Photo of Whang-Od Oggay by Lars Krutak.
I had to weed through the muck of dumb celebrity tattoo gossip and features focusing on the bad rather than beauty of tattooing, but I did come up with some gems. I also threw in a few that made me mad but were noteworthy. Here we go...
One of my favorite recent features was this Guardian photo show "What lies beneath: people with full-body tattoos bare all." Cheezy title, but great photos of a diverse group of collectors, including our friend Drew Beckett.
I was also so excited to read that the Philippines' oldest living mambabatok (tattoo artist), Whang-Od Oggay (shown above), has been nominated as a "National Living Treasure or Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan (GAMABA)" for her role in perpetuating the traditional art of Kalinga tattooing. I first learned of Whang-Od through Lars Krutak's writing "The Kalinga Tattoo Artist of the Philippines," and through the work of the Tatak Ng Apat Na Alon Tribe, who are reviving the ancient tattoo arts of their Kalinga ancestors here in the US. Hers is an amazing story and truly deserving of such an honor. Also check this video profile on Whang-Od (from 2013).
Lars' work is also discussed in the Smithsonian Science News article "Is tattoo ink safe?" The article explores a paper that Lars co-authored entitled "A medical-toxicological view of tattooing," which looks at the toxicological risks of the ingredients used in tattoo inks and also what happens to the pigments during tattoo removal. Lars is quoted in the article explaining further:
There are no regulatory requirements concerning the production and sterility of colorants, which can carry multi-resistant bacteria and carcinogens and trigger serious allergic reactions and viral infections. [...] New research is needed to contribute to the future development of safe tattooing, and this article is a first step in the right direction.In Australia, plastic surgeons & tattoo removal specialists want greater regulation of the tattoo removal industry, especially considering the damage that is being done by those with a laser machine and little experience.
On the US legal front, a federal judge tossed a lawsuit challenging the visible tattoo ban of the Chicago Police Department. In July, three Chicago police officers, who served in the military and have symbolic tattoos, filed the suit claiming that the ban violates their First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and expression. However, U.S. District Judge Charles P. Kocoras ruled that "the city's goal of having a professional-looking police force trumps the officer's desire to express themselves by keeping their tattoos visible while on-duty." We've been seeing more and more challenges to police department tattoo policies, with different results, but it appears that the legal tide is still with upholding these bans.
It was painful for me to read the TechInsider article on "trendy sacred geometry tattoos" -- which is anything but sacred. It features work from some good artists, but throwing it together in an Instagram Listacle format was tacky and lacked respect for patterns that should be taken as something more than the next cute Pinterest tattoo pick.
Thankfully, I felt better reading this profile and Q&A with Paul Slifer, the Massachusetts native who owns Red, Hot and Blue Tattoo in Edinburgh, Scotland. A few years ago, when I was visiting that fabulous city, I stopped by the studio, and they were really warm and welcoming. Plus the artists there know how to put on a beautiful tattoo. Check 'em.
One of the biggest stories in recent headlines was the tattoo of Justin Trudeau, Canada's new Prime Minister, which is a Haida-inspired raven with a globe as part of the body. As noted by Radio Canada International, the tattoo was done by Robert Davidson, an artist of Haida and Tlingit descent. Interestingly, the article brings up cultural appropriation and tattoos:
There has been controversy in North America over cultural appropriation-the fashion industry and non-natives using aboriginal symbols. But Peter Lantin, president of the council of the Haida Nation, told the National Post "when Justin Trudeau visited...again in 2013, he seemed to take an interest in the culture and, of course, his father was technically family."Read more on the issue of appropriation and Haida tattooing here. As a follow up to the Trudeau tattoo story, the BBC has this article on tattoos of other world leaders.
Aaaand let's wrap up this news review with some quick & dirty links:
* An Australian man with a Hindu goddess tattoo angered a crowd in Bangalore, India.
* Patrick Thomas of OC Tattoo on Pet Portraits, Graphic Design, and Tattooing his Sister.
* "My Life with a Face Tattoo" is an interesting BBC video profile of one Dundee man.
* And the most tattooed city in the UK is ...
The Dark Lord of Tattooing, Paul Booth, just broke his facial tattoo taboo and created his version of Moko in this demonic piece on a fellow tattooer. As noted on Paul's Instagram post, the tattoo is designed to change depending on the point of view.
Naturally, with a work like this, the tattoo has gone viral across social media, garnering hundreds of comments -- and within those comments are critiques on changing someone's appearance so drastically and the ethics in doing so. The discussion of tattoo ethics has been a hot topic lately, particularly driven by the "f*cking neck tattoo" debate, in which Dan Bythewood at NY Adorned refused to put a neck tattoo on a women who only had three little tattoos; the woman then whined about his refusal on the internet.
This is different.
I'm a fan of beautifully done facial tattoos on those who are seriously committed to tattoos and in a good place in their lives, and I feel that the decisions to tattoo people wanting this type of work is best done on a case-by-case basis. In this case, Paul felt that this client and this type of work made the right moment to break his taboo.
Here's how Paul explains it:
[T]o answer some questions I'm getting a lot of, I thought I would answer some here. Old School Tattoo shop Mythology dictates we don't do hands and faces. My reasons included not wanting to be responsible for... At THAT time... A truly regret filled bad decision. Society did not find tattooing even remotely acceptable. Of course, even today, a face tattoo severely limits you with career options. So it is generally unethical practice and therefore "taboo". However... While i have thought up heaps of sick ideas for faces over the years because after all, isn't what is taboo to you always quite alluring?! It was just my ethics wouldn't allow it. Now it's not that i have lost them by choosing to do a face... It's that i was finally approached by someone who not only met the requirements for me to keep my ethics intact but also was doing it for many of the same reasons i did it. It was a Ritual for both of us. He is a 30 year old tattoo artist who needed and was ready for the ultimate commitment to our craft. Do you have any concept of what it takes to literally go to your mentor and say tattoo whatever you want all over my face. It's about extending trust at a level most couldn't understand. He is tattooed to his knuckles and the reason his chest and shoulders are bare is because he has been saving them for me for years. He endured the suffering for 3.5 hours as he insisted on one sitting from the start. It's important to suffer... Especially if this is a Rite Of Passage for you. He barely squirmed. Seriously dedicated tattoo warrior right here and he deserves respect, not opinionated scorn. Besides... "Mr. Can't get a job " probably makes more money than you. He's a Tattoo Artist.Yup. He probably does. Kudos to them both for a beautiful tattoo and the discussion surrounding it.
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.
This weekend, I received a succession of excellent text messages: they began with a video of an Argentinian tattooer dancing in his underwear...followed by photos of that same tattooer creating a dotwork masterpiece on another talented artist and friend. These are the very reasons smart phones were created.
Nazareno Tubaro of Buenos Aires, in his signature stippling style, adorned the face of his Brazilian blackwork brethren, Garcia Leonam. The tattoos meld with existing work on the top of Garcia's head, then flow in beautiful symmetry down along his face and scalp. You can get a glimpse of the painstaking technique of building a bold composition out of small dots by this close-up below (before Naza tattooed the second line along the ear).
Naza and Garcia created a short video from their session, which you can find on Naza's Instagram. You can find Garcia on Instagram as well. You won't, however, find the half-naked dancing video online. Not yet.
Today, Shannon of BMEzine posted on Modblog the story behind the facial tattoo of Lesya, a beautiful young woman from Russia who radically altered her appearance by having her new lover tattoo his name across her face.
This naturally went viral -- just like the story of the girl with 56 stars tattooed on her face in 2009. Both of these women have something in common. Both were tattooed by the same man: Rouslan Toumaniantz.
Tattooing, in many forms, can elicit a reaction from a viewer, positive or negative, in different ways. Facial tattoos often attract the strongest of reactions. The reactions to Lesya's tattoo are the strongest of the strong, and naturally so, particularly in light of the back story, which Shannon offers in his post. Here's a bit from it:
About a month ago, Rouslan Toumaniantz, a well known and sometimes notorious Belgium-based tattoo artist (of Tattoo Box in Kortrijk), and Lesya, a designer living at the time in Saransk, a city in central Russia started talking via chat (Rouslan speaks fluent Russian) and realized they had a lot in common, and quickly began falling head over heels in love. About a week ago they met in person in Moscow and decided to get married -- their plans for their life together include her learning to tattoo (Rouslan tells me she's already a talented artist), apprenticing under her husband-to-be, while she also gets the full-body ink that she's always dreamed of (biomech is the current plan) -- and of course a family.Read more of the post and see additional photos here.
As you can see from the nude photo of Lesya and Rouslan on Modblog, the facial tattoo is the only major body modification she has. This has also fueled the controversy surrounding it.
So you have two camps: the cheers and the jeers.
Shannon notes interesting downfalls, including the association with gangs like MS-13, who have prominent facial tattoos that are often stylized in a similar way. However, he places the focus on their "commitment to love" and how "sometimes the best decisions are the ones you make in an instant with your heart rather than the ones long-debated in your mind." Indeed, there have been many times where I've fully agreed with this latter statement. There are many times that I haven't. Which is why this is heartbreaking to me.
I don't want to be in the jeers crowd. Here is a young woman who is in love and this is the way she has chosen to show her commitment. I cannot muster my usual snobbery. But I also cannot suppress feelings of anger towards this new love of hers, Rouslan, who in the most brazen of ways, marked this girl, forever changing her life. I wonder if he will shoulder the full responsibility of this for the longevity of the tattoo. To me, this seems more like marking one's property, rather than caring or nurturing your bride to be.
I often flippantly say the old maxim, "You get the tattoo you deserve." But this is not true all the time. Sometimes, there's got to be someone who educates and guides, who keeps impulses in check, and acts ethically. I believe that tattooists should largely shoulder this responsibility when it comes to clients, especially young ones. And I most firmly believe this when the tattooist has an intimate connection to the one being tattooed.
Lesya's photo has been popping up all over Facebook today. Some postings are of the point-and-laugh variety, others have touted it as "inspiring" and "the ultimate" in body modification.
To me, the ultimate in body modification is a commitment to the best form of expression of the best of who you are. It's a shame that her expression belongs to that of another person.
I commend Shannon for taking a positive approach to this work and seeing the beauty in it. And I stand with him in wishing that they realize their dreams and proving skeptics like myself wrong.
Vice.com -- who has brought us the wonderful "Tattoo Age" video series (but also does stuff like this) -- recently posted "I Had a Face Tattoo for a Week" in which Brad Casey sets out to learn if "people with face tattoos want to be treated like garbage" by walking around with his "mug decorated like a homeless anarchist who keeps a dog on a rope." Here are some of the highlights:
* Brad discusses the types of stares and vitriol tattooed people enjoy by strangers on the street ["You ruined your life"] as well as how often we're fetishized ["A couple of women in their late thirties fawned over me and one of them said, "It makes me wonder what kind of fucked up things must be going through your head."].
* He experienced the feel-up by drunk people. We all know that one.
* A guy came up to him and with a high five said: "Welcome. Your life is now theater."I think it's a great quote and made me think that the stares, comments, and touching can stem from the idea that, by being visibly tattooed especially with facial work, you become public property.
* His great conclusion: "the most difficult part of having a face tattoo is spending your day explaining your shitty life decision to every single person you meet."
While he drops some possible reasons why people would tattoo their faces, he can't really understand it -- and maybe that's because he engaged in the whole thing as a hipster experiment (and wow, Canadian hipsters seem just as ridiculous as those here in Brooklyn).
Reasons why people get tattooed are so individual and vast. Having a faux tattoo may inspire witty one-liners, but also inspires an unironic punch to the face.
Looks like The Hangover 2 continues to suffer some bad tattoo juju. First, the controversy surrounding who would play the small role of tattoo artist in the film. And now, the tattoo design itself.
Victor Whitmill, who did Mike Tyson's infamous facial tattoo in 2003, is suing Warner Bros. for copyright infringement in pirating his tattoo design "without attempting to contact [him], obtain his permission, or credit his creation"; he seeks damages and an injunction to stop the use of the tattoo in the film--which is essentially a big part of the movie. In The Hangover 2, a bachelor party once again leaves our wacky heroes with no clue of what happened the night before, except for a facial tattoo on the groom Stu (Ed Helms). There's also a monkey. See the trailer below.
Looks pretty funny but the legal claims are quite serious. [Download the complaint here.]
Tattoos. Copyright. The media is loving it. But in so many discussions of the case, there's a great deal of misinformation, so I'd like to break it down as best as I can.
First, when I wrote "The Tattoo Copyright Controversy for BMEzine in 2003, I approached it like a law school hypothetical; that is, I played with how intellectual property rules would apply in various potential disputes involving the ownership of a custom tattoo design. It was hypothetical because, at the time, no actual cases on record could be found specifically addressing this issue. Well, a lot has changed since 2003. Tattoo artists have sued companies for infringement and a number have received large settlements. Even collectors, like model & photographer Amina Munster [NSFW], have registered their tattoos with the US Copyright Office to discourage other collectors from copying.
The basics behind "The Tattoo Copyright Controversy still hold in addressing what exactly is copyright and its relation to tattoos. A couple of years later, I updated the article for Rankmytattoos.com and continued to post developments on my old Needled.com blog. So click these article links for more of a general discussion.
In this post, I'm going to break down the tattoo copyright issues in relation to Whitmill v. Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., (E.D. Missouri), what I'll call:
The Mike Tyson Tattoo Copyright Case 101...
This past weekend, the AFP reported on ancient tattoo practices having a contemporary appeal in Rob Bryan's article "Myanmar's tattooed women lure tourists."
In it, you'll read stories of the few remaining Chin women who bear the facial tattoos of their ancestors, a rite of passage and act of beautification for young women that is vanishing as the new generation of Chin have not see its aesthetic appeal. They are, however, seeing how it could prove lucrative. As Rob Bryan reports:
The article also discusses the ethical debate on "human zoos" -- exploitation or education/documentation?
When one of the Chin woman is asked how she feels about the tourists, she says that she welcomes those wishing to learn more about her and her heritage, adding "Sometimes I feel like my parents' spirits are coming back to me through the visitors."
I recommend a full read of the article.
For a related look at the traditional tattoos of that region, read Lars Krutak's article for the Vanishing Tattoo: "Tattoos of Indochina: Supernatural Mysteries of the Flesh."
My old tattoo and bod mod nerd friends, remember back in 2006 when Montreal's Rick "Rico" Genest was first profiled on BME's Modblog for his extensive facial work, transforming him into "Skullface" or "Zombie Boy"? Tattooist Frank from Derm FX Tattoo in Montreal submitted early photos to the site showing the progression of the skull tattoo, and Modblog posted updates over the years, like this 2007 one and this one in 2008. [
UPDATE: Here's the BME interview.
Anyway, old news right?
Well, this Montreal street punk is back in headlines as the new muse of Nicola Formichetti -- Lady Gaga's stylist (among other fashion pedigree). Formichetti is debuting his first collection for Thierry Mugler and Rico is the campaign poster boy.
On Wednesday, he walked the runway for Mugler during Paris Fashion week, and The NY Times said it was the only real highlight: "...the show itself was dramatic only in its use as a model of the totally tattooed Rick Genest, whose figure projected in a film, pearls glistening against the patterned flesh, was far more gripping than the clothes." [See photos here.]
Indeed, Mugler is milking the new model for "edge." When you first hit the designer's page, you'll see the video below of Rico striking poses -- even sexy, sexy pearl biting -- while a Gaga tune plays on.
A long way from the gutters of Montreal, Skullface has the last laugh at those who said he'd die penniless there.