Since the inception of this blog, I have shared posts on Sak Yant or Yantra tattoos -- sacred marks performed by monks in Thailand in which the wearers believe that the tattoos are imbued with magic, offering protection and even bestowing certain powers. Yantra tattoos hold a special fascination for me, not just for the beautiful iconography, but the ceremony, culture and beliefs that surround them.
Every year, at the Buddhist temple in Wat Bang Phra, about 30 miles west of Bangkok, Thailand, devotees gather to receive these magic tattoos at the Wai Khru ceremony. Also present are journalists and photographers seeking to document it all.
One such photographer who has truly captured the power of Yantra and the Wai Khru is French/British photographer Cedric Arnold, who is based in Bangkok. Arnold's "Yantra: The Sacred Ink" is an exceptionally beautiful series of portraits and documentary photography -- a product of four and a half years of travel throughout Thailand to fully explore Yantra, from the festivals to rare tattoos only found in certain regions. Arnold shared with Slate magazine some of what he learned in this journey:
Arnold further captured the tattoos and ceremonies on video: his film, also entitled "Yantra: The Sacred Ink," is currently being screened at the "Tatoueurs, tatoues" exhibit at the Museum du quai Branly in Paris. [For a great review of the exhibit, read Serinde's post here.] Here's the teaser below.
Cover photo of The Tattoo Project by Vince Hemingson. Portrait above by Dan Kozma.
Four years ago this month, 100 hundred heavily tattooed people and 11 of Vancouver's best photographers came together for The Tattoo Project: Body. Art. Image: a three-day event at the Vancouver Photo Workshops described as "a synthesis of portraiture and tattoo art that poses the eternal question, Who am I?" The body of work born from the project explores tattooed bodies via diverse photographic philosophies. Vince Hemingson, creator of The Tattoo Project (as well as many other wonderful projects), has said that the images not only reflect who the subjects are but also the photographers, from their differing approaches to lighting, mood, and color to different methods for engaging the subjects. The subjects were quite diverse themselves and not just today's standard "tattoo model" fare.
Vince explains his inspiration behind The Tattoo Project: body. art. image.:
This project was an idea that I had simmering on the back burner for nearly fifteen years. I have always wanted to to see how fine art photographers would interpret individuals who were tattooed. When I first saw Albert Watson's seminal work from the Louisiana Prisons in his book CYCLOPS it was an idea that wouldn't go away. In my writing and filmmaking, I have always thought that the purpose of training your pen or your camera on a subject was illumination. Literally to shine a light on something.From that long weekend, almost 200 images were selected for The Tattoo Project exhibition in November 2010, curated by Pennylane Shen, and shown at Performance Works on Granville Island. More than 750 people attended the opening night. With such incredible success, naturally, the next step was a book.
The 240-page hardcover The Tattoo Project: body. art. image., published by Schiffer Books, takes the very best works from the project and highlights them in a large-format, beautifully designed coffee table book. This book isn't just about pretty tattoos -- although there are a number of exceptional ones. What makes it engaging is the storytelling of these portraits, the way the personalities of these tattooed people shine through. And also, as Vince mentioned, it's interesting to see how these stories are told in so many ways, whether it be through the black & white long exposure photos by Marc Koegel or the "housewife cheescake" images by Melanie Jane. The other photographers include Wayne A. Hoecherl , Dan Kozma , Spencer Kovats, Syx Langemann, Aura McKay, Rosamond Norbury, Johnathon Vaughn, Jeff Weddell as well as Vince.
Images above by Spencer Kovats.
The next step for Tattoo Project: body. art. image. is a documentary film. Throughout the project, two film crews captured the process -- as Vince says, they "prowled the crowded hallways, eves-dropped on photographers as they shot in the studios, and interviewed dozens of models and all of the photographers." This summer, Vince and his team will be launching a Kickstarter.com crowd funding campaign to help finish the post-production on the film.
Check The Vanishing Tattoo blog for updates on the film (and the perks for contributing) and other tattoo goodness.
Portrait above by Syx Langemann.
Facial tattoos provoke a reaction -- reactions that span awe, fear, loathing, excitement ... Personally, I've seen such beautiful facial tattooing, particularly on people who are my friends, that I find them just as artful as any decoration on the body.
Capturing the beauty of this work is Mark Leaver's Facial Tattoo project.The third-year commercial photography student at Arts University Bournemouth in England was recently profiled in Huck Magazine. [The article is offline line at this time of this post.]
In his profile, he offered this on the project:
What makes facial tattoos so distinctive is that they are still confrontational, there's no hiding them. There are only a select few people who make that kind of commitment and it was those people that I wanted to meet and photograph.See more of Mark's work on his site and Facebook page.
Top photo of Xed LeHead tattooing Iestyn at Divine Canvas, and portrait of tattoo artist Touka Voodoo.
In The Guardian today is feature called "Painted Ladies: Why women get tattoos." Normally, I find these types of articles banal, or even cringe worthy, for perpetuating cliches or not offering a broad spectrum of experience from our community. And so I was happily surprised to find many different voices of tattooed women in this article.
While there need not be any great miraculous reason to get tattooed, tattoos do come with a story, from an impulse to get a quick piece of historic flash to a full body project. I found the profiles of these women to be really interesting, and they made me think on the commonaIities and differences of our experiences with tattoos.
I particularly loved reading about Juanita Carberry, a merchant navy steward, who died in July at age 88. Here's a bit from her story:
The daughter of a renegade Irish peer, Carberry lived an extraordinarily full life. Her childhood in Kenya was difficult: her mother, a well-known aviator, died when she was three, and Carberry was often beaten by her governess. As a teenager, she was a key witness in a celebrated murder case, the 1941 shooting of the 22nd Earl of Erroll, and at 17 she joined the first aid nursing yeomanry in the Women's Territorials during the second world war. In 1946, Carberry became one of a handful of women to join the merchant navy, remaining for 17 years. It was during this period, says photographer Christina Theisen, that she started acquiring tattoos. Her first was a small spider on the sole of her foot; it didn't hurt, Theisen recalls Carberry saying, because the skin on her feet was so tough from walking barefoot as a child.
Read more here.
It is the work of Christina Theisen and Eleni Stefanou that really makes this piece so engaging. Theisen and Stefanou are behind womenwithtattoos.co.uk, a photo and film endeavor that pays respect to all tattooed women. They offer this on their work: "Our project seeks to capture the personal and the individual, embracing each woman and her tattoos as one, rather than isolating or magnifying the inked parts of her body. At the same time, by using natural environments and the context of urban Western culture, we intentionally move away from the sexualised glamour model aesthetic that dominates tattoo magazines and popular culture."
Two words: Hell. Yeah.
My regret is that I wasn't aware of the project when it first rolled out. I will continue to follow Theisen and Stefanou's work, and I hope that more media outlets also follow their lead in telling compelling stories without the usual pop culture hype and flash so prevalent today.
Before I post my redux tomorrow from this weekend's London Tattoo Convention, I wanted to share these fantastic photos by London-based photographer Edo Zollo. Edo's work focuses on street life and events, so he was perfectly suited to capture the excitement of the convention.
See more of Edo's images from on Flickr. You can check him on Twitter & Facebook.
Next Sunday, July 7th, is the opening of Atom Moore's photographic exhibition "The Locust" at Sacred Gallery in SoHo NYC. It's a very personal exhibit in which Atom's photos tell a story of his friendship with a well known and beloved member of the body modification community, Adam Aries, and honors Adam's life, which was cut too short in 2011. Here's more info on the show from Sacred:
Atom Moore began photographing Adam Aries, also known as Zid, a decade ago. Zid was in many ways larger than life. His interests were not mainstream and he challenged many social norms. His gritty but beautiful look matched his straightforward attitude toward the world. Zid embodied the definition of living life the way you see fit.Exhibition runs from July 7th - 31st. Hope to see you there and celebrate a life fully lived.
On the Facebook page of the wonderful Loretta Leu, matriarch of the renowned Leu Family's Family Iron, I began seeing fantastic portraits of the Leu's and other artists as well as photography from events like the recent tattoo convention in Paris. So, I set out to find who was behind the lens of such engaging images so that I may share them with y'all.
The work is that of Switzerland-based photographer Bobby C. Alkabes. Bobby's work reflects an intimacy with her subjects, many of whom I know are not keen on having their photo taken but seem to be enjoying their shoot with her. She's also captured so many great moments in the tattoo world and beyond, which you can find in the Events section of her portfolio.
Bobby graciously permitted me to use these images above, including the action shot of a collabortive tattoo between Kurt Wiscombe & Filip Leu, shown above. Check more of her work on Facebook & on her site, where many of her prints are available for purchase.
One of my favorite photographers who works heavily with those in the tattoo and music worlds -- and is a walking work of art himself -- is London-based badass Craig Burton. Craig has shot me and numerous other collectors for my own books and contributes to Total Tattoo, Tattoo Life and Inked Magazine, among many others.
To check his work online, the best place for a daily pic fix is his newish blog, which I'm loving. There's a diversity of editorial and fashion -- from portraits of beautiful men & women, often covered in beautiful tattoo work, to convention coverage.
He also posts fun videos. Here's one below on the London Convention.
To contact Craig to shoot your model portfolio, live gig, art show, corporate function, or 20-lb tattoo tome, hit him up at info [at] craigburtonphotography.com.
Photo of Khan by Edo Zollo. All photos in this post by Edo.
This past weekend, one of the world's best tattoo shows -- The London Tattoo Convention -- welcomed an estimated 20,000 attendees to East London's Tobacco Docks for the finest tattooing, performances, art exhibitions ... and Instagram posting.
I'm not gonna lie. I wanted to delete all my social media apps out of jealousy. We couldn't make it to the party this year but were constantly reminded what we were missing. But I'm over the envy and now enjoying the many images of the show.
My favorite photos are by London-based photographer Edo Zollo, who has graciously let us share some of them here. You can see Edo's full convention set on Flickr. Also check him on Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr.
For more convention photos, follow these links:
I like to think of myself as a bit of a Brooklyn badass ... but then there are things that bring me back to reality. The embodiment of badassery in my borough can be seen in this fascinating slideshow on Flavorwire of a gang "of 'troubled teenagers coming of age' in 1959 Brooklyn." Legendary photographer Bruce Davidson captured these kids getting into fights, making out with tough looking girls, and naturally, getting tattooed (as shown above). It's all very sexy. Hit up Flavorwire for more photos.
One of the most common questions tattooed people get on a regular basis is: "What does it mean?" There's an assumption that some momentous event must occur to inspire those who permanently mark themselves. For many, it is hard to understand tattoos as "art for art's sake."
With this in mind, I was pretty thrilled when I opened up Alex MacNaughton's new "London Tattoos" book, and read this in the very first portrait profile, which is of 43-year-old Alice Temple:
My tattoos don't mean anything to me other than I like being covered in tattoos. It's a purely visual thing. I like the look of almost anyone who is covered, and I knew I wanted the same. What I have on me is almost irrelevant. What is important is the artist who works on me.Alice's story is her lack of a story. It may not make for good reality TV but it's a great way to start a beautiful photography book where the subjects reflect on their tattoos and tattoo artists. Indeed, it is the props to the artists -- where the tattoos featured are specifically credited to each tattooist -- that makes London Tattoos more than just pretty pictures and personal musings. You may actually fall in love with a tattooist's work based on what you find in these pages. [Alice's primary work was done by Nikole Lowe, which she further explains.]
But I really do dig the pretty pictures and reflections of the collectors. In these reflections, there are some compelling narratives behind the tattoos, answering the "what does it mean" question for those unsatisfied with the "because I like it" response. One of my favorites is that of Professor Richard Sawdon Smith, head of the Art and Media Department at London South Bank University. [A part of his spread is shown below.] Here's an excerpt from his story:
My tattoo is a very personal project made public. It speaks of living with a long-term incurable illness that requires regular blood tests on a tri-monthly cycle for the last 16 years, making the visible the internal and highlighting this regular routine.
If you're not a big reader, the photographs are sure to hold your attention. The award-winning photographer -- who has authored three street art books -- offers intimate close-ups of the tattoo work that accompany the portraits. See more in this gallery. But Alex states that his goal is not to have a book simply showing tattoos: "I want to show how tattoos are a reflection of a person's character and lifestyle, how to live with them and how tattoos can enhance confidence and success in life." Right on!
Extra bonus: The foreword is written by our tattoo history guru, Dr. Matt Lodder, who also takes off his clothes in the latter portion of the book.
You can purchase the 304-page paperback from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com in the US.
BUT before you do, enter to win a free copy! The Prestel Publishing sent us a copy for one lucky reader. As usual, the winner will be selected randomly from those who comment on this post in our Needles & Sins Syndicate Group on Facebook or who Tweet at me. In one week, December 16, we'll put all the names of the commenters/tweeters into Randomized.com and the internet gods will offer up the chosen ones.
UPDATE: It seems the fabulous Dr. Lodder is offering a copy of his own to a reader in the UK. So when you comment in Facebook or on Twitter, let us know if you're in the UK.
One of our favorite guerrilla photographers, Igor of Driven By Boredom, was in New Orleans at the Voodoo Music Experience last weekend where he hooked up with the fine Sailor Jerry folks and photographed the insanity inside their killer vintage airstream.
There, tattooist Terry Brown worked for three days putting on free Sailor Jerry-inspired tattoos on rock stars, crew members and Igor himself. One such rock star was Jesse Hughes of Boots Electric (shown below) who got a Fuse logo tattoo, old school styled. For more on the fun (with more pics), check Igor's blog.
The Sailor Jerry airstream heads to the Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin this weekend, where Terry will be doing more free Americana tattoos. More on their Facebook events page.
For NY area punk fans: Igor also fronts the punk cover band, F*ucking Bullshit, which includes our Brian Grosz on bass. Next Thursday, November 10th, the band will be playing Lit Lounge in the East Village, NYC at 11PM. Hope to smash faces with you there.
Continuing our posts on noted upcoming events, on the East Coast, Sacred Gallery in NYC presents "Immortal Until Death: The Cemetery Landscapes and Portrait Photography of Nathaniel C. Shannon." The show opens this Saturday, Nov. 5th, and runs until Nov. 27th. The opening reception is Saturday from 7-10 PM. More info on Facebook.
Like the Idexa Stern and Aurora Meneghello collaboration, Nathaniel has documented the work of a renowned tattooist -- the godfather of neo-tribal tattooing Leo Zuluetta -- and his images are also featured in "Tattoo World" and my first book "Black Tattoo Art." But in this exhibition at Sacred, his photos from cemeteries are the focus of the show. Here's more background on this series:
For my San Francisco treats: this Sunday, November 6th, an event celebrating the collaboration of tattooist Idexa Stern and photographer Aurora Meneghello will take place at Idexa's Black & Blue Tattoo, 381 Guerrero at 16th, from 6-9PM. More details on Facebook.
Aurora's beautiful portraits of Idexa's tattoo clients are featured in the hardcover I edited for Abrams Books, "Tattoo World," which will be available for purchase as well as prints of the images. A number of those portraits will be on display at the event. Here's some background on their collaboration:
Idexa and Aurora shared a common vision for this project and together decided to approach Idexa's tattoos in a different way than traditional tattoo photography. Idexa specifically asked Aurora to work on this project because of her love of the natural landscape and her experience photographing people. Aurora brings a different aesthetics to the genre, one that captures Idexa's original style which is rooted in the body of her clients. Idexa and Aurora share a love of collaboration and community and brought their values to this common project.Read more about it and see more photos on Aurora's blog.
We've seen a few stop motion videos of tattooing, but we're particularly digging this one by Portland photographer Dabe Alan of his camera-themed tattoo by Tony Touch at Infinite Art Tattoo in Toledo, Ohio.
Through stop motion, you really get an up-close look into technique and overall creation of the tattoo. As Dabe notes in the description under Part 1 of the video, the sitting took four hours and will be part of a large work. He explains: "So with the help of Tony Touch, I am getting an awesome Nerd sleeve worked on whenever I go visit Toledo. We decided to roll with an evolution of cameras at first, then more nerdy references above." Also check Part 2 and Part 3.
Here is part of the tattoo below from Tony's Facebook page, where you can also find updates to his portfolio.
Thanks to photographer Atom Moore for the link!
Once again, the London Tattoo Convention brought in the modified masses this weekend -- an estimated 20,000 people -- with the draw of renowned tattooists from across the globe, fine art galleries, fire-breathing beauties, bands, and plenty of pints. While we didn't make it this year, we followed dispatches on Facebook & Twitter as well as on Flickr, which has many fabulous photos from the show, including this one above by Ed London Photography. [Links to more photo sets are below.]
And like every year, the press swarmed the Tobacco Docks to bring the freak show into the homes of the unblemished. Some are particularly noteworthy in their approach to covering tattoo culture.
First, in a lead-up to the show, TNT Magazine profiled London-based artists, Mo Copoletta of The Family Business and Nikole Lowe of Good Times Tattoo.The article begins with the outrageous statement that even doctors and lawyers get tattooed (heaven forfend!), but then has the artists carry the piece with their thoughts on tattooing, such as the trend of young people getting neck tattoos without much other coverage. It's a controversial topic among tattooists, and here's what Mo had to say about it:
I believe it's more of a cool factor of belonging to a scene rather than a mature decision of having something on your neck. [...] Before going to neck and hands, you need to live with tattoos and have visible parts of your body, like forearms and legs, done first to be able to get used to people's reactions. Because, no matter what, you're always going to get a reaction from people, and you're not going to be 20 forever and looking rock'n'roll your whole life.Mo and Nikole also offer general tattoo advice for those new to the art. Worth a read.
The BBC covered the show as well with a particular bent on tattoo regret. I was immediately put off by the usual tired line: "Tattoos are no longer the trophies of rockers, sailors, bikers, bohemians and criminals, they have gone mainstream." [It's also used in the next linked article.] Dr. Matt Lodder found a line in a 1926 Vanity Fair article declaring that tattoos were no longer just for sailors, but have "percolated through the entire social stratum." So please, reporters, cut out the cliches. Then the BBC reporter goes on to ponder whether there would be less tattoo regret if people could "test drive" a tattoo, so she gets a temporary tattoo and goes to the convention to see what the reaction to it is. People winced. Rightly so. At least the focus of the writing was on those who do not regret their tattoo choices like Joe Monroe, Cammy Stewart & Lestyn Flye of Divine Canvas. They are shown in a short video of the show embedded in the online article.
My favorite reportage is The Guardian's "Tattoos: Eyecatching But Art They Art?" by art critic Jonathan Jones. Again, there was "Once associated with sailors, gang members, or circus performers, these markings are now a mainstream cultural force." I too winced. But the rest of the writing makes up for it. Here's a taste:
For less talk and more imagery, check the Flickr sets of these photographers:
* Ed London Photography (First image above)
* Rhodri Jones/Rodrico (Image of Jo Harrison tattooing above and facial tattoo below).
Parisian photographer, Julien Lachaussee, spent six years shooting tattoo artists and collectors from all walks of life, and the result of his work is now culminating in a limited edition art book entitled Alive: Tattoo Portraits published by Editions Eyrolles.
Alive is comprised of 146 portraits in color and black & white, and in Polaroid and analog photography. Subjects include body builders, strippers and a number of tattoo artists including Laura Satana, Lea Nahon, and Tin Tin (shown below) who also wrote the foreword.
Julien and Eyrolles have launched a pre-sale special of the book on Ulule. Those who order the book on Ulule within the next 19 days will receive Alive (in its designer box) and a signed and numbered print. Fund raising through Ulule will go towards offsetting the printing costs, but the goal of 45 sales must be met.
You can pre-order Alive for 160 Euros for its November release date. Also find more of Julien's work in Sang Bleu and Inked magazines among others.
Two highly engaging pieces on prison tattoos were published this week:
On Monday, Flavorwire posted a photo gallery of prison tattoos that are part of Araminta de Clermont's Life After series (which includes the image above). Clermont photographed tattooed members of South Africa's Numbers prison gangs after their release. She explores questions of identity and stigma, possession and self-expression, and "how it would be if we all had our past mistakes permanently emblazoned across our faces."
I highly recommend reading Clermont's full discussion of Life After on her gallery page. Here's an excerpt:
Tattoos may convey rankings within the hierarchy of the Number, may be testimonies to a crime committed, or may sometimes be a rather more personal statement: like a message of blame, threat, or regret, or a tribute to a loved one. A 'Numbers' gangster can read another's life story simply through the markings he has. The gallows symbol signifies that the bearer faced the death sentence, before it was outlawed. Many of the most highly tattooed men that I photographed, had been given the death sentence, before Mandela's reprieve, and thus they had never believed they would be released, never imagining 'a life after'.More on the work can be found via this BBC audio slideshow.
Then, yesterday, The Independent and Gambit of New Orleans published an interview by Dege Legg (photos by Travis Gauthier) with Victor "Versus" Sandifer, a prison tattooer who spent 21 years behind bars. In the Q&A, Sandifer discusses how he got into jailhouse tattooing, making a "tattoo gun," and symbolism behind prison tattoo imagery, among other interesting tidbits. Here's a taste from the Gambit:
G: Who were your best customers in prison?
VS: I tattooed everybody: Mexicans, Chinese, white, black, all kinds of people. I did them all.
G: What kind of tattoos would they gravitate toward?
VS: Depends on the race. Black guys want gangster stuff: names, faces, gang affiliations, pictures of dead homies. Stuff that represents where they're from. Mexicans like religious imagery, lowrider and vato stuff. Girls, cars, Virgin Marys, Jesus. White dudes go for anything: dragons, knives, guns, swastikas. All kinds of weird stuff like that. Depends on the white guy you're talking to.
G: Lot of Aryan Brotherhood?
VS: You got a lot of diehard AB'ers out there, but you also got a lot of old-school Southern rockers that just want a ZZ Top tattoo.
G: What's the meaning behind teardrops?
VS: Depends on the state you're in. Some people wear them to count time under their left eye. Under the right, it signifies a dead homeboy. For some it's the number of people they've killed. In Louisiana, it doesn't mean as much--they just wear teardrops to be having them. In Texas, a lot of tattoos are gang related.Read more of the interview here.
In a time when mass media has finally been looking at tattooing as a fine art (reality shows excluded), it's interesting to see their current approach to stigmatized tattooing. They are both great reads. Check 'em.
Photo by Dale May, All Rights Reserved
I'm a long time fan of photographer Dale May, whose portfolio includes many lush and sexy tattoo portraits. On his new Tumblr blog, Dale posted this image under the headline: Mama's Boy - Tattoos For Children! Here's what he says of it:
The other day I took some pictures of my Godson, Owen. He's quite the little actor, especially when he's promised Ice Cream and all he gets is the cone. Whoops. Well, as soon as I captured this shot of Owen on the verge of tears, I knew I had to call my good friend Michelle Myles at Daredevil Tattoo, and ask her to draw me a "Mama's Boy" tattoo.Dale adds he's planning on tattooing more kids. Follow him on Tumblr and Twitter for updates.
Reflecting upon consumerist culture and brand name obsession, artist Dietrich Wegner has manipulated studio photography and clay models in his series Cumulous Brand, either to make a statement on how we are bombarded with messages to buy, buy buy. Or it can be a simple warning on the perils of early tattoo choices.
For certain people, actually many people, it is too late.