Headline above from Milwaukee Sentinel, 1933.
When I first started blogging about tattoos in 2003, I was amazed how so many media outlets around the world were rehashing the same line (often the first line) in their articles on tattoos:
"Tattoos are no longer for sailors, bikers, inmates ..."When I complained about these constant tattoo cliches, my friend Dr. Matt Lodder, art historian (with a particular specialty in tattoo art), schooled me on how they have been recycled for over a hundred years -- with the first "tattoos...are not confined to seamen only," appearing in the NY Times in 1908.
Matt got to address the media directly about these tired tropes when he spoke to the BBC for their article "People always say the same thing about tattoos," which was published yesterday. As with most articles that feature Matt's tattoo expertise, it is a wonderful read, not just for the history lesson, but also for his discussion on the relationship between tattoo culture and the media. Here's a taste from the article:.
Lodder compares media representations of tattooing with the film Groundhog Day where Bill Murray's weatherman finds himself living the same day over and over again.
In addition to more of Matt's thoughts on the media's tattoo fascination, there are also interesting examples of tattoo news articles over the past century.
Read more here.
Discussing his personal experience being portrayed in the media as a "tattooed dog freak" -- and the portrayal of tattooed people in general -- Craig Dershowitz offers this essay.
Dressing for my appearance on the Today Show, I worried about what shirt to wear. It was one of the first real humid days of the summer and called for short sleeves, but I had to be a cognizant that I was appearing on national television and that not everyone would take kindly to my long (tattooed) sleeves.
That is the thing about most people who have marked themselves -- we are far more aware of the bias against us than of actually holding any bias ourselves. Each dressing decision is informed by our choices. There is a heightened self awareness amongst the initiated and an intangible level of vulnerability that betrays the tough guy (or girl) personae normally associated with tattooing.
I am the tough guy who spent $60,000 on lawyer fees to attempt to rescue my dog from my ex-girlfriend. In the two or three days that I became news content, opinions ranged. In the span of a news cycle, I was: A pathetic loser who could not get over his ex (not true); A sucker who had been milked by his attorneys (possibly true); A fiercely loyal father with more courage than money (very true). Regardless of the reporter's personal take or, more likely, the spin he was concocting to separate himself from the other reporters and try to get a few more hits on his social media platform of choice, they were always asking about my job. Every story began with my name, age and job description. If you remember the days of dial-up, AOL modems and chat rooms - you might remember how disappointing it was when we discovered that the internet, this new form of communication, would only lead us to discuss ourselves in the same superficial, box-creating definitional ways as before.
The other superficial box that was being created for me was that of one who is tattooed. No matter if I was a loser or a hero, I was a tattooed version of either. In fact, the first three reports in well-known, credible news sources referred to me as follows: A tattooed employee at an art gallery (true); A tattooed artist (possibly true); And, finally, a tattoo artist (not true at all). Forget the apprenticeship model, the news is a far quicker way for one to earn his machines. Again, regardless of their spin and the validity of their descriptions, reporters loved to point out the tattoo information as if it had some bearing on my extreme situation or my being at all.
I was incredulous. And, I was curious. I kept trying to figure out why tattoos meant so much. My greater concern was raising the funds I needed to pay the lawyers to ask the judge to do the thing he should be able to do for a lot less money. Looking at the very arms that I hoped to use to carry my dog back home, I realized just how much money was on them. I could have fought two more cases with what I had spent on ink. Then I realized, it meant everything.
I fought (and am still fighting) for my dog because of the same reasons I am tattooed. I have a sense of permanence and significance. Items that are important or significant to me are sacred to me, expressed in my skin, in my blood, in my life. I am fearless in the face of societal judgment and norms. I am generous with my time, spirit and money when it comes to holding onto beauty. I am, sometimes, reckless and impulsive in protection of my individuality. I am beholdent to no one but myself and to my puppy.
Considering my new extreme circumstance, I would trade all these tattoos back for the money to rescue my pup. But, I would never trade the passion that created my desire to tattoo myself and to hold on to my dog.
It's no surprise there's tons of buzz surrounding the September 5th launch of Garage magazine. How does one not write about a Dasha Zhukova project that features Damien Hirst's art on a young model's vagina -- tattooed by Mo Coppoletta, no less?
Timed perfectly for NY Fashion Week, The NY Times describes the debut issue as "one of the most intriguing magazines to come along in years, it is not entirely clear whether this is a fashion magazine that takes more than a passing interest in art, or an art magazine that knows its stuff about fashion."
The magazine seems to know its stuff about tattoos as well, commissioning renowned tattooists Mike Rubendall in New York and Lindsey Carmichael in California to work with Coppoletta in London on the "Inked" spread of black and white portraits (photographed by Hedi Slimane) featuring "willing canvases" and their new tattoo work.
Such work includes Rubendall's execution of Jeff Koons art (shown below) and Carmichael's lettering of John Baldessari's "I will not wear any more boring tattoos." Coppoletta also tattooed a Dinos Chapman design on Dinos himself: a pointed hand etching with the words "I'm with this idiot" underneath. [The high art ironic tattoo will no doubt be big in Brooklyn in about five seconds.]
View the full tattoo spread in this Daily Beast gallery.
The genital ink, however, has kept Coppoletta most busy with the press. Even the New York Post hit him up for details in an article that also quotes the proud owner of the tattoo saying:
I would have been stupid not to be part of this project. I have a piece of art on my vagina. Not one single person can ever say they gave birth through a Damien Hirst piece of art. I can [if I ever give birth].The article further states that she threw a garden party in honor of her new vagina.
I too contacted Coppoletta for more info, and here's what he said:
The magazine informed me that Damien had handpicked me for this project and I agreed to take it on. I was curious about the design to be submitted, and on receiving it, we began to bounce the design backward and forwards until the final draft was agreed.When asked about the challenges of tattooing genitals, he said that there were no special techniques he used on that type of skin, and that the difficulty really lies in reach and body positioning.
On one of the Garage magazine covers, the actual tattoo is obscured with a peel-away butterfly sticker, a nod to the Warhol banana sticker on The Velvet Underground & Nico album. Nevertheless, it's already being banned by WHSmith booksellers. The two other covers are a sketch of Richard Prince's smiling tattoo design, and a Nick Knight photo of Dinos Chapman's dollhouse complete with Lily Donaldson puppet. See them on High Snobiety.
Looking forward to getting my hands on all three next week. Garden party to follow.
"People tend to empathize with major events...until the next big thing happens. But we think the world's issues deserve more than just a moment of empathy. The Social Tattoo Project is making empathy permanent."
Making empathy permanent. The Social Tattoo Project description certainly got my attention. We live in a time when legions of people are sporting ironic self referential tattoos, parents are looking for cut-rate deals on baby portraits, and just too many have chosen to immortalize Kat Von D on their own bods. So tattoos used for social good could be a welcome relief -- a break from the fashion, marketing and general media clutches that have swooped in to co-opt an ancient art. Of course, The Social Tattoo Project is created by three interns at the BBH NY ad agency.
That said, these interns sold me on their experiment to blend art, social media and human interest together. It also helped that they partnered with our friends at Sacred Tattoo in SoHo, whose artists Matthew Adams and Jon Mesa are doing the actual tattooing.
Here's how the project works:
Our volunteers are getting tattoos that represent worldly issues, but they have no idea what their tattoos will be. They are letting you decide.
So far, five volunteers have gotten tattoos with the following topics: #human trafficking, #poverty, #Pray for Japan, #Norway, and #Haiti. The Haiti tribute tattoo video is shown below (finished tattoo is above).
All tattoo videos can be viewed on SocialTattooProject.com.
What makes me a bit uncomfortable, though, is the idea of having someone else choose your tattoo, particularly from the whims of social networking. The biggest twitter trend this week was the earthquake that hit the East Coast. And do we really want to see more of these "I Survived the Quake" tattoos? [In this case, I have little empathy for dumbassness.]
But whether you agree with the praxis or not, the theory behind The Social Tattoo Project is positive and interesting. Kudos to interns Haywood R. Watkins, Stephanie Krivitzky, and Jennifer Huang for their hard work on this.