Today's Wall Street Journal Asia features an article by Manami Okazaki entitled Japanese Tattoos: From Yakuza to Artisans, Aesthetes. It's an interesting read, particularly for its focus on traditional Japanese bodysuit tattoos -- Wabori -- and how their popularity has increased among young people who are interested in them on an artistic level, and how they are losing favor among the Japan's criminal underworld, the Yakuza, for whom Wabori was an integral part of their culture.
As Manami writes:
[...] Tattoos are on the decline among yakuza. Master tattooists including Horihiro and Horinami attribute the decline to the economic downturn, while others point to arrests and authorities clamping down on organized crime. Some also suggest yakuza today want to be less conspicuous, whereas in the past, tattoos were a means of distinguishing themselves from the rest of society.
Manami does point out in the article that, despite tattooing's popularity beyond the Yakuza,"the country is as strict as ever when it comes to accepting them as part of mainstream society." She also notes that this strict regard of the art form may have to change as the country will welcome visitors (including those who are tattooed) for the 2020 Olympics. [We noted this in our post on a Maori woman banned from a bathhouse for her Moko.]
Photo of Vladimir Franz by David W. Cerny, posted with permission.
International news is buzzing over the campaign of Vladimir Franz, whose run for president of the Czech Republican has gained such momentum, he's now third among the nine candidates, according to ABC News.
The 53-year-old artist, drama professor and composer (who also holds a law degree) has near full tattoo coverage and has told reporters that his tattoos are "not a handicap, they are added value," adding "Elections are not a beauty contest. It is all about tolerance." Indeed, his four "pillars" of his campaign are "education, culture, morality and tolerance."
Mr. Franz is not part of any political party, nor does he have any political experience, and that his part of his appeal. According to RT.com, Mr. Franz decided to run for office "after a group of admirers launched the 'Franz for President' initiative and plead him to shake up the election with his shock factor." And by the press coverage he's getting worldwide, shock factor is an understatement.
It's interesting to read how different news outlets cover Mr. Franz's campaign. Obviously, the tattoos take up a large part of those articles; in fact, most of the headlines about his campaign have the word tattoo in them. Some even editorialize it like the headline of the ABC news piece I linked above: "Despite Face Tattoo Vladimir Franz Is Presidential Contender." Then there's this Guardian poll: "Are tattoos a political turn-off?"
Well, judging from the polls, the tattoos are a turn-on. And it is very exciting to see Mr. Franz represent the heavily tattooed in a very powerful way. We'll be following the Czech elections this Friday and Saturday to see how he does.
Here's a quick video below on his campaign, which includes a number of photos from David Cerny as well.
A couple of weeks ago, 11-year-old Willow Smith (of the Will & Jada Smiths) whipped the media into a little tizzy by revealing what most thought was a tongue piercing. It was actually a magnet.
Silly gossip, but it put a spotlight on the question: How young is too young for a piercing & tattoo? Over the weekend, Fox News & CNN ran a story asking this very question. As noted in the article, there are instances where families are letting kids as young as 10 years old get tattoos -- like Jerry Garrison who lost custody of his grandson for allowing him to be part of "family tradition" as a pre-teen, or Chuntera Napier who was arrested after her young son got a memorial tattoo for his brother.
According to the National Conference on State Legislature's on "Tattoos & Body Piercings for Minors," there's a fight going on between parents who want final say in how they raise their kids and the government:
The battle over whether or not teenagers may receive tattoos or body piercings is typically one fought between parents and children, but the same debate has entered state legislatures. Advocates of prohibiting minors from getting tattoos or body piercings want state laws to reflect parental rights and allow them to have the final word on minors altering their appearances in this way.Legal battles aside, what about the ethical duties of tattooists? Should some obligation be placed on them to decide whether this is the right thing for the child? If so, would it be a case-by-case basis or general rule -- no one under a certain age no matter what?
My friends and I like to joke around about what our bodies would look like if we were able to get tattooed as teenagers. I'd probably be covered in Duran Duran portraits. Then again, I ended up removing a good tattoo that I got at age 24 (to celebrate passing the Bar exam) because it didn't fit with the overall body plan, which developed in my thirties. And how will I feel about this plan decades from now?
As we change and evolve, our tattoos remain fixed in one moment. That's what makes them wonderful. And that's what makes them difficult.
What do you think about the "how young is too young" question? Share your thoughts on the Needles & Sins FB group page under this post's comments section.
Misspelled tattoos are not uncommon. Sadly. And unlike the many
In Canada's National Post yesterday, Armina Ligaya reports on a memorial tattoo gone wrong where a Nova Scotia small claims court ordered a shop to pay almost $9,000 to a client for laser sessions, travel and legal fees, and general damages. This is after the shop offered to cover up the spelling mistake -- which the client refused -- and then paid for eight laser sessions prior to the judgment.
The problem is that the studio stopped paying for the laser sessions, which is what sparked the suit. Personally (not in my legal opinion), if a shop is going to make amends for a mistake, it should do so in a clear and organized way, following through on promises, which should be written out and agreed to by the parties. For example, knowing how long and expensive laser removal can be, the studio could have limited its obligation by offering to pay for a set number of sessions -- say 10 to 12 sessions -- or until a certain percentage of the ink is gone. Then they could have had the client agree not pursue further action against the shop after those sessions. Everybody signs. Everybody knows what to expect. And hopefully, everybody abides by the agreement.
The client, who had the opportunity to review the lettering before it was tattooed, should also burden some responsibility, and maybe that's what the studio was thinking when they stopped paying. In fact, the article cites another Nova Scotia case where a judge ruled that a client with a misspelled tattoo was "the author of her own misfortune" when she reviewed the design on a computer design and stencil, and did not pick up the mistake.
But not returning the client's phone calls, as alleged, is not the right way to do business. People sue when they are unhappy and feel they're being mistreated. So many law suits can be avoided by better handling of client issues ... and of course, spell check.
After many years of conventions, reading BMEzine.com, and having the Lizardman wiggle his bifurcated tongue at us, news items on "extreme body modification" don't really register with me, especially as they tend to have the same "Look at the freaks" format. But when over a hundred news outlets pick up the same story, it warrants attention.
Creating all the buzz is Dave Hurban, a tattooer and piercer at Dynasty Tattoo in New Jersey, who implanted magnetic micro-dermal anchors to attach an iPod nano to his wrist. In an interview with Digital Trends, he explained the procedure and impetus behind it. Here's a bit from that article:
Hurban wasn't making a grand statement about the human reliance on technology in modern society, about how we are all on our phones and Mp3 players so often that they might as well be embedded in us. He also wasn't trying to sell us something using the jaded cynicism of a viral publicity stunt. According to Hurban, 'the ultimate reasoning was that I just thought it would be cool'.Is it wrong that I think it's pretty cool too?
Of course, my big issue with it all was not with the implant but with the fickle and fleeting Apple product cycles -- an issue that Digital Trends also brought up, particularly as the magnets were positioned specifically for this device. Dave's response: "I did it because I'm living in the now. I did it because it's cool now. Even if they do come out with a new iPod, the fact that I did this when this iPod was out, that's what matters." Carpe diem, my friend.
To see the whole procedure, up close and bloody, check the video below.
While we don't usually cover cosmetic tattooing, I wanted to share this particular article in the news this week because it's a compelling story of one victim turning to tattooing to make her self more beautiful and to help others as well.
CBC News profiles Basma Hammed, a medical cosmetic tattooist in Toronto who first came to the profession by personal necessity when she couldn't find help elsewhere. As CBC reports, when Basma was a two-year-old girl in Iraq, a pan of hot oil accidentally fell on the left side of her face requiring multiple plastic surgeries -- a total of 100 procedures -- but none with success in covering the large red scar tissue or with creating the look of a natural eyebrow. She began by getting a tattoo machine and creating the eyebrow permanently herself. It was then that she realized she could tattoo her face matching the skin color of the healthy tissue. So she went to aesthetician school and soon began working on herself -- with much success as you can see above.
Today, she runs her Basma Hameed Clinic, where she helps other burn victims as well as breast cancer patients with areola reconstruction and others wishing to cover surgical scars (among other procedures).
Watch her tell her story and discuss medical tattooing below.
Photo by Gemma Angel
There's a great interview in HuffPo UK -- entitled "Unlocking The Mysteries Of The Tattoos Of The Dead" -- with Gemma Angel, a tattooist and PhD student who studies the preserved tattoo skins of the Wellcome Collection, a London museum that houses an array of medial artifacts. [We wrote about Wellcome before here.]
In the Q&A, Gemma discusses her favorite preserved work (a large chest piece), her efforts finding who were the people behind the skins, and also who were those collecting these skins. There's a great quote related to the latter:
I think these collectors knew they were doing something that was a bit dodgy. I've come across references to one or two scandals which came about as a result of particular doctors harvesting and preserving tattoos - you might keep a pathological specimen from a human body for a teaching aid for medical students, but can you really justify keeping a tattoo? It seems there's some aspect fetishisation involved, of the tattooed image, and the skin itself. It's complicated, and I don't know if I'll ever get to the bottom of it, but I've got some time yet.
Through the article, I found Gemma's own personal site brilliantly titled Life and Six Months, based on this Sam Steward quote: "With some grim humour I always answered the question about how long a tattoo would last by saying: 'They are guaranteed for life - and six months'."
Check her site and see more photos of the tattooed flesh in the HuffPo piece.
Just got back into Brooklyn and wishing for a few more days of vacation, but to help me ease back into the NY grind -- and appreciate the treasures of the city -- our friend Nick Schonberger sent us the link to this wonderful BBC video interview with Tony Polito.
Tony is the very definition of a Brooklyn tattoo legend. He started in the business at the age of 14 in 1959 and continues to tattoo today (although he closed his Crown Heights studio last year). In the video, you'll hear him talk about tattooing sailors from the Navy Yard, his penchant for pin-ups, and the 1961 NYC tattoo ban, which forced him to work underground (literally, his basement) for a while. You'll also catch Tony tattooing another tattoo luminary of Brooklyn, Mike Perfetto aka Michaelangelo.
The footage is just over three minutes and leaves you wanting more from this old salt. But I have good news! Tony, Mike and many others will be featured in an upcoming book on native Brooklyn tattoo artists, culture and history by Pete Caruso, aka Brooklyn P. With such a strong tattoo heritage in the borough and stellar art being created, it will be an important addition to your tattoo library. More on the book when it's ready to drop.
Meanwhile, check the video to get a taste of Tony's stories.
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).
The UK's Daily Mail has a great story on 69-year-old Tommy Wells, whom they say is the most tattooed man in Britain. [The World's Most Tattooed Senior Woman, Isobel Varley, is also English.]
I was at first skeptical of the article and whether it would be another "point and laugh at the freaks" piece, especially when I read about Tommy spending 52 of his 69 years "indulging in his bizarre hobby and now has tattoos not only across his arms, hands, legs, torso and back but also on the soles of his feet, bottom, entire head, lips and even his genitals."
A penis tattoo...on someone's great-grandfather! Heaven forfend!
But if you read on, it turns out that the focus is more about love and his life with his late wife Sandra who died seven years ago. They were married 44 years. Sandra dared Tommy to get his first piece when they were 17 during a picnic with friends who were getting tattooed at a parlour in Blackpool. Tommy said, "[...] it was agony but I kind of loved the pain and it became a bit of a drug after then, so I got all my body covered except my head and face."
Sandra never got any tattoos herself but never minded Tommy's as long as he did not get tattooed above the neck. Tommy broke that promise after her death:
I did promise at the time, but after she died I was so devastated that the only thing that I could do to make me feel better was have a tattoo tribute to her - and my face and head were the only places I had left.
Tommy's last tattoo honors her with the phrase, "I love you always, Love Tommy" on the back of his head, where a bit of non-tattooed skin remained.
I found this whole story very moving. It's funny because I've been mocking the faux drama in last night's premier of NY Ink, in which every single client had a memorial tattoo accompanied by tears and sob stories (and the artists trying to give sympathetic looks). Even Brian tweeted during the show: "Let it be known #nyink fans - you don't have to have someone die to get a tattoo #nyinkdrinkinggame."
But I felt Tommy's story had soul, commitment and true reality. I recommend it.
It's official. On Tuesday, The Washington Post declared tattoos "mainstream," thereby negating all the hard-earned street cred we've so desperately fought for.
Ok, it's not so bad.
Of course it starts out with the old wrong-side-of-the-tracks and sailor references that we read in almost every "mainstream" article on tattooing, but then it gets a bit meatier. The reporter had gone to the DC Tattoo Expo last month and talked with some tattoo veterans including Tramp Welker, Chuck Eldridge, Mary Skiver, and Jack Rudy, among others. I particularly love Mary's quote when discussing her clientele, the majority of which are 40- to 80-year-old women: "They've raised their kids and their kids' kids, and now they're ready to be themselves." And Jack weighed in on those trying to cash in on the art:
"I never would've believed that there would one day be these tattoo shop owners with no tattoos," said Jack Rudy of Los Angeles, one of the pioneers of a style called fine-line black and gray. "They just think of themselves as some sort of entrepreneur, and even though that's true, this business is so personal to us that are in it. That's like a vegan owning a steakhouse. It's not against the law, but why would you even want to own a steakhouse if you're only going to eat the steamed vegetables? But people don't think twice about owning a tattoo shop and not having any tattoos. They think of it as the same thing as a doughnut or dry cleaning franchise."The article has just a few photos from the DC show but also includes some interesting info graphics like the one above. They're creative -- not 100% accurate -- but worth a peak.
Thanks, JD, for the link!
The London Tattoo Convention made the headlines again, although less so this year, but what's out there is pretty good. Here are a few of my faves:
For their In Pictures section, the BBC has a beautiful slideshow of the event including the photo above of Martin Poole, a tattooist in Cornwall who does hand tattooing. In fact, he has done most of his own facial work. I interviewed Martin and will try to have our talk up later this week.
Cheekier photos and captions can be found on Asylum UK's The London Tattoo Convention's Best & Weirdest gallery, which also has shots beyond tattooed butts like the one below.
And finally, this video by the Telegraph entitled "My dad's gonna kill me - getting your face tattooed" with some excellent footage and interviews on traditional tattooing among other scenes from the convention floor. Check it below.
My thoughts on the show are up soon as well as those from Brian, who took his own great shots.
Communication is vitally important when getting a tattoo as Kimberly Vlaminck found out after she "woke up" to find 56 stars across the side of her face.
She claims that she told him in both French and English that she only wanted 3 small stars near her temple, but obviously the Romanian tattoo artist Rouslan Toumaniantz didn't fully understand her. She also claims that she was asleep while he was doing it -- while he claims that she was awake the whole time and only claimed now that it was a mistake when her father saw her tattoo.
When I first read this all I could think was "Get the F#$k outta here", it's just incomprehensible that this kind of mistake could happen. What I don't understand is this:
1) Why did he agree to agree an 18-year-old girl's face?
Something doesn't pass the smell test!
I guess as Bush would say "mistakes were made," but this one will last a lifetime.