Russian Criminal Tattoo Police Files
08:34 AM
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One of the largest, if not the largest, collection of Russian prison tattoo photos has recently been published by Fuel in the 256-page hardcover Russian Criminal Tattoo Police Files. The 180 photographs are just a sample of the thousands collected by Arkady Bronnikov during his 30 years as a senior expert in criminalistics at the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs. According to Fuel, as part of his duties, Bronnikov visited many correctional institutions of the Ural and Siberia regions where he interviewed, gathered information and took photographs of convicts; he also regularly helped solve criminal cases across Russia by using his collection of tattoos to identify culprits and corpses.

Text offering more information on the symbolism behind the tattoos are included in the book as well as a 48-page section printed on pink paper with texts, mug shots and criminal profiling.  View more photos here.

Vice interviewed Damon Murray, co-founder of FUEL, to talk about the book. Here's a taste:

Do you have any information about the prisoners who were photographed?
Apart from a small section at the very beginning of the book, which reproduces a number of actual police files, all the information gathered about the criminals is done by reading the tattoos on their bodies. Their crimes vary from serious cases such as murder or rape to lesser offenses like pickpocketing and burglary.

Every image carries a detailed caption explaining how individual tattoos relate to specific crimes--for example, a naked woman being burnt on a cross symbolizes a conviction for the murder of a woman. The number of logs on the fire underneath the victim denotes the number of years of the sentence.

What kind of equipment were they using to tattoo themselves?
The majority of the tattoos would have been done in a primitive, painful way. The process can take several years to complete, but a single small figure can be created in four to six hours of uninterrupted work. The instrument of choice is an adapted electric shaver, to which prisoners attach needles and an ampoule of liquid dye.

In London, there will be an exhibition of photographs from the Arkady Bronnikov collection at the Grimaldi Gavin gallery at 27 Albemarle Street, October 17th to November 21, 2014.

The book is sold exclusively on the Fuel site for 20BP (approx. $32 US).

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