In an age when anyone can grab a starter tattoo kit on Amazon and eBay and start drilling, those old prison-style DIY machines still hold some magic. The ingenuity of taking found objects and creating a working instrument that creates art -- and the prison culture from which that ingenuity was born -- has inspired Goof Vermeulen, a production designer and art director in Amsterdam. He's created jailhouse tattoo "guns" -- in the same manner as they're fashioned in prison -- as works of art. A number of them also come in hand-made boxes and ink.
You find them here on Etsy for sale. And check more images on his Facebook page. As he says on his Esty page, the machines, although workable, are not meant to be used on skin but simply to be displayed as art. The online retailers already have the tattoo machine market covered for scratchers.
I'm having my morning coffee when my email dings and it's Refinery29.com telling me to check out the "Scott Campbell Makes a Prison Tattoo" video with the description below:
The vid follows Campbell around NYC while he searches for supplies to make a homemade "prison tattoo" gun, which consists of a nine-volt battery, a toothbrush, and masking tape, among other random things. Of course, Neistat [viral video virtuoso] wants a piece of the action, drug-deal-ishly meeting up with Scott in Tompkins Square Park to bare his forearm for his own "prison tattoo."[Actually, Scott tattoos another guy, not Neistat.]
And there's Scott buying batteries and a toothbrush and digging through garbage for the rest of the parts but all the while he's discussing tattoo art and his own experiences in a thoughtful and compelling way. I want to hate this. He just dug through a garbage can and will now open up someone's skin. Then there's the little voice inside of me saying, This is kinda cool, as a watch him talk and nonchalantly put the "gun" together. But then we get to the end and some dude shows up and sits down on a bench next to Scott in Tompkins Square Park--a bench upon which I've seen too many junkies having sex--and then I'm just thinking, Eww. I understand the hipster irony of getting a (rather well done) "Bless this Mess" tattoo in a place the homeless use as a toilet, but ... no, actually, I don't understand it.
Your thoughts? Share them on Facebook in the Needles & Sins group page under this post.
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.
Very cool to find BoingBoing's feature on MIR, the Russian criminal tattoo fashion company and Needles & Sins advertisers. [Many of you thought it was cool too, and we thank you for sending in the link.] In that post, co-owner Roman Belenky discusses his experience growing up in Russia surrounded by the tattoos and what inspired him to start the clothing line, which I thought was pretty interesting. Here's a taste from that part:
I was working in a tattoo shop and started noticing more and more people were coming in with the [Russian Criminal Tattoo] Encyclopaedia and asking to get an image from the books. We turned them away mostly because the shop was owned by Russians and we didn't think it was a good idea to tattoo most of the stuff from the books on someone that knows close to nothing about that world and sub-culture. At that time I thought it would be cool if I could offer those people a T-shirt with the image as a sort of "consolation prize." Plus a part of me also wanted to spread this fascinating Russian underground art to more people.On MIR's site and on their Etsy pages, they offer explanations of each design, although some like the one below don't really need much explaining. What the BoingBoing article doesn't mention is their new SHTRAFBAT military-inspired line where most of the items are vintage or reconstructed military surplus clothing silk screened or altered with the Russian designs. You can hit them up by clicking the banner of the right.
And speaking of criminal tattoos...
A collection of 60 tattooed skins (preserved in formaldehyde) taken largely from dead prisoners is the subject of a "photo story" by Katarzyna Mirczak called Preserving the Criminal Code.
According to Mirczak, the Department of Forensic Medicine at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, collected the skins "with a view to deciphering the code - among prisoners known as a 'pattern language'. By looking closely at the prisoners' tattoos, their traits, temper, past, place of residence or the criminal group in which they were involved could be determined."
Read more on the preserved skins and see more images, like the ones, above here.
[Via Morbid Anatomy. Thanks to Samantha of Haute Macabre. And Melina too!]
With the new Russian mob doc, Thieves By Law, causing some buzz at the Tribeca Film festival, criminal tattoos are back on the A List. Inspired by their symbolism, The Daily Tribeca came up with their own tattoo interpretations for the "Hollywood Gulag" with a little help from NYC tattooist Daniel Albrigo. It made me giggle.
Check Gawker for the larger version of this illustrated guide.
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.
The Michael Jackson tribute tattoos dominated the headlines while Rihanna created some buzz of her own by tattooing three people at East Side Ink in Manhattan, home to her favorite artist Bang Bang. Tattooists at the shop got Ri's signature umbrella with the letter 'R' underneath it. But the biggest treat was for the paparazzi: see more photos on INFDaily.
Alas, the sweet press for the studio has backfired because now the NYPD and the NYC Health Department are looking into Rihanna tattooing without a license -- a misdemeanor offense that could mean fines and loss of license for East Side's owner. It's not confirmed, however, whether the city has opened an investigation into the unlicensed tattooing.
In more illegal ink news, this dude was jailed for tattooing minors but it should've been for his "online tattooing school." Note to self: ask my next tattooist to see license and diploma from Bob's Tattoo School.
The problem with unlicensed tattooing is the risk of severe infection, never mind shitty umbrella art.
Perfect example: this tattoo gone wrong law suit [via NSFW Modblog] where three friends walked into a Morgan Hill, California shop and walked out with massive staph infections. One posted this puss-filled tattoo (below) on HelpMeSue.com, also noting they researched the studio and found it was not yet licensed by the health department. It would have been better, of course, if such research was done prior to dirty tattooing. The image is a reminder to do our homework on the artist and shop opening our skin.
Infection may be common at unlicensed shops but I wouldn't go as far as ex-MTV veejay Jancee Dunn's fear of "rampant hepatitis" -- the argument she gave her over-60 mom who decided to get tattooed. But the super cool mom ignored such drama and gave the best reason for wanting a tattoo -- simply because she liked it:
"I've passed midlife. Your generation thinks every action has to be fueled by some major psychological motive. You know what? I just want some art on my body. And I like ravens."They went to Shotsie's Tattoo in Wayne, NJ, a long time tattoo staple in NJ (fully licensed of course), and the Ink Shrink worked a raven on her wrist, which she loved. The rockin grandma's next plan is to head to Burning Man, and while her daughter remains horrified, I'm inspired. Jancee's book Why Is My Mother Getting a Tattoo?: And Other Questions I Wish I Never Had to Ask is now out.
Ok, now to cleanse that icky tattoo image from ya head, behold the Beckhams:
I just licked my screen. Their Armani ad is hot. Less so, The Beckhams: 10 years of tattoos, Tom Cruise and malnutrition.
Further celeb hotness, Mena Suvari shows off her '13' tattoo.
But I gotta ask, What would prompt someone to get a Lady Gaga tattoo?
In more important news ...
Quebec Superior Court judge has ruled that a dress code for day care workers forcing employees to cover-up tattoos was in violation of their rights.Supported by the daycare worker union in Quebec, Nadine Bélisle can now show off the snake tattoo on her shoulder blade. The union president said "We agree that if a tattoo is sexist, racist or violent it should be camouflaged. But I don't see how children are going to be traumatized by a flower on someone's ankle." The lawyer for the daycare argued the board put the general ban in place so they did not have to make the decision of what tattoos are deemed suitable. The judge didn't dig that argument and found that the ban "rests on prejudices." The Globe and Mail further quotes the Judge Jean Bouchard:
Another reason to love Canada:
Eric has been getting tattooed for over 20 years but saved room on his upper arm to mark the birth of his beautiful daughter Hayden (both shown right). And as Hayden was born on a full moon, he added one behind her name and above it a rose with a pink diamond in it. Ok everyone, time for a group "aaawww."
Another note to self: add Eric to our growing N+S "objectified tattooed men."
Not to be objectified: This dude with the Stooges backpiece and facial ink!
Perhaps he'll be inducted into Australia MSN's world's worst tattoos hall of shame. A group rivalled by those featured in this blog: Most unfortunate tattoos for a mugshot.