’s something the client can’t do themselves, and I don’t want them trying to.

I’ve done these in a lot of different areas. A lot of my friends, including my girlfriend, have some that are over two years old now. These are in places like the lower back, sternum, anti-eyebrow area and above and below a navel.

I have re-seated some that were not that old, and they healed up fine. I think this really only works if the piercing is still fairly new. Scarring keeps coming up, but honestly I haven’t seen any real scarring from these at all.


Meg Barber
I’ve had a 50/50 success rate with re-seating ones that are tilting; some work, some don’t. The areas I see the biggest problems are the back of the neck and cleavage, and the shoulder is a troublesome area as well, like John said.

We generally remove them for free, unless they were done elsewhere. I don’t cut them out either, just a little massage usually does the trick, although the feet with the big hole…those are a a lot tougher to remove, and sometimes need to be helped out with a needle. As for scarring, the worst I see tends to be on the rejecting nape placements. Lots of buildup with those, not pretty.

Are there any other placements you guys shy away from? We don’t do the thin-skinned areas Ryan mentioned, or hands or feet—too much trouble.


Steve Truitt
I do a lot of microdermals, and I also try to talk people into them instead of surface piercings when they come in for something like a sternum, anti-eyebrow, etc. I rarely take any out because of rejection—mostly I remove them because of issues at work/school, or the person just doesn’t want them anymore. I’d say from what I’ve seen we have about an 80 percent success rate with them.

I offer free removal if they were done at my shops, and sometimes even if they weren’t. There are a lot of shops around here that use the horrible ones made in Thailand/Korea/wherever it is that sell them for $1 or less. When educating people about them and why they aren’t working out for them, most of the time they understand what I’m saying and come back to get them done with the proper jewelry in them, so when it seems like a situation like that, I don’t charge for the removal.

When I remove them, I just massage the tissue until the heel can pop out, then pull them out. Sometimes I have to slide a needle underneath them to cut through the scar tissue that grows through the holes, but that’s only about 50 percent of the time. I’ve seen some scarring, but normally less than from surface piercings or other rejecting piercings.

If someone wants to keep the microdermal when it seems to be rejecting I’ll try re-seating them if there isn’t a lot of scar tissue built up already, or if there is, then I have them wait a few weeks till it goes down and can be re-done. The place I’ve noticed having the most problems with tilting out and needing to be re-seated more often than anywhere else is the lower-center forehead, the “third eye” position, or closer to the eyebrows there as well. I think this is due to all the movement in the area, so I warn people that come in for those before doing them.


Rachel Larratt
There are several variations: solid base, one hole, two holes and three holes. Which design do you generally prefer?

Steve Truitt
I prefer the Anatometal pieces with one large hole. I’ve used the IS and Wildcat pieces as well; IS are my second choice. The bases on the Wildcat pieces are a little too thick for my liking, and the finish isn’t as nice as the Anatometal and IS pieces.
The Anatometal pieces tend to heal much better and more securely in place in my experience, however that does make them slightly harder to remove than the others.

Stephen DeToma
I’ll chime in “thumbs down.”

I was really excited when I first saw them. I had a pair of them put in my forehead by Didier at Enigma a few years back and it didn’t take me long to start changing my mind. I’m also not a huge surface piercing fan to begin with so I guess I should have seen that coming.

The whole issue of removal was a great deal more complicated when people hadn’t removed them a whole lot. I don’t like doing them so generally I pass and book an appointment for the boss, but I’ve gotten very good at taking them out.

The biggest problems I see with healing is people’s inability to remember they have them: catching them, snagging them. I had one guy that had lost the top of an anchor he had in his nape while on vacation. The shop he went to put a 6 mm steel ball on the jewelry and he then spent a week in bed till he came to see me—the thing had grown out completely sideways.

But, curve balls aside, if someone is coming in to take an anchor out, removing the threaded end and attaching a threaded taper, gently enlarging the pocket under the tissue by stirring the jewelry a bit works pretty well for me. It feels a lot like losing a tooth; just kinda wiggle it until those threads let go. As Meg said, the large hole model is a little trickier.


Meg Barber
That’s how I take them out too, Stephen, although remember that one disaster you had to remove when you were guesting here? That thing was so scary!

Stephen DeToma
Yeah, that was one of the authentic “surface anchors” that has one half bent like a closed staple and an arm that holds the gem. It was the first time I had seen one and was a little puzzled. You can’t just wiggle those things out because of the shape; it’s similar to the old bar trick of folding a drinking straw in half and inserting it into the neck of a bottle to pick it up. For that one, I actually used the bevel of a needle to widen to hole enough to take out. That poor girl was completely freaked out.

That’s another thing about anchors: I think there’s just as many people who understate what can happen with anchors as those who get everyone all wound up about scalpel removal. I think it’s important to inform the client of possible risks without downplaying them or scaring the crap out of them, and also, to recognize the capabilities and limitations of anchors—meaning, they open options but they aren’t foolproof.


Meg Barber
As for the base I prefer (back to Rachel’s question), I like the IS ones for ease of removal, but the Anatometal ones for staying power. Those suckers are tough to get out though. I’ve got a client that got a “Madison” placement dermal, and it rejected three times with the IS one. I popped in an Anatometal one, and it’s going strong at about eight months now.

I’m pretty thorough when I explain the hows, whys and removal aspects of them, but not everyone understands, even after a talking-to. People see pictures of all this crazy stuff done with them (like eyelids) and then get irritated when they find out that they can’t just take them out when they want to and put them back in like a standard piercing.

My big question for all of you is how long do you tell your clients they take to “heal”? I tell mine that they will settle in after a few weeks to a month, but can never really be called “healed,” as there is never gonna be a neat little dry pocket around that base.

Also, what is your aftercare suggestion for them? Do you have your clients bandage them initially?


Ryan Ouellette
I tell people the “initial healing period” is about a month, but that it can take a few extra weeks to toughen up. I also tell them to wait at least six weeks to come in for an end-piece change, or to wait three months if they want to do it themselves. I cover all mine with a Nexcare waterproof bandage and tell them to leave it on for anywhere from one to three days depending on the location.

Allen Falkner
Microdermals hit about the time that I started transitioning out of piercing so I’ve only done a handful. So, it’s really hard for me to formulate much of an opinion. [Ed. note: But that’s never stopped you before!]

As for my like or dislike of dermal anchors…personally, I like them. Less invasive than traditional larger transdermals and if well-placed they hold up infinitely better than surface piercings. If anyone has ever read one my rants you’ll know I’m not a big a fan of surface piercings…but I don’t want to get too far off-topic.

As for removal, I’ve helped with a couple, but that’s usually because Allen gets roped in when it requires brute force. I’m definitely not shy about getting out “stuck” jewelry. As for price, well, I’m sure everyone has their own opinion. Me, I think all removal and most general maintenance should be free, no matter who put in the jewelry. It’s been my experience that people normally tip really well for a free service. Plus, it’s good for business and ultimately good for the community. Each crappy piercing that walks down the street or appears in the media is a blow to the entire piercing industry…and you know how it is. There is a certain satisfaction about fixing someone else’s mistakes that really makes doing your job worthwhile.


Meg Barber
Price is a good point. What are you guys charging to do microdermals? Do you include the foot in the price?

Our cost is $75 for the service, which includes the base, then the additional cost is what frontal you want on it—disks or gems or whatnot. And we take them out for free.


Steve Truitt
I charge $80 for one and $60 for each after (in the same session on the same person) with a disc on them. If they want gems, etc., the price goes up depending on the end.

Ryan Ouellette
I charge $70 for one, $130 for a pair, $60 each for three or more. Price includes standard disc ends; gemstone or alternate ends are an additional $10-$15 each. Free removal if I installed it, $20 if it was put in somewhere else.

I charged $80 when I was first doing them, but now with IS lowering their prices I can’t see charging that much. I only charge $65 for a surface piercing with an Anatometal flat surface bar and those cost twice as much as microdermal jewelry.


John Joyce
I charge $75 for one with a flat disc, more if they want a gem. Each additional one done after that I take a little off the price. Free removal whether I installed it or not.

Stephen DeToma
I believe were running $50 for a basic disc, $75 for gems.

John Joyce
Since we’re talking microdermals, I’ve had two different people come in over the last two days that both had microdermals done on their sternums at a different shop in Syracuse. One girl’s fell out within a day, and the other girl’s was sticking way out and was about to fall out. I’m not sure what method was used to put these in, but there was a huge pocket made. In the one that was still in, there was a gaping hole around the post of it. The rise used on both of them was far too long for these girls as well.

I think most people in this forum are probably getting somewhere in the 85-90 percent success rate with microdermals, but I think it’s really important to remember that we aren’t the majority of piercers out there. There are going to be a lot more piercers only getting 50 percent success rate or maybe 75 percent at best. This could be from any number of things: using poor quality jewelry, poor installation technique, poor aftercare, poor placement, or just not really understanding what a microdermal is.

My point is, with piercing, but especially microdermals it is important for the client to do their own research first. It is also important for the practitioner to make sure they fully understand microdermals, and how they work.

What do you think? Let’s hear it in the comments.

* * *

Please consider buying a membership to BME so we can continue bringing you articles like this one.

New Article Posted! (Mike Beer Interview)


Mike Beer and his offensive tattoos have received their fair share of attention on ModBlog, and the reaction has been … mixed, to say the least. Since the dawn of time, humans have wondered what goes through the mind of a person who devotes his skin to tattoos of jokes about child rape, transsexuals and gay Nazis. Today, we get a little closer to answering these questions. I will mention, however, that almost all of these tattoos have been featured on ModBlog previously, but the interview is brand new.

To read The Man With the World’s Most Tasteless Tattoos, click here.

[Ed. note: Comments on this post have been disabled. Go nuts in the forum attached to the article. Thanks.]

The Man With the World’s Most Tasteless Tattoos


Mike Beer and his offensive tattoos have received their fair share of attention on ModBlog, and the reaction has been … mixed, to say the least. Since the dawn of time, humans have wondered what goes through the mind of a person who devotes his skin to tattoos of jokes about child rape, transsexuals and gay Nazis. Today, we get a little closer to answering these questions.

Note: Most of the tattoos featured in this interview have been featured previously on ModBlog.

BME: First of all, tell us about yourself.

Mike Beer: Well, I lived in Northern Virginia my whole life, but recently moved to Atlantic City, New Jersey, to play in my band, Call The Paramedics, full time, as well as to be surrounded by assholes like myself. I have been getting tattooed since I was about 17 and am now about to turn 23. My first tattoo was a small hand-poked pentagram on my ankle, which I have had fixed so that it no longer looks like garbage, but I’ve had mad love for Satan since the beginning.

Humor is very important to me. However, since I would say I am rather desensitized to almost everything, the things that are hilarious to me are not very amusing to others, which is what brings us to this interview.

BME: Indeed it does. Have you always been an attention whore?

MB: Yes, I’ve been an attention whore for pretty much as long as I can remember — mainly because, when I was real little, my parents would beat me, lock me in the cellar, and occasionally make me put put on sex shows with our German Shepherd for them and all their friends while they would drink moonshine and throw dixie cups of scalding hot water on me. (Throughout my childhood, our dog Roxy was my best friend.)

I guess nowadays I’m just finding my outlet for all the pain and humiliation I endured as a kid … or maybe I just want to have an excuse to take off my clothes in front of strangers and everything I just said was a lie. Who really knows?

BME: Alright, enough of your yarns. How would you describe your sense of humor? What’s funny to you?

MB: I’d have to say my sense of humor is a cross between “modern” and extremely ignorant. I’ll make a joke out of anything: cripples, old people, blacks, Jews, Mexicans, whites … and any other things I may have forgotten. Your dog dies? Funny. You have a death in the family? Funny. A girl and her boyfriend have been trying for a long time to have a child, they finally get pregnant and eight months into the pregnancy she has a miscarriage? Hilarious. But don’t worry folks, whatever I dish out I can take in return.

BME: So it’s less to do with being funny and more to do with being an awful human being. Got it. Anyway, your declaration of love for Satan aside, what was the first “offensive” tattoo you got? Tell us about it.

MB: First “offensive” tattoo I got was the man with a pussy eating himself on my leg, although nobody ever really found it to be offensive. Shortly after getting that, I got the chick with a cock shitting on herself. Both tattoos were done by Eric Doyle at Jinx Proof Tattoo in Washington, D.C. Many people were not happy with chick with the cock, so I’d consider those my first offensive tattoos. I originally just wanted the guy eating himself and at the last minute decided he should have a pussy. The idea for the chick with the cock was merely an attempt at some kind of symmetry on my legs. And again, the poop was added last minute.

BME: Hey, when you’re right, you’re right — the poop certainly adds a certain je ne sais quoi to the piece. What came next?

MB: If I’m not mistaken, the white power unicorn tattoo came next. It was all downhill from there.

BME: The white power unicorn is offensive to pretty much every imaginable group. What was the thought process behind that one? Did you feel like you were crossing a certain threshold once you got a Nazi swastika tattooed on you, the ridiculous context and the fact that it was for the sake of a joke notwithstanding?

MB: The Nazi unicorn was also pretty spontaneous. My buddy Jason wanted to tattoo this piece of unicorn flash and couldn’t find anyone who wanted it, and I was obviously game under certain conditions — that is, I told him it had to be the most hateful unicorn ever. The best reaction I’ve ever gotten was, “How could something so beautiful be so ugly?”

For the record, I am not a Nazi — I just like to make fun of everything. People need to lighten up, and if they don’t like what I’m about? That’s fine with me, join the rest of the crowd. I didn’t really feel like I crossed over some kind of line, but that is pretty much when I decided that damn near every tattoo I got from then on needed to come close or outdo the last one, and I’ve been making good progress, with plans for much more.

BME: Have you gotten any memorably bad reactions to your work?

MB: Nothing that really stands out. I’ve noticed my mom on several occasions looking at the trannies on my legs; she knows that they are there but never really says anything. I’d imagine she is just bottling it up deep down inside and never letting it out. I’ve had trannies actually come up to me after they saw my legs, and they thought it was hilarious. Surprisingly enough I’ve gotten the most negative response on here, which is funny because some of the most horrible things I’ve seen were on BME. It’s kind of ironic.

BME: While I’ve got you here, why don’t you tell me a bit about your band.

MB: Well, I play drums in Call The Paramedics. We’re Atlantic City–based scumbag death rock. I guess our music could be described as Cannibal Corpse raping AC/DC while El Duce narrates. We attack the crowd, our singer cuts his face open, I blow fire, and this is all accompanied with massive amounts of cocaine. I’ve been told the music is pretty good too. You could say we’re for fans of GG Allin, rape, dirty needles, golden showers, cars parked in front of handicapped ramps, elderly shut-ins, and people broke down on the side of the road due to massive car pile ups from wandering stray dogs on the highway.

BME: Well, that sounds … great. Does anything offend you? Do you think it’s possible to go too far? Humor me here.

MB: Eh, not really. There are plenty of things that I think are wrong, but it doesn’t mean I won’t make a joke out of it. For example, I love animals, but I just got a dog in a kennel being put down tattooed on my leg. I would probably never rape a little kid, but I have “It’s rape time” with candy and little kids’ body parts tattooed on me, and so on. I live in an area and am friends with some of the most rotten people on the planet; around here it’s an ongoing battle of who can really lower the bar. I just want to fit in, you know?

BME: Nice of you to mention that you’d “probably” never rape a little kid. Classy. So where do you go from here?

MB: Aside from hell?  There is nowhere to go but down. Oh, for all the ladies on here, holla at me. I’m a great “bring-home-to-the-parents” kind of guy.

* * *

Please consider buying a membership to BME so we can continue bringing you articles like this one.