Photograph by Dr. Gemma Angel, Courtesy of the Science Museum, London.
Top tattoo news from around the world included stories on preserving tattooed skin postmorten, more do-it-yourself tattoo machine madness, court battles over police tattoo bans, traditional tatau, and more. Here are the details:
In Vice's "Human Pelts: The Art of Preserving Tattooed Skin After Death," the article takes a look at those who have offered to have their tattoos preserved and displayed after their deaths. Most notably, Geoff Ostling, whose tattoos are largely done by artist eX de Medici, talks about how he chose to donate his taxidermied body as a work of art to be displayed at the National Museum of Australia museum (as well as all the gory details of skinning his tattoos once he's gone). There's also a great discussion with Dr. Gemma Angel, who shares her expertise on logistics of preserving skin, as well as the history -- and mystery -- behind the acquisitions at London's Wellcome Collection. Here's a taste:
As fascinating as it is, public exhibits of preserved tattooed skin are rare and controversial. That's in part because it's unclear whether many of these skins were acquired ethically. The preserved skins in the Wellcome Collection, for example, were all purchased from a single mysterious individual.I've linked a number of articles here on the blog about Gemma's work, including this one, "Collecting Tattoo Skin."
More buzz over Do-It-Yourself tattoos, this time over Jakub Pollag's art grad project Personal Tattoo Machine, which he claims "democratizes the tattoo industry, " adding, "It puts a tool used only by a limited group of people into the hands of enthusiasts, who are seeking an alternative and unique way to permanently mark their meaningful memories onto their skin." Of course, it also puts, in the hands of tattoo enthusiasts, skin infections, Hepatitis C, scars, and a permanent reminder of bad decision making. Also, if anyone can grab a tattoo kit on Amazon or eBay, what's the big difference here? Last January, I wrote on the Stick & Poke kits, also meant to "democratize" tattooing. Both are bad news.
In Chicago, cops have filed a lawsuit challenging the police department's tattoo ban, which requires officers cover up their tattoos that aren't covered by long-sleeve shirts and pants with skin-toned bandages. While I've written extensively on tattoo bans and employment discrimination, you may want to also check this National Law Review article that was published last week on regulating appearance in the workplace.
I was very happy to see my friend, master of Samoan tatau Pili Mo'o, in Mauitime.com, featuring his handtapped Polynesian tattooing, which he will be offering at Blue Hawaii July 1-15. As Mo'o notes in the article, he carries on the traditions of tatau, taught to him by master Sua Sulu'ape Paulo II, and honors the faith and trust his clients put into it.
Pili Mo'o handtapping tatau.
In other news ...
* Here's a piece on why many people are tattooing semicolons on their bodies.
* An article on "A day in the life of an all-female tattoo studio."
* Corneal tattooing -- as demonstrated at the NYC Tattoo Convention last month.
* Cross-stitch tattoos.
* And a sweet story on a "Tattoo Artist Turns Girl's Leg Braces Into A Pair Of Wicked Awesome Disney Villains."
The Tattooed Wonder, Otto Dix, 1920.
There's a new tattoo hashtag trending on Twitter: #tatcalling. It's a clever play on "catcalling" that came out of Melissa Fabello's piece yesterday entitled, "My Tattoos Aren't an Invitation for Harassment - So Please Stop 'Tatcalling' Me."
As a tattooed sister in the struggle, I know of what Melissa speaks when she talks about that dude crouching near and telling her, "Can you turn a little this way? I'm trying to look at your legs." He (or one of his bros) was crouching by my newly tattooed legs last week.
It's summer time here in NYC and you can't escape the tattoo creeps -- those who celebrate the heat and the showing of more tattooed skin, just so they can pay the ladies some innocent compliments like ...
"Let me see more of that ink." "You must like pain, baby." And even if said innocently, "Nice tats!" still makes me cringe.
Last week, Melissa tweeted -- using the hashtag #tatcalling -- every tattoo-related catcall she received. Her total came to ten -- 10 times in 40 minutes. Sounds about average in my life, if not on the lower end.
Melissa breaks it down like this: "If your comment or question cuts into a woman's right to space, time, or bodily autonomy in a way that makes her uncomfortable or distraught, it's street harassment." She outlines points on tatcalling to support this.
As a tattooed feminist, I agree with a lot of what Melissa has to say. But there are some points she makes that I don't find universal.
She writes "tatcalling is a direct comment on a woman's body - because tattoos are literally part of our skin." True dat. But there's no way of getting around the whole body thing when one wants to have a serious conversation or pay a legitimate compliment to the work that is on that body. When I see really beautiful tattoos on someone -- whether it be on a man or woman -- I just want to run up and ask the person about them. To learn who did it. What the process and experience was like. And then, of course, run back to all of y'all and blog about what I found. I do try to gauge the right time and place for my special form of nosiness, but if I gauge wrong, I'd say it would be more about dumbassment than harassment.
I thought it was great that Melissa mentioned Elon James White's hashtag #DudesGreetingDudes in raising the question, "If, when men street harass, they're really just paying a friendly 'hello' to the women they encounter on the sidewalk, why aren't they paying that same respect to men?" Melissa states that the same would apply to men talking about tattoos to other men in the street. But I have witnessed, often, men coming up to one another talking about their tattoos because -- when it really is about the art and design -- gender doesn't matter.
What isn't fully fleshed out in her list is that a lot of people, like myself, still feel some sort of community or kinship to other tattooed people. When I fell in love with tattoos as a teenager, tattooing was still banned in NYC (up until 1997), and you just didn't see that many beautifully and heavily tattooed people around as you do today. Despite being so immersed in the tattoo world today, I still get excited seeing great work and often feel a connection to the person wearing it because of our shared experience. While Melissa rightfully notes that she's not calling people with an actual interest in tattoos as "tatcallers," I'd hate for anyone reading the article to feel that he couldn't legitimately talk about my work for fear of being deemed a street harasser.
Also, a lot of the usual questions we all get, like "How much did it cost?" and "What does it mean?" are not really meant with bad intentions. Again, it would probably fall under my dumbass than harass category.
Overall, though, I think Melissa's article makes some good points and is a conversation starter (even if she doesn't want her tattoos to be), and I recommend reading it. Share your thoughts on it in our Facebook group or Tweet at me.
Renowned for innovating tattoo art design, largely with exciting graphic abstractions, Loic Lavenu -- aka Xoil -- has partnered with apparel brands, big and small, so that collectors can now grab his artwork with a painless click online.
Loic was one of the 11 artists from around the world to design a limited edition tee for Gap's Remix Project, a collection in which the artists were asked to reimagine Gap's logo in their own signature styles. In this video (embedded below) for the project, Loic shares his personal story -- how he came to tattooing and his philosophy on the craft, which includes his thoughts on the transfer of energy between artist and client. There's some deep thinking in this 2-minute video and definitely worth a look. You can purchase Loic's Remix design here.
Also check Loic's design for Morgan English's Tattrx line, limited edition apparel hand-printed here in Brooklyn. A portion of the profits from the sale of the tees are being donated to DirectRelief.org, which coordinates with existing boots-on-the-ground efforts to give immediate support to those affected by the earthquake in Nepal. You can purchase the tees here.
In addition to apparel, Loic has also designed for Peugeot's 108 tattoo model car, and he has a project in the works with a luxury Swiss watchmaker.
In light of all this, it's particularly interesting that Loic has taken a break from his digital compositions and gone deep into tattoo's roots, handpoking "retro flash," which you can see here on his Facebook page (including the piece shown below). You can learn more in this great video focusing on just his handpoke work: XOIL - TATOUAGE SANS MACHINE. The interview is in French, with English subtitles forthcoming.
Oh, and there's even more cool stuff: check Loic's 7 & 15 project, which he describes as the following: "Tattoo performance, timed on a stop watch, 7 minutes for animals, 15 minutes for portraits, tattoo is finished when the clock stops, done with machine." There are some super cool works, which are hard to believe were created in such a tight time frame.
For those seeking an appointment, Loic's manager Chris recently wrote on Facebook that Loic closed his studio in Thonon, France and will be a resident artist, from September 1, 2015, at DropinShop in Lausanne, Switzerland. You can send your appointment requests to firstname.lastname@example.org with the mention "Xoil Tattoo."
Ok, I've given you a lot of Loic in one post. Explore and enjoy!
Photo By Jordan Denny (cropped) / Momentary Ink.
In my tattoo newsfeed this morning was this Houston Chronicle article on a start-up that let's you "test-drive a tattoo before you make it permanent." The company, Momentary Ink, essentially makes custom temporary tattoos that last 2-5 days. There are a number of companies that do this, although this one looks like they are on the higher end of the scale in terms of realism, and the temps are sweat and water resistant.
The reason I'm posting on this, though, is that the idea of "test-driving" a tattoo doesn't sit well with me. I do think that people should be sure about what they want to permanently put on their bodies -- although, if there's hesitation and a strong desire to "try it out first," maybe that commitment isn't really there at the outset.
The real problem is that the temporary tattoos are not what the actual tattoo will really look like in most cases -- whether it is right after the completion, and especially after some time has passed. If you take a look at the "Browse designs" page on the Momentary Ink site, you'll find your usual infinity symbol tattoos and feathers turning into birds design; some of these ubiquitous "Pinterest-type" tattoos may translate, but a lot of the others will not.
A temporary tattoo design overloaded with too many details and not enough negative space could be a real tattoo in which the lines bleed into each other over time. Of course, there's also the debate over tattoos with no outlines fading into blobs of color without any structure to the design. Essentially, one can't expect that a real tattoo in skin will have the same properties as a digital stick-on. It's kind of like "test-driving" a car but not getting the fully loaded -- or even the same -- car that you tested.
That seems obvious, doesn't it? But if you read all the other ridiculous tattoo stories that come up in my newsfeed, it becomes pretty obvious that a lot of people don't put much thought into the tattoos they slap on -- real or temporary.
I may just use the service to do a fun, one-off temporary tattoo for family and friends, but not in anticipation that it'll be more than momentary.
A little known fact: while I was dunked, screaming, in a huge vat of water by a Greek Orthodox priest as a baby, I have cultural roots to Judaism, having a Jewish grandmother (thereby, making it perfectly fine for all the cute Jewish boys in my old Brooklyn neighborhood to date me). And with that background, I found this article particularly interesting: Jews and Tattoos: A New York Story. As the title notes, the story is also compelling because it takes readers on a trip through NYC tattoo history through the lives of prominent Jewish tattooers.
UPDATE: There's discussion on our Needles & Sins FB group that Milton Zeis, Charlie Wagner & Fred Grossman were not Jewish, contrary to what is reported in the article (as excerpted below).
Here's a bit from that piece:
A little-known fact: The tattoo business as we know it was largely created by Jews. Lewis "Lew the Jew" Alberts, Charlie Wagner, Brooklyn Joe Lieber, William Moskowitz, Milton Zeis ... these are the founding fathers who created the art of American tattooing and the technology that helped establish an industry.
Another interesting discussion in this piece is the NYC tattoo ban in the 60s and how Fred Grossman (aka Coney Island Freddie) "sued the city for illegitimately crushing his business."
My favorite stories here, however, center around the wonderful Walter Moskowitz, who shared his own tales of life on The Bowery before he passed in The Last of the Bowery Scab Merchant.You can read more about that oral history (and how to purchase it) here.
As the Tablet writes about Walter and his brother Stanley:
In a memorable piece, published in The Forward over a decade ago about three generations of the Moskowitz tattoo dynasty, Gabrielle Birkner wrote: "By day, Willie's son Walter studied Torah and Talmud at a Brooklyn yeshiva. By night he learned the tattoo trade in his father's shop, located beneath the old Chatham Square elevated train station at No. 4 Bowery." Walter and his brother Stanley inherited the Bowery shop when Willie died in 1961, but like many generations of post-war Jews, they left the city for the bucolic joys of Long Island, where they opened S&W Tattooing in Amityville. Walter, who died in 2007, recorded a funny, foul-mouthed CD called The Last of the Bowery Scab Merchants, about the history of this now-lost community of Lower East Side artists. Walter's son Marvin continues the family business. Now a grandfather, Marvin still tattoos on a freelance basis.
[The photo above is from Marvin's FB page.]
I highly recommend reading the article, and getting a history lesson in the process.
The tattoo news was all over the place this past week, from bans on tattooed women breastfeeding to government tracking of your tattoos. But first, let's start off with something fun ...
... this sweet fix to a bad Pokemon tattoo. Pretty adorable.
On a more serious note, as was brought up in our in our Needles & Sins FB group page, a 20-year-old mother in New South Wales, Australia, was banned by the Federal Circuit Court from breastfeeding because she had recently been tattooed. The ban was based on the fear that she might transmit a blood-borne disease such as hepatitis or HIV to the baby. The woman was tested and no such disease was found, BUT, the judge decided to stop her from breast feeding anyway! [The father of the baby is the one who brought it to the court's attention during a bitter custody battle.] Thankfully, the Family Court unanimously overturned the decision, stating, "Judges must not mistake their own views for being either facts not reasonably open to question or as appropriately qualified expert evidence." If this wasn't overturned, it would've made for some scary precedent, with judges ruling what tattooed women can do with our bodies (and babies) based on prejudice and erroneous info. Phew!
Another heavy news item was this flashy headline: "The government's high-tech plan for identifying you based on your tattoos." The National Institute for Standards and Technology (of the US Commerce Dept.) held "a 'challenge' in which groups faced off to see who could deliver software and algorithms that identified tattoos most accurately." According to the Washington Post, "some of the systems had 'hit rates well above 90 percent' in some of the tests, like basic tattoo detection and identification over time as well as matching up a small piece of a tattoo to an image showing the the whole thing," but it was more difficult to match up sketches and digital graphics with real tattoos to identify shared elements across different tattoo designs. As the article notes, tattoos images are already part of the FBI's Next Generation Identification database; however, it "relies on written descriptions of tattoos to help identify suspects."
In a more obvious headline: "Adult Man with 29 Miley Cyrus Tattoos Suddenly Realizes He Does Not Want 29 Miley Cyrus Tattoos." Try not to gasp in shock.
In Japan, many bathhouses have denied tattooed people entry, largely because of tattoo's association with the criminal underworld; however, with the mass popularity of the art today, the Japan Tourism Agency wants to deal with such policies, which can turn off and turn away tattooed tourists. The Japan Times reports that "the agency started distributing a questionnaire to 3,700 inns and hotels with public baths, asking them why and how they turn away tattoo-bearers and whether they have run into trouble with guests over the policy." What allegedly sparked this whole thing: after learning that a Maori woman was denied entry into a bathhouse in January, a major hotel operator stated that it would distribute stickers for tattooed guests in October to use them to cover their tattoos. Might as well wrap me up in a full body adhesive if that's the case.
And finally, there's this sweet piece about about 94-year-old Gwladys Williams who just became the oldest woman in the UK to get a tattoo. Never too old!
So, for the past week, social media has been buzzing about blogger Jane Marie and her little "Don't Tell Me I Can't Get a F**cking Neck Tattoo" rant on Jezebel. Her post reads like an angry Yelp review, as if her mimosas were not properly chilled at brunch, but instead of a bubbly treat, she complains that she wasn't served up a neck tattoo on demand by Dan Bythewood at NY Adorned, a premier tattoo studio in Manhattan.
As Jane only had three little tattoos, Dan refused to put the name tattoo that she wanted on her neck, as a matter of ethics. He wrote a wonderful response explaining why.
There's a fantastic debate about the issue of tattoo ethics, entitlement, insiderism, feminism, and lots of other -isms, in the comments to the articles in our Needles & Sins FB group page.
My take: I wish people would stop telling me about their f**cking neck tattoos.
But they tell me often (via email & social media). And what they tell me is about the hardships in their lives. Because they got a neck tattoo.
There aren't that many heavily tattooed lawyers who talk about being a heavily tattooed lawyer as much as I do online, and so if one is searching for someone to take his/her case -- for free of course -- against the unfair universe because of body art, my name tends to come up.
And what I tell them is this: Generally companies have a great deal of discretion in hiring and enforcing their workplace appearance policies as long as they don't discriminate on the basis of religion, sex, race, color, or national origin under Title VII of the US Civil Rights Act.
Appearance-based discrimination is largely poor policy, poor business, and poor judgment. But outside of falling under one of the protected classes named above, it can be legal. Judgments in hiring and firing decisions are commonly based on tattoos that impact a company's brand image. That's why tattoos that are difficult to cover are called "job stoppers," which Dan rightfully notes in his reply:
As all tattooers know, a neck or hand tattoo is a big commitment, and traditionally are reserved for those heavily covered and ready to confront society on a daily basis as a heavily tattooed person. Although tattoos are more accepted now than ever, we are still judged daily for our appearance. A hand or neck tattoo may mean the difference between that next job or promotion, and also may spur daily judgmental looks and harassing comments from strangers as many of my friends have experienced. It's not a thing to be taken lightly and I long ago drew an ethical line in the sand for myself as professional tattooer to turn down "job stoppers" on those who are not already committed to living as a heavily tattooed person.There isn't some secret code among tattooers to reserve neck tattoos for just the cool kids. It's a decision weighing how the artist's work can negatively impact someone's life.
The world doesn't owe Jane Marie a tattoo, and it also doesn't owe her a job. So I hope I don't see any legal pleas from her when she realizes this.
I'm a huge fan of the dark and gorgeous portfolio of Jacob Pedersen of Helsingborg, Sweden -- particularly, how he marries realism in his work often with a heavy graphic hand. [On his Crooked Moon Tattoo site, however, he notes that he also likes "doing Japanese and realistic tattoos" and is "always up to a new school project."]
Jacob will be soon be in our own Brooklyn backyard as a guest visiting Tattoo Culture in Williamsburg from July 8th to the 19th. He will also be one of the artists in attendance at the Empire State Tattoo Expo July 10-12.
For more on his work, check his site, Instagram, and Facebook page.
There have been a number of TEDx talks that have discussed tattooing, but one that I highly recommend you watching is this one by tattooer Dean Shubert, of Visual Tattoo, entitled, "Tattooing: Outlaw or Indigenous?"
In just ten minutes, Dean weaves a beautiful timeline of tattooing's celebration and suppression, citing historical references but also including his own experiences in the mix.
Back in 2012, Dean shared his experience tattooing on Yap Island, Micronesia, creating a traditional Yapese backpiece on Leo Pugram, owner of Yap's only professional tattoo studio. You can read that post and see photos here.
I really enjoyed Dean's talk, and hope you'll take a look as well.
Jason's skull tattoo by Megan Jean Morris.
Backpiece by Gerhard Wiesbeck.
Work in progress by Matt Ellis.
I think I just about recovered from this past weekend's 18th Annual NYC Tattoo Convention. With friends descending on my hometown to work or just enjoy the show, it was another great party -- with some new twists.
While I'm still mourning the demolition of the Roseland Ballroom (the show's former home), the convention's new sleeker spot at the Metropolitan Pavilion offered greater space on the ground floor for more artists and vendors, as well as a second floor for bands and burlesque.
Organizers Bonge & Butch set up the book signing table for me and author/historian/tattooer Michael McCabe in a prime location, right in front of the main floor stage, perfect for surveying the action. People watching is what makes this convention, and the crowd was as diverse of NYC itself: the 5 foot tall Dominatrix-in-training wearing head-to-toe latex; the Rockabilly couple pushing their mini-Greaser in a stroller; the tattoo reality TV reality star (and reality star hopefuls); the cool grandma; the guy straight from the set of Mad Max wearing his pet lizard; the preppy crew who missed their ride to The Hamptons ... and the tattooed lawyer shilling books and scaring people with her maniacal laugh.
Oh, and all the photographers -- professional and otherwise -- trying to find that perfect shot to encapsulate the event. As I am unable to take any successful picture, I just threw my iPhone camera lens around and took these pics here. You can find more of my pics on Instagram and in this Flickr Album.
PIX11 also did a TV piece on the show.
It was wonderful to see legends like Jack Rudy, Paul Booth and Bill & Junii Salmon continuing to inspire generations of tattooers. I also had the opportunity to flip through portfolios of artists I hadn't known before but became an instant fan upon seeing their work.
The sideshow acts drew crowds. In addition to sword swallowing, phone book shredding, and razor blade eating, performer Adam Realman also squirted whiskey -- through his nose -- down the gullets of convention goers who stood by the stage with their mouths open. Granted, drinks at the bar weren't cheap, but I this was not a suitable alternative. Nevertheless, if was fun to watch.
What I thought was particularly interesting was Sacred Tattoo's booth area where a doctor demonstrated corneal tattooing to repair cosmetic eye damage. There was also a laser removal section to help lighten up old regrets and make tattoo coverups easier.
And, of course, I spent a lot of money shopping at the vendor booths, which included everything from brass knuckles rosary necklaces to Japanese sex figurines.
Most important, I got to hug a lot of y'all in person. Till the next show!
Adam Realman offering some Coney Island sideshow fun.
Bill & Junii Salmon's buzzing booth.
Me selling my books & being ridiculous.