This morning, I came across an interesting profile in Wired, which looks at portrait photography of Dina Litovsky, specifically, the 40 people she captured getting tattooed at the NYC Tattoo Convention this past June and the Empire State Tattoo Expo (also in Manhattan) last month. Litovsky's focus was not documenting the shows or the tattoos, but the collectors' experience, and their expression of that experience, when getting work done. Wired explains:
Surrounded by the sound of buzzing guns, Litovsky wanders around until someone catches her eye. She chooses subjects based on their facial expressions and body language, and any interesting props they use to distract themselves from what is occasionally a painful procedure. Some people thumb through their smartphone. Others chew gum or suck on lollipops to stave off nausea. "Many subjects go into almost a trance state, a mental zone where the pain sensation transforms into an emotionally euphoric state," she says.
As noted in the article, Litovsky shoots with a flash, "which captures her subjects and nothing more," making them look like studio shots. I'm just wondering how the artists felt about flash going off while they're trying to work. Well, maybe she wasn't in their faces.
Another interesting mention in the article is Litovsky's earlier work, Ink Girls, which are portraits of tattooed women, and the judgments viewers had of the women in her photos. She told Wired: "I saw how easy it was to stereotype certain types of tattoos and attribute character traits and social standing to the people that have them. [...] In a way, a traditional portrait of an individual with tattoos can be a dead end. We understand less, not more about the person."
Read more about her work, and see additional photos in Wired and on Litovsky's website.
Backpiece above by Jill Bonny.
Backpiece above by Tim Hendricks.
Front torso tattoo by Ron Earhart.
Stunning large-scale tattoo work by stellar tattooists are captured in Markus Cuff's new book entitled "Torso" -- a 120-page hardcover of Markus' photographs spanning 16 years, which document tattoo culture and the evolution of the art form across the United States and Pacific Islands.
The artists include Horiyoshi III, Mike Rubendall, Horitaka, Jill Bonny, Khalil Rintye, John The Dutchman, Carlos Torres, Matt Breckerich, Clark North, Aaron Coleman, Steve Looney, Ron Earhart, Nate Bunuelos, Edwin Shaffer, George Campisi and Denny Besnard. Their differing tattoo styles conveyed in backpieces and front torso tattoos should be of interest to a wide range of tattoo enthusiasts.
The "Torso" book release and signing will be tomorrow, Thursday, November 20th, from 7-10pm, at La Luz de Jesus Gallery in Los Angeles. There, you can pick up a copy of the book; also, grab it online now here or pre-order from Amazon here.
[Interesting side note on Markus: In addition to being a photographer and artist, he was also the original drummer for Emmylou Harris and the cult band The Textones.]
Corset tattoo by Keely Tackett and sleeve by Scott Campbell.
I'm a fan of the portrait photography of Eric Jukelevics, whose artistic style has been described as "moody" (although, that's far from his positive personality). Eric has begun a photography project inspired by his "love of awesome tattoos," entitled Illuminated Ink. He offers this description of the project:
My work showcases skin as a surface with texture, shape, and movement. The final images highlight the intricate details of the tattoos and the texture of the skin. I ask each person I photograph about the origin and significance of their tattoos. Like most fine art, there is meaning and history behind each piece. When completed, the project will include a coffee table book and gallery show.You can see more of Eric's Illuminated Ink images on his Facebook page, which also includes some of the models' stories, including that of Tamale Sepp and her corset tattoo by Keely Tackett, among others. The tattoo artists are credited, so the project has allowed me to discover tattooers whom I hadn't known of before.
Eric is looking for more models for the project, particularly those with larger pieces, although he also welcomes those with smaller intricate work as well. Eric will be shooting in his NYC photography studio on weekends. If you're interested in becoming part of the project, you can find Eric's contact info here.
These days, anyone who is young and has a neck tattoo deems oneself a "tattoo model," often striving to reach the pinnacle of that career choice: being unpaid and naked in a tattoo magazine. There are, however, professional models, who have tattoos, who represent our community wonderfully in high fashion.
One such model is Stephen James, London-born heavily tattooed hotness, who has graced the international covers and pages of Elle, Glamour, Adon, Hedonist ... and countless ad campaigns, including Diesel. [Stephen is repped by Elite Models Barcelona, Supa Models London, I Love Models Milan, and Wilhelmina Models New York.]
One of my most favorite shoots of Stephen is his "Disrobed" feature in Hedonist magazine, shot by acclaimed photographer Darren Black. [I've included images from that shoot immediately above and below.] Darren beautifully captured the model's stunning tattoo work, which Stephen informed me is largely created by Ottorino D'Ambra of Milan, who is now based in London. Stephen's tattoos include blackwork Mandalas, and portraits of punk Ian Dury and Salvador Dali. The wonderful Jondix created his chest/stomach piece.
While I'm excited to see more tattoos in popular fashion magazines, I wish the tattoo artists would be included in the credits, along with the make-up artists, stylists and others involved in the shoot. I had to reach out to Stephen myself on Facebook to find out about his work by Otto.
See more on Stephen's Instagram and Otto's Instagram.
Since the inception of this blog, I have shared posts on Sak Yant or Yantra tattoos -- sacred marks performed by monks in Thailand in which the wearers believe that the tattoos are imbued with magic, offering protection and even bestowing certain powers. Yantra tattoos hold a special fascination for me, not just for the beautiful iconography, but the ceremony, culture and beliefs that surround them.
Every year, at the Buddhist temple in Wat Bang Phra, about 30 miles west of Bangkok, Thailand, devotees gather to receive these magic tattoos at the Wai Khru ceremony. Also present are journalists and photographers seeking to document it all.
One such photographer who has truly captured the power of Yantra and the Wai Khru is French/British photographer Cedric Arnold, who is based in Bangkok. Arnold's "Yantra: The Sacred Ink" is an exceptionally beautiful series of portraits and documentary photography -- a product of four and a half years of travel throughout Thailand to fully explore Yantra, from the festivals to rare tattoos only found in certain regions. Arnold shared with Slate magazine some of what he learned in this journey:
Arnold further captured the tattoos and ceremonies on video: his film, also entitled "Yantra: The Sacred Ink," is currently being screened at the "Tatoueurs, tatoues" exhibit at the Museum du quai Branly in Paris. [For a great review of the exhibit, read Serinde's post here.] Here's the teaser below.
Cover photo of The Tattoo Project by Vince Hemingson. Portrait above by Dan Kozma.
Four years ago this month, 100 hundred heavily tattooed people and 11 of Vancouver's best photographers came together for The Tattoo Project: Body. Art. Image: a three-day event at the Vancouver Photo Workshops described as "a synthesis of portraiture and tattoo art that poses the eternal question, Who am I?" The body of work born from the project explores tattooed bodies via diverse photographic philosophies. Vince Hemingson, creator of The Tattoo Project (as well as many other wonderful projects), has said that the images not only reflect who the subjects are but also the photographers, from their differing approaches to lighting, mood, and color to different methods for engaging the subjects. The subjects were quite diverse themselves and not just today's standard "tattoo model" fare.
Vince explains his inspiration behind The Tattoo Project: body. art. image.:
This project was an idea that I had simmering on the back burner for nearly fifteen years. I have always wanted to to see how fine art photographers would interpret individuals who were tattooed. When I first saw Albert Watson's seminal work from the Louisiana Prisons in his book CYCLOPS it was an idea that wouldn't go away. In my writing and filmmaking, I have always thought that the purpose of training your pen or your camera on a subject was illumination. Literally to shine a light on something.From that long weekend, almost 200 images were selected for The Tattoo Project exhibition in November 2010, curated by Pennylane Shen, and shown at Performance Works on Granville Island. More than 750 people attended the opening night. With such incredible success, naturally, the next step was a book.
The 240-page hardcover The Tattoo Project: body. art. image., published by Schiffer Books, takes the very best works from the project and highlights them in a large-format, beautifully designed coffee table book. This book isn't just about pretty tattoos -- although there are a number of exceptional ones. What makes it engaging is the storytelling of these portraits, the way the personalities of these tattooed people shine through. And also, as Vince mentioned, it's interesting to see how these stories are told in so many ways, whether it be through the black & white long exposure photos by Marc Koegel or the "housewife cheescake" images by Melanie Jane. The other photographers include Wayne A. Hoecherl , Dan Kozma , Spencer Kovats, Syx Langemann, Aura McKay, Rosamond Norbury, Johnathon Vaughn, Jeff Weddell as well as Vince.
Images above by Spencer Kovats.
The next step for Tattoo Project: body. art. image. is a documentary film. Throughout the project, two film crews captured the process -- as Vince says, they "prowled the crowded hallways, eves-dropped on photographers as they shot in the studios, and interviewed dozens of models and all of the photographers." This summer, Vince and his team will be launching a Kickstarter.com crowd funding campaign to help finish the post-production on the film.
Check The Vanishing Tattoo blog for updates on the film (and the perks for contributing) and other tattoo goodness.
Portrait above by Syx Langemann.
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.
In The Guardian today is feature called "Painted Ladies: Why women get tattoos." Normally, I find these types of articles banal, or even cringe worthy, for perpetuating cliches or not offering a broad spectrum of experience from our community. And so I was happily surprised to find many different voices of tattooed women in this article.
While there need not be any great miraculous reason to get tattooed, tattoos do come with a story, from an impulse to get a quick piece of historic flash to a full body project. I found the profiles of these women to be really interesting, and they made me think on the commonaIities and differences of our experiences with tattoos.
I particularly loved reading about Juanita Carberry, a merchant navy steward, who died in July at age 88. Here's a bit from her story:
The daughter of a renegade Irish peer, Carberry lived an extraordinarily full life. Her childhood in Kenya was difficult: her mother, a well-known aviator, died when she was three, and Carberry was often beaten by her governess. As a teenager, she was a key witness in a celebrated murder case, the 1941 shooting of the 22nd Earl of Erroll, and at 17 she joined the first aid nursing yeomanry in the Women's Territorials during the second world war. In 1946, Carberry became one of a handful of women to join the merchant navy, remaining for 17 years. It was during this period, says photographer Christina Theisen, that she started acquiring tattoos. Her first was a small spider on the sole of her foot; it didn't hurt, Theisen recalls Carberry saying, because the skin on her feet was so tough from walking barefoot as a child.
Read more here.
It is the work of Christina Theisen and Eleni Stefanou that really makes this piece so engaging. Theisen and Stefanou are behind womenwithtattoos.co.uk, a photo and film endeavor that pays respect to all tattooed women. They offer this on their work: "Our project seeks to capture the personal and the individual, embracing each woman and her tattoos as one, rather than isolating or magnifying the inked parts of her body. At the same time, by using natural environments and the context of urban Western culture, we intentionally move away from the sexualised glamour model aesthetic that dominates tattoo magazines and popular culture."
Two words: Hell. Yeah.
My regret is that I wasn't aware of the project when it first rolled out. I will continue to follow Theisen and Stefanou's work, and I hope that more media outlets also follow their lead in telling compelling stories without the usual pop culture hype and flash so prevalent today.
Before I post my redux tomorrow from this weekend's London Tattoo Convention, I wanted to share these fantastic photos by London-based photographer Edo Zollo. Edo's work focuses on street life and events, so he was perfectly suited to capture the excitement of the convention.
See more of Edo's images from on Flickr. You can check him on Twitter & Facebook.
Next Sunday, July 7th, is the opening of Atom Moore's photographic exhibition "The Locust" at Sacred Gallery in SoHo NYC. It's a very personal exhibit in which Atom's photos tell a story of his friendship with a well known and beloved member of the body modification community, Adam Aries, and honors Adam's life, which was cut too short in 2011. Here's more info on the show from Sacred:
Atom Moore began photographing Adam Aries, also known as Zid, a decade ago. Zid was in many ways larger than life. His interests were not mainstream and he challenged many social norms. His gritty but beautiful look matched his straightforward attitude toward the world. Zid embodied the definition of living life the way you see fit.Exhibition runs from July 7th - 31st. Hope to see you there and celebrate a life fully lived.
On the Facebook page of the wonderful Loretta Leu, matriarch of the renowned Leu Family's Family Iron, I began seeing fantastic portraits of the Leu's and other artists as well as photography from events like the recent tattoo convention in Paris. So, I set out to find who was behind the lens of such engaging images so that I may share them with y'all.
The work is that of Switzerland-based photographer Bobby C. Alkabes. Bobby's work reflects an intimacy with her subjects, many of whom I know are not keen on having their photo taken but seem to be enjoying their shoot with her. She's also captured so many great moments in the tattoo world and beyond, which you can find in the Events section of her portfolio.
Bobby graciously permitted me to use these images above, including the action shot of a collabortive tattoo between Kurt Wiscombe & Filip Leu, shown above. Check more of her work on Facebook & on her site, where many of her prints are available for purchase.
One of my favorite photographers who works heavily with those in the tattoo and music worlds -- and is a walking work of art himself -- is London-based badass Craig Burton. Craig has shot me and numerous other collectors for my own books and contributes to Total Tattoo, Tattoo Life and Inked Magazine, among many others.
To check his work online, the best place for a daily pic fix is his newish blog, which I'm loving. There's a diversity of editorial and fashion -- from portraits of beautiful men & women, often covered in beautiful tattoo work, to convention coverage.
He also posts fun videos. Here's one below on the London Convention.
To contact Craig to shoot your model portfolio, live gig, art show, corporate function, or 20-lb tattoo tome, hit him up at info [at] craigburtonphotography.com.
Photo of Khan by Edo Zollo. All photos in this post by Edo.
This past weekend, one of the world's best tattoo shows -- The London Tattoo Convention -- welcomed an estimated 20,000 attendees to East London's Tobacco Docks for the finest tattooing, performances, art exhibitions ... and Instagram posting.
I'm not gonna lie. I wanted to delete all my social media apps out of jealousy. We couldn't make it to the party this year but were constantly reminded what we were missing. But I'm over the envy and now enjoying the many images of the show.
My favorite photos are by London-based photographer Edo Zollo, who has graciously let us share some of them here. You can see Edo's full convention set on Flickr. Also check him on Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr.
For more convention photos, follow these links:
I like to think of myself as a bit of a Brooklyn badass ... but then there are things that bring me back to reality. The embodiment of badassery in my borough can be seen in this fascinating slideshow on Flavorwire of a gang "of 'troubled teenagers coming of age' in 1959 Brooklyn." Legendary photographer Bruce Davidson captured these kids getting into fights, making out with tough looking girls, and naturally, getting tattooed (as shown above). It's all very sexy. Hit up Flavorwire for more photos.
One of the most common questions tattooed people get on a regular basis is: "What does it mean?" There's an assumption that some momentous event must occur to inspire those who permanently mark themselves. For many, it is hard to understand tattoos as "art for art's sake."
With this in mind, I was pretty thrilled when I opened up Alex MacNaughton's new "London Tattoos" book, and read this in the very first portrait profile, which is of 43-year-old Alice Temple:
My tattoos don't mean anything to me other than I like being covered in tattoos. It's a purely visual thing. I like the look of almost anyone who is covered, and I knew I wanted the same. What I have on me is almost irrelevant. What is important is the artist who works on me.Alice's story is her lack of a story. It may not make for good reality TV but it's a great way to start a beautiful photography book where the subjects reflect on their tattoos and tattoo artists. Indeed, it is the props to the artists -- where the tattoos featured are specifically credited to each tattooist -- that makes London Tattoos more than just pretty pictures and personal musings. You may actually fall in love with a tattooist's work based on what you find in these pages. [Alice's primary work was done by Nikole Lowe, which she further explains.]
But I really do dig the pretty pictures and reflections of the collectors. In these reflections, there are some compelling narratives behind the tattoos, answering the "what does it mean" question for those unsatisfied with the "because I like it" response. One of my favorites is that of Professor Richard Sawdon Smith, head of the Art and Media Department at London South Bank University. [A part of his spread is shown below.] Here's an excerpt from his story:
My tattoo is a very personal project made public. It speaks of living with a long-term incurable illness that requires regular blood tests on a tri-monthly cycle for the last 16 years, making the visible the internal and highlighting this regular routine.
If you're not a big reader, the photographs are sure to hold your attention. The award-winning photographer -- who has authored three street art books -- offers intimate close-ups of the tattoo work that accompany the portraits. See more in this gallery. But Alex states that his goal is not to have a book simply showing tattoos: "I want to show how tattoos are a reflection of a person's character and lifestyle, how to live with them and how tattoos can enhance confidence and success in life." Right on!
Extra bonus: The foreword is written by our tattoo history guru, Dr. Matt Lodder, who also takes off his clothes in the latter portion of the book.
You can purchase the 304-page paperback from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com in the US.
BUT before you do, enter to win a free copy! The Prestel Publishing sent us a copy for one lucky reader. As usual, the winner will be selected randomly from those who comment on this post in our Needles & Sins Syndicate Group on Facebook or who Tweet at me. In one week, December 16, we'll put all the names of the commenters/tweeters into Randomized.com and the internet gods will offer up the chosen ones.
UPDATE: It seems the fabulous Dr. Lodder is offering a copy of his own to a reader in the UK. So when you comment in Facebook or on Twitter, let us know if you're in the UK.
One of our favorite guerrilla photographers, Igor of Driven By Boredom, was in New Orleans at the Voodoo Music Experience last weekend where he hooked up with the fine Sailor Jerry folks and photographed the insanity inside their killer vintage airstream.
There, tattooist Terry Brown worked for three days putting on free Sailor Jerry-inspired tattoos on rock stars, crew members and Igor himself. One such rock star was Jesse Hughes of Boots Electric (shown below) who got a Fuse logo tattoo, old school styled. For more on the fun (with more pics), check Igor's blog.
The Sailor Jerry airstream heads to the Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin this weekend, where Terry will be doing more free Americana tattoos. More on their Facebook events page.
For NY area punk fans: Igor also fronts the punk cover band, F*ucking Bullshit, which includes our Brian Grosz on bass. Next Thursday, November 10th, the band will be playing Lit Lounge in the East Village, NYC at 11PM. Hope to smash faces with you there.
Continuing our posts on noted upcoming events, on the East Coast, Sacred Gallery in NYC presents "Immortal Until Death: The Cemetery Landscapes and Portrait Photography of Nathaniel C. Shannon." The show opens this Saturday, Nov. 5th, and runs until Nov. 27th. The opening reception is Saturday from 7-10 PM. More info on Facebook.
Like the Idexa Stern and Aurora Meneghello collaboration, Nathaniel has documented the work of a renowned tattooist -- the godfather of neo-tribal tattooing Leo Zuluetta -- and his images are also featured in "Tattoo World" and my first book "Black Tattoo Art." But in this exhibition at Sacred, his photos from cemeteries are the focus of the show. Here's more background on this series:
For my San Francisco treats: this Sunday, November 6th, an event celebrating the collaboration of tattooist Idexa Stern and photographer Aurora Meneghello will take place at Idexa's Black & Blue Tattoo, 381 Guerrero at 16th, from 6-9PM. More details on Facebook.
Aurora's beautiful portraits of Idexa's tattoo clients are featured in the hardcover I edited for Abrams Books, "Tattoo World," which will be available for purchase as well as prints of the images. A number of those portraits will be on display at the event. Here's some background on their collaboration:
Idexa and Aurora shared a common vision for this project and together decided to approach Idexa's tattoos in a different way than traditional tattoo photography. Idexa specifically asked Aurora to work on this project because of her love of the natural landscape and her experience photographing people. Aurora brings a different aesthetics to the genre, one that captures Idexa's original style which is rooted in the body of her clients. Idexa and Aurora share a love of collaboration and community and brought their values to this common project.Read more about it and see more photos on Aurora's blog.
We've seen a few stop motion videos of tattooing, but we're particularly digging this one by Portland photographer Dabe Alan of his camera-themed tattoo by Tony Touch at Infinite Art Tattoo in Toledo, Ohio.
Through stop motion, you really get an up-close look into technique and overall creation of the tattoo. As Dabe notes in the description under Part 1 of the video, the sitting took four hours and will be part of a large work. He explains: "So with the help of Tony Touch, I am getting an awesome Nerd sleeve worked on whenever I go visit Toledo. We decided to roll with an evolution of cameras at first, then more nerdy references above." Also check Part 2 and Part 3.
Here is part of the tattoo below from Tony's Facebook page, where you can also find updates to his portfolio.
Thanks to photographer Atom Moore for the link!
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).