The recent headlines this week tackled tattoos and tradition, sacred rituals, racism, celebrity, comedy and more.
First up, when PBS ran a story on a family of Trump supporters in North Carolina, it seems they producers did not know (or did not alert viewers) that the hand tattoos on one of them are commonly considered "white power" symbols. Gawker called out the racist tattoos, interviewing Mark Pitcavage, senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League, for more on the Celtic cross and "88" tattoos on the hands of Trump fan Grace Tilly (shown above). Pitcavage told Gawker:
The Celtic Cross is an ancient and revered Christian symbol typically not associated with extremism at all. However, one particular version of the Celtic Cross--a squarish cross with a thick circle intersecting with it (also known as Odin's Cross), has become one of the most popular white supremacist symbols around. In the past 20 years, its popularity has done little but grow, thanks to its use as the logo by Stormfront, the largest white supremacist website in the world.Gawker adds: "Per the ADL's website, '88 is a white supremacist numerical code for Heil Hitler.' Finally, a connection has been made between Adolf Hitler and Donald Trump."
When the discussion of the PBS piece turned largely to these tattoos, PBS had to add two editor's notes acknowledging the tattoo issue. When they reached out to Tilly, she denied that her tattoos were white power symbols, but commenters weren't buying it, especially, the "88."
With continued association to racist groups, Trump supporters who have gotten tattoo tributes to The Donald may soon be looking to erase their mistakes. Looking forward, Gizmodo offers a "Preview of the Presidential Tattoos People Will Be Getting Removed In 2017."
Negative associations with tattoos, particularly to the criminal underworld, are what lie behind the bans found at so many spas and hot springs in Japan. [In Sept 2013, I wrote on how one Maori woman was refused entry to a bathhouse in Hokkaido because of her Moko.] Recently, the Japan Tourism Agency has asked spa operators to accept tattooed foreign tourists. According to the Japan Times,"the agency asked operators to take measures such as offering stickers to cover tattoos and setting certain time frames for tattooed tourists to bathe, so as to separate them from other visitors." They would need one very large sticker for my bod! Japan Times also noted that the request does not extend to relaxing the rules for Japanese with tattoos.
In Thailand, tens of thousands descended upon Wat Bang Phra for the annual Wai Khru ceremony in which devotees receive Sak Yant -- tattoos believed to imbue the wearers with magical powers, and also "re-energize" the powers of their existing tattoos. The MalayMail has this video of the ceremony, and The Nation interviewed attendees about their tattoo talismans.
Proving you're never too old to be tattooed, 103-year-old Jack Reynolds plans to get a tattoo for his 104th birthday next month, making him the oldest person on record to do so. Check this adorable video interview with him. In an interview with Good Morning Britain, Reynolds says that he would like to get tattooed on his arms, but they are too skinny, so it may just be inked on his butt.
On the celebrity tattoo tip, GQ offers "An Annotated Guide to David Beckham's Many Tattoos." Thank you, GQ.
Also thankfully, that awful Ben Affleck backpiece is a fake. Phew.
Finally, I had to giggle watching comedian Amy Schumer trash Mike Tyson for his 'slutty' facial tattoo.
The recent tattoo news had some groan worthy moments, celebrity sparkle, and a glimmer of culture. Here's what went down.
Those with respect for tattooing let out a collective "Ugh!" on social media when learning that a new chain of Whole Foods could include tattoo shops and record stores. Tons of media outlets covered it but Vice's article was my fave, especially with this opener:
Imagine a place where you could get a deer antler tattoo while eating quinoa chips and buying your fav Tame Impala record. A retail space so youthful and vibrant that you could get your bicycle repaired while shopping for ethically raised cuts of meat. That dream (or nightmare) may soon become reality thanks to Whole Foods.The Whole Foods hipster pitch comes in the form of "365 by Whole Foods," a cheaper, younger version of the pricey kale-shilling giant. Maybe a one-stop-shop for Pinterest tattoos wouldn't be so bad, but this would leave a lot of shop-girls/boys without walk-ins to roll their eyes at.
Vice also came through with their Trump tattoos feature, in which they asked those who got Trump tributes, "Why? Oh, why?" In my post last week on "Presidential Tattoos," I wrote on Bob Holmes of Clay Dragon Tattoo offering free tattoos of The Donald's name, slogan, or even face. Vice went to Clay Dragon to see what that was about. The people they spoke to ranged from a felon who was not even able to vote, to a local peace officer who just kept repeating the slogan "Make American great again," to a construction worker who got fancy with his free tattoo featuring Trump in front of an American flag, ripping open his shirt, and exposing a Superman logo. Yup, great again.
Beyond our borders, some beautiful tattoo work is coming out of Cuba, as ABC reports of the tattoo resurgence in the country; however, artists struggle with the industry being "alegal," that is, neither illegal nor explicitly permitted and regulated, and subject to the whims of officials. But progress on this front is being made:
In the middle of last year, state inspectors raided at least a half dozen Havana tattoo parlors, confiscating tattooing machines, needles and inks without providing a clear explanation. Alarmed, other parlor owners closed in order to avoid confiscation.In tabloid news, Lady Gaga and Angelina got new tattoos. I usually avoid sharing celeb stories, but these two are noteworthy.
Lady Gaga's David Bowie portrait tribute was tattooed by one of the godfathers of contemporary black & grey work, Mark Mahoney of Shamrock Social Club.
And Angelina was seen in Cambodia with new hand-poked Thai tattoos, purportedly by Bangkok-based artist Ajarn Noo Kanpai.
Finally, if you enjoy seeing paintings by old masters reimagined as tattoo models, check the work of Paris-based artist Nicolas Amiard.
A gorgeous and fascinating documentary short film (embedded below) on my friend Peter Schachner, better known as Lard Yao Peter, has recently been released and it's a must-see. Directed, edited & produced by Josh Z Northover, the film shares Peter's compelling story of how he learned to create the handpoked tattoos he is renowned for -- a story that begins in Lard Yao prison in Thailand, aka "Bangkok Hilton."
The Munich-born artist ended up in Lard Yao for over four years, after being on the run from facing a German prison. Peter talks about how he and other inmates had to tattoo at night because, if they were caught, they would either be chained or beaten. And he did face some beatings; he even chuckles as he tells a story about standing on a pillar and being "whacked." Peter happily notes that he had some "brilliant times" in Lard Yao, although he wouldn't want to go back. In fact, he credits being alive today because he got clean there, while friends who were addicts are no longer around today.
Peter also shares info on the materials they used in creating their tattoos, the sacred meanings of Sak Yant traditional tattoos and how he enjoys his freedom today.
Peter has recently moved to Fife in Scotland and lives in a magical place where he is free to tattoo in nature as he did on the cliff in Goa, India when he was first released from prison. He will divide his time between working in Scotland and in Bavaria, Germany. He works from home by appointment only, seeing one client a day. You can check out his work on Facebook at Lard Yao Peter. If you would like more information, you can get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org
On a personal note ... years ago, at a tattoo convention in Wales, probably around 3 a.m., as a group of us hung out in the living area of our bed & breakfast, I got to learn more about Peter's story from him, and then convinced him to handpoke a Thai talisman on me. It was great luck to have met Peter and his partner Kirsty there, and later in various conventions around the world. I'm grateful to wear such a tattoo.
Enjoy the film!
Tattoos above by Andreas "Curly" Moore.
Tons of tattoo news hit the headlines while we were out on vacation, so I figured I'd give y'all a run-down of some of the ones I found most interesting:
First off, I had to giggle over how the fantastic Andreas "Curly" Moore offered his own version of "Palm Sunday" (shown above) last weekend at Lionel's Tattoo Studio in Oxford. The Oxford Mail quoted Curly saying: "It was Palm Sunday, so we thought for amusement we would do three free palms. The tattoos had no religious meaning, it was just for the sake of beautiful art." Check more of Curly's beautiful art here. [He's also featured in Black Tattoo Art 2.]
Then, specifically designed to kill my post-vacation buzz, The NY Times published yet another tattoo essay. It wasn't because the word "asymptote" was used twice in an article that was not about geometry. It wasn't because the writer used the word "tat." Ok, maybe it was that, but it was used in this context: "I felt how much I needed, from him and everyone, a certain kind of response: to feel inspired by the tat, and tell me so." The "tat" in question was a Latin phrase homo sum: humani nil a me alienum puto, translated, "I am human; nothing human is alien to me." I can see how it would be interesting if the tattoo was just a hook in the article to have a discussion on what that means...but then the writer brings in all the same stale discussions about getting tattooed post-breakup as some form of reclaiming her body, a declaration of selfhood, and the tattooed body as public space in some form -- all very true, but nothing new. It also neglects another real truism: no one has to break up with you for you to get a tattoo.
Thankfully, The Wall Street Journal came through with an article focusing on the art: "In Brooklyn Mentoring Program, Arts Volunteers Get Tattoos Designed by Teens." The piece discusses tattooer Scott Campbell's work for the arts education non-profit Free Arts NYC, specifically, a project in which he tattooed, for free, the artwork of 10 teenagers from the mentoring program on 10 volunteers -- thereby, connecting them in a powerful way. As noted in the WSJ, Scott wrote of the project:
"The volunteer promises, from that day onward, even if they never see or speak to each other again, to always look at that tattoo and believe in that kid [...] So that no matter where they are or what they're facing, they know there is someone walking around with his or her name on them, believing in them."There's more heart warming discussion in the article. A great read. Scott's art will also be auctioned off April 30th to further benefit Free Arts NYC (with this great promo shown above).
Here are some other links to tattoo news this past week:
I'll keep an eye out for more tattoo news worth sharing! Feel free to post links you like in the Needles & Sins Facebook group, as many of you already do (which I love!).
Father Panik graces us with another tale of his tattoo adventures. This time he returns from Thailand and talks temple tattoos.
See some photos of the tattooing monks in this Flickr set.
I'm looking for meaning.
I'm walking through crowded, polluted 100-degree heat of Bangkok looking for sacred tattoos: Sak Yant. Temple tattoos, sacred Buddhist tattoos.
Tattoos created by monks and infused with holy mantras.
I'm hunting those who wear them.
They are hard to find.
There was a time in Bangkok where you saw them on every corner, on the arms necks and heads of cops, taxi drivers, soldiers, anyone who had a dangerous life.
Now, not so much.
Sure you see lots of tattoos in Bangkok, just as you would in NYC or Berlin or Tokyo.
But that's the problem. They are the same tattoos you see in every major city.
Young Thais getting tattooed today want the ones they see on MTV or bootleg DVDs of LA Ink.
They don't want the tattoos worn by their fathers and grandfathers. They want to be cool.
In a city famous for it's sex industry and Olympic level drinking, I'm looking for old cab drivers. Guys wearing tattoos that will stop bullets, protect you from knives, bring you wealth and prosperity.
So far I haven't had much chok dee. And it's fucking hot.
Still, I hunt.
For centuries, westerners have been going to Asia, finding cool stuff & bringing it back.
I am part of that tradition.
Not because I'm daring and adventurous but because I don't really "fit" in our world.
Most can find their niche at home, I cannot.
My landlord really wants me to find my niche.
I gotta pay rent. I gotta make a buck.
So like a Portuguese trader traveling the Silk Road, I find myself in Bangkok looking for meaning.
I think I can find it in sacred tattoos.
I'm probably wrong.
Something tells me that truth is not found externally.... but I'll skip the navel gazing.
I want the tattoo.
For more on Sak Yant tattoos, see this post on the Wat Bang Phra festival.
At the Buddhist temple in Wat Bang Phra, about 30 miles (50km) west of Bangkok, Thailand, devotees (and spectators) gather every year to receive Sak Yant -- tattoos believed to imbue the wearers with magical powers -- at the Wai Khru ceremony.
Wai Khru translates as Honor the Teacher, and that teacher revered has been the abbot of Wat Bang Phra. In her Globe & Mail article, Jennifer Gampell explains:
These "superhuman" tattoos are featured in a CNN video of this year's festival.
Best illustrating the festival are the stunning photos of Gavin Gough, including the one shown above of an enraptured devotee. Gavin's images move from the intimacy of the monk's needle penetrating skin to the writhing crowds outside the temple. A descriptive introduction and captions offer further context.
I encourage you to explore more of Gavin's work online. [You can also find his photography in Vanity Fair, Nat Geo, The NY Times, among so many other publications. His stock photography has also graced postage stamps and billboards.]
For budding and seasoned photographers seeking to capture Thailand on their own with some guidance, check Gavin's Bangkok Photo School and private workshops.
I'll be checking in on Gavin's blog for more beautiful images of body art and beyond.
[Thanks to Brayden for directing me to the Wai Khru photos.]
Yesterday, Father Panik gave us his own (special brand of) review of the Star of Texas tattoo convention in Austin, but he wasn't the only one offering reportage of the event. Austin 360 gave a play-by-play (and a small lame sideshow), while TV stations KRQE and Fox Austin posted short videos online of the show. I dig these photos and quick videos because they offer a look at the scene, which helps decide what will be on my convention schedule next year.
The Bangkok International Tattoo Convention also got some nice coverage. Reuters took beautiful photos from the show including the one above, and CNN has a few nice shots as well. Sky News joined in with a video from the floor.
With thousands attending these conventions worldwide -- and the media chasing after us -- you'd think that the debate whether "tattoos have gone mainstream" was thoroughly squashed, but a new study says otherwise.
Texas Tech University's "Body Art Team" [real name] has found "The more body art you have, the more likely you are to be involved in deviance," according to the Chicago Tribune. The swat Body Art Team surveyed 1,753 students at four colleges and reported that the heavily tattooed and pierced drank more, did drugs more, had sex more and cheated in class more. [They add, "For low-level body art, these kids are not any different from anybody else."]
NBC news in Dallas also reported on the study and gave this reasoning behind the results:
To see what tattooed people think about the study, NBC went to a local studio and talked to artists and clients -- who, as expected, laughed at it. Watch their video report below:
The study is somewhat silly in its over-generalization and limited study group: How many of us drank, smoked and fucked more in college? A lot.
But yes, we've seen more young people heavily tattooed and modified in more extreme ways than just a decade ago. I wonder, though, if it's because of a need to rebel or simply because there is greater access to tattoos and mod procedures. Feel free to weigh in in the comments section.
If anyone is pissed off about the popularity of tattoos, it's Helen Mirren, who got her hand tattoo while drunk and lookin' to be baaaad.
Tattoos are not popular enough for Armani, however. They airbrushed those of Megan Fox in their latest undie ad.
Even less scientific than the deviant study: "How tattoos can reveal your lover's personality."
The Marine Corps are also concerned about heavily tattooed (deviant?) soldiers saying that "tattoos of an
excessive nature do not represent our traditional values." Values like Shock & Awe? A new Marine Corps reg tightens and clarifies tattoo policies for active-duty troops; most notably, it "prohibits enlisted Marines with sleeve tattoos from becoming
commissioned officers, even if the tattoos, which were banned in 2007,
had been grandfathered in according to protocol." I know this is wacky but I have no problem with our military lookin'
Real deviants will soon be less likely to get tattooed with new technology that matches tattoos to criminal records. The newest development called "Tattoo ID" helps law enforcement match up tattoos to suspects and victims. For example, the Boston Herald says that "a security camera image of a suspect's tattoo could be checked against an image databank to come up with a short list of suspects." Problem here is that we assume most criminals have artistic acumen for fine art custom tattoos. What about those who picked off some flash from a tattoo shop wall along with tons of other clients? Internet-industry journal IEEE Spectrum asks, "Is a tattoo ... enough of a unique identifier to put someone under suspicion?" A valid question to explore before innocent tattooed people are accused.
In more on the tattoo law front ...
A new tattoo bill in Florida will prohinit those 16 and under from getting tattooed even with parental permission. [Teenagers 16 or 17 years old would still need a parent to sign for them.] The bill also requires every tattoo artist in Panama City to register with the Florida Department of Health.
In South Carolina, however, tattoo rules are being eased. The state's tough tattoo law requires parental consent for tattoos on those aged under 20 years of age, but that restriction will be lifted if a state House bill passes and the Governor signs off on it. An impetus for the change is soldiers under 20 returning to South Carolina after tours in Iraq and Afghanistan who want to get tattooed but can't -- they're allowed to be shot at but not tattooed.
On the pop culture tip ...
Check this black light Lost tattoo. The story behind it is pretty cool:
"In the late summer of '08, I took my Lost love to the next level by getting a Dharma tattoo inked onto my ankle. Since my good pal had recently started working at small parlor nearby, we decided to collaborate. I had been wanting to experiment with iridescent ink. My pal had never worked with the stuff, so we struck a deal: I would be his guinea pig if he would spring for the ink.
If you've never heard of it, iridescent ink is a dye that glows under a black light. The tough thing about tattooing with it is that you have to illuminate the surface of the skin just to see what you're doing.
Dharma logo seemed perfect for this technique, with a thick,
recognizable shape....We decided to use the Looking Glass Station's
logo -- a white rabbit inside of the Dharma shape -- a reference to Alice in Wonderland, and the (site) of my favorite Lost episode, the Season 3 finale."
In clear tattoo view, a Baton Rouge man tempts fate with a "Saints Superbowl Champion" tattoo even before this past Sunday's game. Thankfully, they at least made it to the Super Bowl.
Best Headline (and Jersey Shore reference): "This Is Why Cadillac Has an Image Problem.
Worst press release ever. "Tattoo body art is not only a kind of body art but a great way of advertising your business and products as tattoo advertising has many merits compared to other ways of advertising."
And More Quick & Dirty Links ...