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.
This edition of tattoo news review breaks the headlines down into The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. Let's start off with the latter:
The most popular story emailed by many of you is one of those that makes us feel just a bit better about ourselves as we point and laugh at others. Behold:
The only thing worse than a misspelled bad tattoo is losing a bet and having Nickelback frontman Chad Kroeger tattooed on your ass. See the butt-baring video of that here. [Click here for more Nickelback luv.]
Another lost bet: Stephen Baldwin thinking his Miley Cyrus tattoo will get him on Hannah Montana show. [Will refrain from snark on his loss in the Baldwin gene pool.]
Brilliant offense -- or offence -- with another "Sir, your tattoos are terrible" post on b-ball players' bad tattoos. See last week's ire. I'm becoming addicted to this series. Here's a taste:
Then there are the worst musician tattoos.
[Look, I'm really a people person. A lover of humanity. I only link the cattiness, not meow it myself. Mostly.]
A while back I posted about the arrest of a dirtbag who gave his 7-year-old son a gang tattoo. Now he's facing even tougher punishment for the crime: possible life in prison.
A 28-year-old man was arrested for tattooing brass knuckles on his 16-year-old girlfriend. [Yes, 16.] Even worse, the guy would stand outside a local high school and offer to tattoo kids for $40 AND reuse the needles on them. Lock. Him. Up.
A Boston child goes to get a temp tattoo from a vending machine and instead gets a hateful political message. Will this scar her against body art for life?
Those wishing to leave gang life -- and their tattoos -- can get free laser removal by Las Vegas doctor, Dr. Julio Garcia. There are similar offers around the country like Dr. Dave's Fresh Start program.
Chris Zedano's Staple Street photo series is a must-see and includes our own Sean Risley (shown right, cropped) as well as other tattooed and beautiful freak portraits.
This Charlie Brown tattoo is no blockhead.
More cool geek tattoos at the Science Tattoo Emporium.
Amy Winehouse is sobering up and covering her "Blake" tattoo, once a moving tribute to her junkie ex.
[Sorry, Green One. I had to.]
And in a category all by itself ... Lady Gaga tribute tattoos.
Having just written about Holocaust tattoos, I became curious about forced tattooing beyond Auschwitz. Hitler created nothing. His greatest evil was applying ancient barbaric practices to his time. Mass murder, extermination camps, frenzied national pride and race-baiting are tools of the past. So, too, is forced tattooing.
Scholars argue whether the branding of concentration camp victims was an organizational tool, meant only to expedite his far greater crimes, or if it was part of the victimization. Indeed, the process of tattooing to differentiate, degrade and dehumanize is a practice as ancient as the beginning of religion itself.
Imagine yourself in Rome. Your Emperor is sleeping with his horse, quite literally, and drinking virgin blood out of a golden goblet. You, on the other hand, are living in squalor, burning in the unrelenting sun and suffering the perversions of poverty. So, you steal, and if caught, you are tattooed as punishment, permanently marked as a criminal. As Maarten Hesselt van Dinter writes on Mundurucu.com of forced tattooing:
"Their purpose was control and they were used to identify gladiators, soldiers, prisoners and slaves. Tattooing specific groups with clearly visible signs made monitoring their movements easier. From the fourth century, Roman recruits were tattooed with the emblems of their units. Apart from their administrative use, according to Plato, tattoos were also used as punishment. Another reason was humiliation."
Read more of Maarten's writing on tattoo history worldwide (with images and designs) in his brilliant book The World of Tattoo: An Illustrated History.
The same occurred in the 17h century of Japan, where serious criminals were marked on their arms and foreheads with various symbols representing their crimes and places of origin.
The same has happened forever amongst warring tribes of native peoples about which our own scholarship only prevents us from truly recognizing the power they conveyed through forced corporal manipulation.
Even when the criminal classes began to adopt their markings as signs of status, the punishment of forced tattooing remained. Russian inmates, most notable of all prisoners for their extensive and evolved physical hieroglyphics, would brand informants, snitches and homosexuals with unwanted tattoos. Say what you will about criminals, but many have a rigid moral order and a strong sense of visiting justice upon those who violate it. That they choose to use tattoos to stigmatize is proof of its power.
In the last few years and much closer to home, there has been a very public increase in acknowledging the forced inking against marginalized and under protected minorities. THIS STORY from Singapore, and THIS STORY from China describe tattooing as a form of domestic violence. THIS STORY describes an instance of child abuse that is not rare enough.
And so the practice continues, in our jails and neighbors' homes, taking what we celebrate as art and debasing it as infliction.
This post is not meant as a comprehensive academic overview, but a brief look at tattoo history that is not decorative but punitive. Those with more information on forced tattooing are welcome to share their thoughts in the comments.
Starting off 2010 with a mega-news review, from tattooed skin bags to more eyeball tattooing.
In perhaps the most creepy cool headline we've read in a while, a pocket-book from the 1800s made of human skin -- which was tattooed -- was found in a flea market (car boot sale) in Shepton Mallet, Somerset, UK. According to the Daily Mail (which published the photograph above):
"The skin is believed have been taken off the back of a man who was executed after he tried to shoot a British major in the first Chinese Opium War of 1839."
The skin eventually came off the pocket-book and was then preserved in oil in a bottle, which was how it was sold at the market to a Dorset historian. Clues to its original ownership are found in a letter with the bag, which traces its origin to the Egerton family. In 1901, one family member alluded to the skin in her memoir: "Behind the green and beige doors of the bookcase of my mother's bedroom was one of the most gruesome of all her possessions." Read more on the history and details of the tattoos in the article.
The tattoo news that garnered the most headlines in the US surround parents who gave six of their under-age kids home tattoos and were subsequently arrested. The Georgia couple used the typical jail-house method of taking a pen tube, guitar wire and electric motor to tattoo small crosses on their kids' hands. The parents' defense, "They wanted it. They asked me." They're charged with three counts each of illegal tattooing, second degree child cruelty and reckless conduct. They may soon find out what a real prison tattoo looks like.
And speaking of jailhouse tattoos...
Idiot inmates tattooing their eye balls does not make for a trend, HipHop Wired!
In 2007, Modblog first wrote about the eyeball tattooing of three bod mod practitioners. The post began with this caveat: "Warning: This entry documents a highly experimental procedure that should not be emulated." It also stated that it was extensively researched and meant as an experiment. Afterward, mainstream media called eyeball tattooing a "dangerous trend" even though there were no reports of others doing it. This is the first report since then. It raises the question whether these inmates were inspired by the Modblog post or decided to do it on their own without any information (the former was an argument against publishing the procedure). Of course, there's the question of whether we will see more extreme forms of the art and legitimize the trend label now that tattooing losing its badass stigma. As for trends, I'd rather see MC Hammer pants come back in style.
In tattoo law news ...
On New Year's day, a new tattoo law in Iowa went into effect that requires tattoo studios and artists to keep records on every client they tattoo for at least three years. Specifically, shops & artists must record every client's name, birth date, photocopy of his or her driver's license or birth certificate, date of the procedure, artist's name and client's signature.The question raised here: Is it a burden to the artists and violation of the client's privacy, or is it a measure to protect artists from potential suits? Considering that the tattoo design is not part of the record requirement -- police have indeed used tattoo records against accused -- I believe the law does greater good than harm, especially in light of the increasing law suits and criminal investigations against studios for tattooing minors. By copying the drivers license, studios can instantly prove that they checked ID (they're not asked to decipher whether an ID is fake). This is a deterrent to minors seeking a tattoo but also lawsuits from angry parents. As many, if not most, professional studios keep records, the burden seems to be minimal. Do you think the law is fair? Feel free to add your thoughts to the comments section.
And while we're on the law, I wanted to point out again that local bans against studios still exist even if state law permits them, but city councils are finally coming around across the US and re-examining their bans like in Jefferson City, MO. I'll say it again and again, the best way to combat tattoo bans and heavy handed laws is to vote for the right council people or run yourself.
In "this is a bad idea" news ...
In Chicago, a mom opens up a tattoo school in memory of her dead son. Whatever the motivation, I still think these tattoo schools are a bad idea, especially under a women who says things like this: "Baron said students need not worry about possessing artistic skills, " and remarks that apprenticeships can cost up to $10,000. Anyone hear of that? One of her greatest lessons should be how to deal with the taunting and laughter from studios once students try to find work with their "tattoo degree."
In this profile on Doug Phillips of Torture Chamber Tattoos in central NY, the best argument against tattoo schools is offered by Mike Hynes
[Correction: Bill Pogue at "The World's Only Tattoo School" in LA apprenticed Phillips. See the comments for further clarification.]
Mark Moford of the SF Chronicle agrees with Phillips in his essay on young tattoo collectors and their bad choices:
"...I couldn't help but look down and realize she had something inscribed high up on the back of her neck, just beneath the hairline.
Yes, something must be done.
In dirty but maybe not so quick links ...
phew. I'm done.
Tattoo by Swastika Freakshop
After spending most of last week at my Ohm-tastic yoga retreat, I came back feelin goooood, and so I promise a zen like news review, free of blogger snark but full of tattoo goodness.
To prove my tantric love, I wont even mock Miami Heat's Michael Beasley's new "Super Cool Beas" tattoo (and ganja love), nor say things like the Kat Von D concealer for Sephora "looks like an amazing product. If you like eczema." I'm too full of peace and oneness for that even if it does prove what I said about my own trial of the concealer (noted here).
So let's get on with the love fest ...
Check this 7x7 interview with Shawn Barber, where the painter and tattooist discusses his own love of the craft:
"Tattooing gives so much more than it takes. It allows an individual to acknowledge life with permanent markers. Getting tattooed is a leap of faith that reminds you of that exact time and place for the rest of your life."
This past weekend, Shawn was one of the many great artists working the Tattoo Hollywood Convention in LA, reported on by Modblog here and here.
Other conventions covered this weekend were Rhode Island's Rock the Ink, and the Alberta tattoo convention, where Lucky Diamond Rich -- the world's most tattooed person shown below -- stole the show.
Only more beautifully freaky than Lucky is this news item: "A man with a tattoo of Britney Spears' name on his arm or neck allegedly stole a Chihuahua with pink earrings from a South Florida gay bar." I'll just leave it at that, thank you.
But please explain why people with distinguishing tattoos continue to commit crimes. [Indeed, a Hitler tattoo will be used in a hate-crime trial.]
In Russia, however, hate symbols like the Nazi swastika, can be ordered removed on offenders. I disagree, if only because I like to know what kinda haters I'm dealing with. Tattoos can be a great personal filter for people you meet in life.
[Tattoos will also give you away if you try to have sex with your twin's girlfriend.]
For those who want a fresh star, British Columbia's Gang Task force will remove affiliate tattoos, but only for gang intel. The comments are particularly interesting. [Thanks, Brayden!]
Thankfully, some bod mod over-achievers were celebrated in the news this week: pierced and tattooed Olympians.
And finally, the bonus quiz: Guess the celebrity tattoos.
That's it this week. Namaste, friends.
Abstract Tattoo by Amanda Wachob of DareDevil Tattoo.
I got some private messages last week admitting a forbidden love for the truly WTF tattoo galleries linked to in the news review, so before I get to the real newsworthy items, I'll satisfy more guilty pleasures with this first one:
It's a fun photo essay that includes Joe Letz's flying penis tattoo on his leg, the Hawaiian shark teeth on Brent Hind's face, and Jeffree Star's JonBenet Ramsey & Sharon Tate portraits.
To cleanse that frightening bunch outta ya mind, check out the exciting tattoo artistry of Amanda Wachob of DareDevil Tattoo, who experiments with abstract forms and conceptual design but can also do a solid, clean traditional tattoo. I met Amanda at our launch party Friday and she told me about an abstract tattoo project she's working on -- also mentioned on DevilCity Press -- where 8-10 people will be chosen to get a large tattoo, free. More details on that coming up later this week.
Amanda's conceptual art got me thinking of the lines and dots found on the oldest recorded tattooed person: Otzi the Iceman; however, a recent news item discusses how his tattoos have proved to be medicinal, not aesthetic. The article explains:
"There are groups of one, two, three, four and seven tattoo lines parallel to the longitudinal axis of the body, and so they're parallel to Chinese acupuncture meridians." The cross-shaped tattoo on his knee, and another one on his left ankle, also lay over Chinese acupuncture "trigger points," the researchers believe. Strengthening their argument is the fact that the soot-made markings are located on parts of the iceman's body not typical for tattoo displays, diminishing the notion that they served a more ornamental, aesthetic function.See a video on how the first tattoos were created.
Despite the millennia of tattoo history, many still think it's an unsavory fad. Here's yet another weekly news item on tattoo discrimination -- this time, an Ohio town does not think tattoos are a "fit."
But this prejudice is not so surprising after also reading weekly stories of idiots who use the art as a gimmick like this guy who got a tattoo to win a PalmPre phone. Of course, with the cost of the tattoo (and subsequent lasering I'm sure), he coulda just bought the PalmPre and been spared our mockery. Mock, mock, mock.
Some may also mock this dude above who proposed marriage -- permanently -- but today I'm feelin the love and just grateful that Caroline said "Yes." Now, let's hope the marriage lasts.
Cleveland.com has a new feature called Tat Chat where they "celebrate body art" and "find folks with interesting tattoos and the often even more interesting stories behind them."
My favorite blog find this past week, however, was Coolhunting.com post on Carlos Alvarez Montero, and his photographs of the counterculure in NYC and Mexico City -- particularly the heavily tattooed.
Quick & Dirty Link time...
The tattoo news this week was all about celebs, conventions, and a little bit of controversy, and to highlight these top stories, I'm posting this photo of Andy shot by Sean Toussaint at Parkside Lounge for my upcoming tattoo book. Andy's tribal lotus tattoo is by Shinji of NY Adorned. Granted, there is no real connection, but considering that my Inbox has been flooded with "check the hot tattooed chicks" emails this week, I felt compelled to respond in kind. In fact, if you're a tattooed man who would like to be objectified by my girls and gays on this blog, please send your photo to marisa at needlesandsins.com.
Ok, unto the news ...
A Georgia man, who forcibly tattooed his 3-year-old son in their trailer home now faces criminal charges of cruelty to children and tattooing a person under the age of 18. The tattoo is letters DB for Daddy's Boy. This guy should find the same fate in jail, Darrell's Bitch perhaps.
The controversy lies in the response to the story on the Atlanta Journal Sentinel blog, asking Is tattooing a child worse than piercing a baby's ears or circumcising a newborn boy?
"Are tattoos more painful than piercing or circumcision? Not sure that's true.
While there are some obvious responses -- like piercing not having the permanence of tattoos -- the issue does reignite online debates particularly over circumcision. Some of the comments to that post thoughtfully discuss the topic but, alas, most do not. Feel free to share your thoughts below.
In more pleasant conversation, conventions were big news ...
Columbus media was abuzz with stories on the Hell City show this past weekend, especially Columbus Alive, which devoted much of its pages, online and off to the show. Behold the awesome cover of organizer and tattooist Durb Morrison (shown right) and profiled inside as one of their many "Inked Up" features. Also check the audio slideshow.
The Columbus Dispatch reported on the convention's tattoo competitions, calling them a "grittier version of a beauty pageant." Nice ink coverage, media & tattoos. [Stop that eye rolling!]
More coverage for the NYC Tattoo convention, with Fangoria sharing their experience and photos. [Fangoria's Weekend of Horrors comes to NYC"s Jacob Javits Center next Weekend.]
A small convention in upstate NY, the Mowhawk Valley Tattoo Expo, got coverage as well.
In celeb tattoo news ...
HuffPo is excited over Angelina's small embellishment of her existing tattoos, essentially a small frame of the coordinates of her babies' birthplaces.
We do love our Angie, but Megan Fox may be stealing our affections with the latest news of her wanting to get sleeved:
"Every time I get a tattoo, it's a little f***-you to anyone who tells me not to. I like the way getting a tattoo feels."Megan graces the June cover of Elle mag, and as The Insider shows, there's the hot back tattoo-baring cover and the more demure one where her Marilyn Monroe portrait on her arm is covered by text. I found the tattooed one at my local Brooklyn press shop. Which is one is your store carrying?
Ah, nice to write about celebrity tattoos without the overwhelming desire to hurt myself. I do so want to see a fully sleeved leading lady. No matter how vapid the news surrounding the latest A-List ink, the impact on how our society views tattoos is greatly affected by celebrity culture. A culture that has sparked many a tattoo as well.
Then there's tattoos in the "luxury market," like Coach's recent attempt to cash in. A massive FAIL in design but always interesting to me how a lowbrow art is being used to hawk highbrow goods.
To meet the new clientele inspired by these changes, tattoo studios themselves are changing. The LA Times looks at the high-end tattoo ateliers setting up shop in Las Vegas casinos. Check the slideshow here.
Am I depressing y'all with all this?
I remain on the fence, embracing the evolution of the art but also but also fondly looking back at my first tattoos, pre-legalization in NYC, where just finding the studio was an adventure in itself.
And while I find myself trippin down memory lane, I'll leave you with some quick and dirty links: