By Anni Irish
YBNY Body Mod Correspondent
Autumn Swisher has been professionally piercing for the past decade. I first met the West Coast native in the Spring of 2006 while she attended the New York Studio Program (NYSP), a semester long residency program offered to students enrolled in an art and design schools within the U.S. and Canada. During this time she worked at Venus Piecing, while also interning at the infamous 20x24 Studio in Tribeca, and maintaining a full course load and studio practice at NYSP.
It was Swisher's visible tattoos and piercings which sparked our initial friendship. We bonded over our mutual love of the body modification culture, but it was Swisher who was fully entrenched in it.
I recently had the chance to sit down with Swisher to discuss her career as a professional piercer, her photography, and how she views body modification culture. During our conversation, Swisher recalled first being exposed to piercing at a young age.
"I was thirteen when I got my first piercing," she said, "but it was really my little sister who got me into it because she had her nose pierced." From this first experience, Swisher's interest in piercing began to grow.
At 19 she began working at High Priestess a piercing and tattoo shop located in Eugene, OR. It was Swisher's apprenticeship that gave her the opportunity she had been waiting for: to be able to learn how to pierce professionally, while gaining better insight into the body modification community. This proved to be a particularly grueling and exciting time in Swisher's life. She worked fifty hours a week within the shop learning to pierce, in addition to two other jobs that helped to pay her living expenses.
According to Swisher, her teachers were "very tough and made sure I had a very detailed apprenticeship which included CPR classes (and) classes on first aid and blood borne pathogens. In total, I had seven different teachers all with different styles of piercing and teaching." Swisher's apprenticeship lasted two years in total and consisted of a lot of "watching and learning" but also involved her practicing on friends and family. Swisher did this until she was comfortable piercing on her own and eventually began to take on her own clients
In 2002, Swisher began attending the Pacific Northwest College of Art, where she concentrated on photography. While Swisher racked up hours in both the dark room and piercing shop, her two worlds began to collide. Fresh out of her apprenticeship, Swisher also began working at Robot Tattooing and Piercing. She started to document the body modification community within Portland area and beyond.
While she built up her clientele at Robot, Swisher also had the opportunity to meet and befriend many tattoo artists and piercers within the industry. The professional contacts she made through her apprenticeship allowed her to do guest spots all over the country.
"Because I started out at a professional shop there were always people coming through to learn, work, and teach, I met piercers from all over the US. Soon after I finished my apprenticeship, I (was) asked to come work a week in Philadelphia, Seattle and elsewhere," she said. This eventually led Swisher to move back to New York City in 2009 where she began working at New York Adorned.
I asked Swisher about her thoughts surrounding the ways in which piercing and tattooing often get lumped together.
"Most of the time people think its all the same, or that I tattoo," Swisher said. "They do not separate the two. Plus, a majority of shops offer both piercing and tattooing. I think a shop that is only offering piercing means a lot and that they can survive and must be doing a good job."
It also becomes a part of of the job to educate your clients and others about the different practices, which Swisher is actively engaged in doing. Swisher annually attends the Association of Professional Piercers convention where she teaches classes and brushes up on emerging piercing trends, which she sees as part of her ongoing education as a piercer.
Swisher's training as piercer has facilitated her photographing body modification culture around the United States. Being an active participant within the culture has helped her to gain trust and bond with her photography subjects. Swisher who is constantly traveling, always has her camera by her side. Since 2011 Swisher has been doing freelance work for companies like Maya Organic, which specializes in hand made high end jewelry, sold in many piercing stores around the U.S. and online. This new business venture has added a twist to Swisher's photography career and she is enjoying the different kind of work she is producing as a result of it, she said.
By combining her two passions: piercing professionally and photography Swisher has, in many ways, created her own niche. Swisher eventually hopes to open her own print and photography studio. Through her drive to create new work and to educate people surrounding the body modification community, Swisher is destined to achieve years of continued success.