Jamie is a body piercer and APP member in San Francisco, Bay Area. He is a volunteer for the Body Piercing Archive which works to preserve piercing history. Jamie has been piercing around 11 years and has travelled all over the US, guesting at a wide variety of studios. After spending some time in Europe, Jamie visited us in Nottingham and took some time to chat about his travels, volunteer work and his journey to becoming a studio owner.
Gemma: What drew you to that industry initially?
Jamie: I always liked piercing and I had some piercings but it was never an intention to be in the industry. I was living in Florida and working, doing pressure washing and painting out in the sun. It was awful. There was a shop that was hiring and so I applied work the front counter just so I would be in air conditioning,
G: What was your first experience getting a piercing?
J: The first one I had, I pierced myself. I pierced my lip with a safety pin but I didn’t keep it in very long. And then the second piercings I ever got were my ears. It was in a friend’s garage and the person who pierced my right ear, the person who pierced my left ear, and the person who was hanging out in the garage with us, all four of us ended up becoming piercers at separate times.
G: Did you have an apprenticeship when you started?
J: It was called an apprenticeship. But like, I didn’t know any better at the time so I thought that’s what an apprenticeship was. But now, knowing what I know, it was definitely not a good apprenticeship whatsoever. It was the owner of the studio, he did piercings but he wasn’t a piercer. The business was about making money. He didn’t care about the industry at all, he didn’t have any piercings. he didn’t have any tattoos. It was a business for him. So yeah, a lot of my learning was on the internet and then leaving Florida and moving to California and being around piercers in the Bay Area.
G: What year were you piercing in Florida?
J: 2012. I’m from California originally. I had moved to Florida, after living in New York. I went from California to New York, then New Orleans, then Florida, and then back to California.
Until moving back to California, I had not really known about the APP, I had not known about quality jewellery and materials. I knew there was different kinds and that some was really expensive and some were not expensive, but like, as far as like the quality between them, I had no idea. It wasn’t until a friend of mine told me more about them and I still didn’t really look into it very much. But then when I moved to California that I realized that there was a difference in quality in studios and in education and quality of jewelry.
I learnt things mostly online, Facebook forums, I had like been on BME when I was younger, but never really while I was piercing. I think it kind of died out by then. And then visiting other studios because I was really close to San Francisco where there are a lot of really good studios, and going down there and talking with people. San Francisco has a lot of piercing history which I was also unaware of when I was getting into the industry. I didn’t know anything, who people were and what studios were like, famous or historical or whatever. No idea.
Which I think helped me not be scared of asking those people who worked there because I didn’t know who they were, so I didn’t realize like who I was asking these questions to. I wasn’t nervous because to me, they were just another peer. But turns out some of them were well known. And then I got encouraged to sign up for the scholarship for the 2016 APP conference and I ended up getting the scholarship going to Las Vegas.
G: Was that your first conference?
J: Yeah. And I also didn’t really know what the conference was like. I was still unaware, I knew that it existed, but also, like no one had really talked about it. I’d seen it on forums and stuff but I didn’t know what it was, and then I got there and I was like, oh shit. This is like a big deal.
The whole thing, it changed my mindset about everything. Meeting people there have given me opportunities that like didn’t even know existed. , and just like meeting people and like being able to like do guest spots. Now help out with the conference. and, continue to volunteer and volunteer for different groups and the body piercing archive . Wouldn’t have happened if that wasn’t for conference
G: How did you get involved in the body piercing archive?
J: I’ve always been into history and the more I had been exposed to the industry, the more I realised there’s a real history here and I wanted to help with it. I went to the exhibit at conference and, having already met Paul King and Becky Dill, who were some of the main people doing it at that time. I just asked Paul, “hey if you ever need help, like, let me know”. And he put me to work.
G: What’s your role at the archive?
J: It’s a lot of organizing things, preserving things, making sure things are gonna stand up to the test of time. Most of these things, were never intended to last very long. A lot of this stuff is just like, ‘oh, here’s a magazine that someone bought, read and threw away’. And flyers that like are printed on cheap printer paper or photos that have been sitting in someone’s cabinet for who knows how long going through weather changes. It’s mostly just like making sure that these things will exist in the future.
G: Is it mostly American piercing history that you archive?
J: It’s global. Being where we are, most of it is more local to the US, but it’s not exclusively us. We have a lot of stuff from the UK and unknowingly along the way, it led to us being able to publish a book, the Alan Oversby book. That was mostly Paul King and Devin Ruiz. Hopefully we’ll be able to do more of that. Just to get that history out there.
A lot of what we have in the archive, had no intention of ever being saved and when those historic things were happening, I don’t think any of those people thought that anyone would give a shit about what they were doing in the future. A lot of the stuff that we have, we’re lucky that it exists. And there’s so much more that we know of, that doesn’t exist anymore. It got thrown away or you know, ended up in like a flooded basement or rotted away. Or when families have been contacted, they’re like, ‘no, we threw all that away, we don’t want people knowing about that.’ Which is understandable, but also kind of sucks. We have things from the early 1900s and it was such a different time. People were ashamed of being different.
It’s more modern day western body piercing but we do have some artifacts from people indigenous to the Americas, that are much older. Our focus is more modern stuff that maybe universities and museums and other archives don’t give a shit about yet, but one day they will. And hopefully when that time comes, the archive will still be the place where that all that stuff ends up. Or if there’s a better place that has a better way of archiving everything, it’ll go to them.
G: You’re opening a new studio right?
J: Last March we signed a lease, and we’ve have been working with architects and trying to get permits from the city. Now it’s just the city dragging their feet and not communicating with each other. It’s just taking forever. But we have a space we have the layout. We have the materials, we have everything except the ability to construct.
I haven’t always wanted to own my own studio but I didn’t want to move out of the area that I live in and I don’t want to work for other people anymore. I just want to make an environment that’s different than a lot of studios, the way it’s structured and how the pay structures and the hierarchies in the studio. I don’t really want that, l I just want to do it differently than I’ve seen. I’ve seen things I don’t like at other studios and I want to make sure that those don’t exist for someone else.
G: You’ve travelled a lot while guesting as a piercer, can you tell us more about that?
J: I go to Hawaii a lot to go guest spot, I’ve been up to Portland a bunch of times, Alaska recently. I went out to Boston, a bunch of places in California. It’s cool seeing how other people do things. Pretty much every time I go on a guest spot, I learn something. Even if it’s just like something little. Most of the time for me guesting is a great reason to go somewhere or hang out with friends. Most places I’ve worked at I’ve known someone who worked there or had friends in the area.
G: What sort of differences have you seen in the industry while travelling?
J: Different areas like different jewelry styles more than others. Same with the size of jewelry and people wanting dainty things or people wanting gems or not gems or gold. Even within the Bay Area where I live, it’s drastically different depending on what part of the Bay you’re in and what people are willing to pay or what people are looking for.
It’s definitely a big range of clients. I’ll have, you know, an 18 year old student coming in to get a little diamond in their nostril. And then the person after them is a much older person and wanting big ol’ jewelry in their genitals, and then the person after that is a 20 year old with a 10 gauge septum, and then the person after that is an older, more professional person wanting a dainty helix. It very much ranges at the studio that I’m at. Other studios it’s more consistent with one or the other. But I think just where we are and our established clientele, it’s like very wide range.
We have a lot of clients seeking gender affirming piercings as well. It’s cool and I’m really glad that they feel like our studio is a safe place to do that and that we can help facilitate that .
G: Have you attended conferences outside of the US?
J: Last year was my first time at BMXnet, it was a lot different than the APP conference, in a good way. At least from my perspective, it was more about networking and meeting other people and being part of the community, as opposed to the APP conference where you go to class and then you go do whatever with the couple people you know. I had a descision to make between going to BMX or LBP last year, and I was convinced to go to BMX. I would love to go to LBP though, I just need to get better out Spanish.
G: Do you have any words of wisdom for other people in the industry looking to travel or guest?
J: Network with people. Just reach out, people aren’t gonna reach out to you so reach out to them. And go in with the understanding that you might not make money. Reach out to people, look at forums and be honest about what your capabilities are. They’ll find out and they’ll find out real quick if you can or cannot do something.
It’s a small industry. Everyone knows everyone, and if they don’t, they will. The internet remembers forever.
Don’t settle for shitty bosses. If you’re being exploited or abused in any way, don’t stay. It’s not worth your mental health. There’s other studios that aren’t like that. Don’t work for shitty bosses.