News Archives

09:43 AM
Yallzee tattoos.pngPhoto of Yall Quinones at the Bucharest Tattoo Convention.

The recent headlines had an interesting mix of tattoo law, culture, convention coverage, and a lot more. Here are some of my top picks:

One controversial issue sparked some interesting debate among my fellow tattoo law nerds in this article: "Jury should see neo-Nazi tattoos in Las Vegas murder trial, judge rules." A 25-year-old White Supremacist is facing the death penalty for the alleged murder of a 75-year-old in her home. Bayzle Morgan is covered in tattoos, which you can see here, including "Baby Nazi" on his neck, Nazi "Skin Head" eyebrow ink, and "Most Wanted" across his forehead, among others. Morgan's defense attorney requested that a make-up artist cover his tattoos for the murder trial -- as was allowed in a separate robbery trial for Morgan -- because they could negatively impact a jury. But District Judge Michelle Leavitt denied the request, saying that jurors should be able to set any prejudice aside. It's also important to note that none of the evidence in the murder case relates to Morgan's tattoos -- it is not alleged that this is a racially motivated killing. But it is likely that jurors will have a negative reaction. Should Morgan's choice to mark himself in this way be hidden so that the focus is on the evidence and not appearance, or do the tattoos somehow reflect just who this man is (and at this moment)? Share your thoughts on the Needles & Sins FB group page under this post link.

See more posts on the topic: Tattoos at Trial and
Tattoos as Evidence in Criminal Trials.
On a more artful note, a bunch of media outlets covered the International Tattoo Convention Bucharest, which hosted top talent from across the globe, including this AP slideshow. A photo of our friend Yall Quinones was also the Salon top photo pick, as shown above. Looks like a lot of fun!

Looking at how tattooing can be a healing art, the Seattle Times' "Leading tattoo artists help wounded Israelis with scars" is a fascinating read about Artists 4 Israel's Healing Ink project that connected 11 international tattoo artists with Israelis "maimed by war and violence which left them with daily remainders of their ordeals -- either in the form of physical scars or deep emotional ones." Tattooers drew inspiration from works at the Israel Museum, which hosted the event. The article includes a beautiful slideshow. Worth a look.

Artists 4 Israel is founded by Craig Dershowitz, one of the early contributors of this site. One of my favorite posts of Craig's is "Tattoo Jew: The Definitive Guide to Jewish Thought and Law Regarding the Practice of Tattooing." It's a great interview with Henry Harris, an Orthodox Rabbi, which covers some interesting ground, including that common question, "If you are tattooed, can you be buried in a Jewish cemetery?"

Exploring tattoos as tributes and memorials, The Atlantic's "A Tattoo for the King" writes about how Thais are turning to tattoos to mark the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who passed on October 13th. The BBC also highlights a number of those tattoos, photographed by Wasawat Lukharang at two Bangkok tattoo studios.

Another recent piece in The Atlantic is also worth a read: "
Watching Tattoos Go From Rebellious to Mainstream," in which our friend Michelle Myles of Daredevil Tattoo talks about how attitudes toward body art have changed over her 25-year career. Here's a taste from that Q&A:

What was it like to try to hone your skills while it was still illegal in New York City?

Myles: It took me a little bit longer to get good based on it being illegal, because you get better by working in a shop and having artists around you. I feel very fortunate that I was able to work before the ban was lifted, because it was such a completely different sort of community back then. Everybody knew who was tattooing in the city, and there used to be these underground meetings called the Tattoo Society. You didn't advertise that you were tattooing, and there was no sign outside; people would have to call up [to the meeting place] to be let in, but at the same time, the ban wasn't enforced. Cops would come in to get tattooed. It wasn't a criminal violation. It was more like a health-code violation.


Tattooing was just such an outsider thing when I first started. It wasn't something that was mainstream. It wasn't acceptable, especially for women. You didn't even really see that many people that were heavily tattooed. Now, no matter where you go, people are exposed to it. Even if you go to more conservative areas, they get the same tattoo reality-TV shows, and are much more aware of the industry. As far as types of people go, literally everyone has tattoos now.

Also it's changed quite a bit technically, as far as the types of artists that are in the industry. Now, with social media, everybody's got tremendous resources to look at for reference and inspiration. When I started tattooing, we didn't have Google or anything like that. You just used your private reference library. Artists improve so fast now, because they're looking at all of this other work. It's pushed the aesthetic along quite a bit.

Read more here.

So those are the headlines, folks. I'll keep reviewing them for you and picking my faves, that is, until my baby comes, when I'll be taking a bit of a blog break. She's due next week, but I should have more tattoo goodness for you before then.

12:56 PM

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, 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.

04:30 PM


Last night, the much-anticipated "Tattoo Nation," a documentary on the history and evolution of black & grey tattooing, premiered in Los Angeles, complete with a red carpet laid out for tattooing's own A List, including Don Ed Hardy, Jack Rudy, Freddy Negrete, Good Time Charlie Cartwright, Tim Hendricks, and Cory Miller (who narrated the film), among many others. 

Danny Trejo was also in attendance, as his own experience getting needled in prison plays heavily into the narrative of the film. There's even footage of him taking his daughter to get tattooed (in a studio, not a cell). 

Check the Tattoo Nation Facebook page for photos from last night.

As noted in my last post on the film, the nationwide release is next Thursday, April 4th.  In some cities, like LA and Modesto, the film will play for a week, but in most others, it is an initial two-day limited engagement. There are over a hundred cities and locations for the screening, which are largely listed on

** For those in NYC, I'll be hosting one of the Manhattan premiers: The April 4th showing at AMC Empire 25 at 234 West 42nd St. in Times Square at 8pm. I'll be handing out N+S stickers and buttons and also selling copies of my Black & Grey Tattoo box set in the lobby. The screening may sell out, so it's best to buy your tickets in advance. ** 

I've given this film a thumbs up already, but it's also been given shout-outs from outlets like the Hollywood Reporter, LA Weekly and a mention in Variety. And as a number of reviews have noted, this isn't just a movie for tattoo collectors, but anyone interested in art, culture, or just a shirtless Trejo. Director Eric Schwartz may not have any tattoos, but he really does our community justice, reflecting the true reality of tattoo culture.  

While black & grey is the central theme, the film examines tattooing in contemporary US history overall.  It's strength lies in the oral histories of those who created history, like Hardy, Rudy, Cartwright, Negrete, Mark Mahoney, Shanghai Kate Hellenbrand and the other greats featured. Check the preview below to get a taste, but I highly recommend you going out to see it.

And for those in New York, I hope you'll see it with me on Thursday.      

10:51 AM
Earlier today, Total Tattoo magazine shared a link on Facebook to an interesting BBC article, which I wanted to pass along to you as well.

"The rise of the Maori tribal tattoo" written by Dr. Ngahuia Te Awekotuku begins with somewhat of a primer on Maori tattoo traditions, briefly discussing the history of Moko, its practice and symbolism. She then discusses her own experience as a Maori woman taking on the facial Moko in commemoration of the life of Te Arikinui Dame te Atairangikaahu, "the Maori Queen," who died in 2006.

As in a lot of discussions on indigenous tattooing, she briefly addresses the issue of cultural appropriation of Moko. Here's a bit of that:

[...] Moko, most of all, is about life. It is about beauty and glamour, and its appearance on the bodies of musicians such as Robbie Williams and Ben Harper is not unusual. Although it is often contentious, raising issues of cultural appropriation, and ignorant use of traditional art as fashion.
However we must also acknowledge that Maori artists are sharing this art - they are marking the foreign bodies.

The important reality remains - it is ours. It is about beauty, and desire, about identity and belonging. It is about us, the Maori people.

Read the rest on BBC online. Dr. Ngahuia Te Awekotuku is the author of Mau Moko: The World of Maori Tattoo (which includes the image below).

mau moko.jpg

10:07 AM
holocaust tattoos.jpg Photos by Uriel Sinai.

Yesterday's The New York Times featured the article "Proudly Bearing Elders' Scars, Their Skin Says 'Never Forget'", which talks about Holocaust survivor families getting tattoos of the numbers etched into the chests and forearms of their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles who were prisoners at the Auschwitz and Birkenau death camps. The families do so as a way to honor their elders and also to remind others of the atrocities. This method of doing so has caused some of controversy.

The Times article is inspired by the documentary "Numbered," directed by photojournalist Uriel Sinai and Dana Doron (a doctor and daughter of a survivor) who interviewed 50 tattooed survivors. These survivors discuss their horrific experiences and what they carry with them, beyond the numbers in their skin. Their descendants who seek to keep their stories alive through their memorial tattoos face strong reactions, particularly by those who feel that wearing a "scar" or a mark that dehumanized people should not be a form of Holocaust remembrance.

The article describes the experience of 21-year-old Eli Sagir who got her grandfather's number on her forearm:

Ms. Sagir, a cashier at a minimarket in the heart of touristy Jerusalem, said she is asked about the number 10 times a day. There was one man who called her "pathetic," saying of her grandfather, "You're trying to be him and take his suffering." And there was a police officer who said, "God creates the forgetfulness so we can forget," Ms. Sagir recalled. "I told her, 'Because of people like you who want to forget this, we will have it again.'"
Another reaction is the misconception that one cannot be buried in a Jewish cemetery if tattooed. [Read Craig Dershowitz's post on tattoos and Judaism here.]  Then there are those who just find it "tacky," as I read in comments on the article.

What do you think? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section to this post on our Needles & Sins Syndicate group page.

"Numbered" premiers in the US at the Chicago International Film Festival next month. Here's a clip below.
12:10 PM
Backpiece by Tim Kern.

Tattooing got another huge legal boost on Friday when the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that tattooing is free speech in the zoning case of Coleman v. City of Mesa (link to decision). This is the first time in the United States that a state supreme court has extended First Amendment protections to tattooing.

A federal court, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, ruled in 2010 that "tattooing is purely expressive activity fully protected by the First Amendment" in the case of Johnny Anderson v. City of Hermosa Beach, which was also a case where tattooists were denied the right to open up shop due to zoning restrictions. [My giddy discussion of that case can be found here.]

The Arizona Supreme Court noted that courts have been divided on the issue of tattooing being constitutionally protected expression (and gave example of different cases) but found that "the approach adopted in Anderson is most consistent with First Amendment case law and the free speech protections under Arizona's Constitution."

In both the Coleman and Andersen cases, the courts found that, not only tattoos but the process of tattooing, and therefore, the business of tattooing are protected speech. The Arizona Supreme Court also noted that this protection applies even if an artist is using "standard designs or patterns" like flash, just as cable TV companies are "engaged in protected speech activities even when they only select programming originally produced by others" (citing Turner Broad. Sys., Inc. v. FCC).

This is a win for the Colemans but the fight isn't over. The case now goes back to the superior court, which originally dismissed the tattooists' claims as a matter of law saying that the Mesa City Council decision in 2009 to deny the Colemans a permit to open their tattoo shop was "a reasonable and rational regulation of land use." The Colemans appealed and the Arizona Appeals Court overturned the Superior Court's dismissal finding that they should have had the opportunity to make their case. The City of Mesa appealed that, which is how the case found its way to the Arizona Supreme Court.

The Superior Court will now look at whether the decision to deny the permit served a compelling governmental interest and was reasonably related to furthering that interest. Local government does have an interest in regulating tattooing by protecting the health and safety of the public. The issue is whether the rules further that purpose.

In this case, the Mesa planning board had recommended that the Colemans be given a permit subject to certain conditions, like limiting the hours of operation, loitering, refusing to do racist and gang tattoos, and also working with police to identify known gang tattoos. They agreed to those conditions. But the Mesa City Council denied the permit, according to the Yuma Sun, "after hearing concerns from neighbors about the shop possibly drawing crime and reducing property values. Only Mayor Scott Smith was in support." Now Mesa needs to show that this decision was not arbitrary and irrational and did not go against the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the Constitution.

I'm guessing, or at least hope, that this case will settle. The tax payers of Mesa have already spent enough money on trying to stop a business from opening, when all a long they could have taxed them and gained revenue for the city -- and also made Mesa more artful.
02:29 PM
contaminated ink infection.jpgYesterday, The New England Journal of Medicine published the article "Tattoo Ink-Related Infections --Awareness, Diagnosis, Reporting, and Prevention." The article is based on investigations by The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) into an outbreak of tattoo-related skin infections cased by a family of bacteria called nontuberculous Mycobacteria (NTM) that has been found in a recent outbreak of illnesses linked to contaminated tattoo inks. Coordinating their investigation with state and local health departments and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), they discovered 22 confirmed cases of this infection primarily in New York as well as Washington, Iowa, and Colorado. It was found that the inks were contaminated before distribution and is believed to have occurred during the production process. The inks in which the bacteria were found have been recalled.

You can find all the details in the following reports:

* FDA: Tattoo Inks Pose Health Risks
* CDC: The Hidden Dangers of Getting Inked
* CDC: Tattoo-Associated Nontuberculous Mycobacterial Skin Infections -- Multiple States, 2011-2012

Here are some key aspects of the reports I think are worth highlighting:

First, the FDA is quick to note that no matter how diligently tattooists follow hygienic procedures, infections can still incur because the bacteria were found in non-opened bottles of ink and contamination is not often visible.

Fourteen of the confirmed NTM infections, specifically Mycobacterium chelonae, came from Upstate Tattoo Company in Rochester, NY. reports that one of the tattooists bought ink at an Arizona tattoo convention and used it on clients and the co-owner of the shop. A second supply was then ordered and that batch had the bacteria. The ink allegedly is "Catfish Carl's Realistic Wash." While the CDC does not specifically name the inks recalled, on the FDA's Enforcement report for May 23rd, 2012, it does list a recall of three different Catfish Carl's Realistic Washes. says that Upstate Tattoo is considering legal action against the ink manufacturer.

[Update: Upstate Tattoo Co. has been given a clean bill of health by the Monroe County Health Department, which stated the shop followed all hygienic procedures.]

The infection was first identified by a dermatolgist who contacted The Monroe County Health Department when a patient's rash persisted for a long time after receiving a tattoo at Upstate. The rash was located in the specific area where the grey wash was used, not throughout the entire tattoo. This sparked the investigation.

The CDC blog says that, after it was notified about these NY cases, it issued a public health alert and found two clusters of tattoo-associated NTM skin infections in Washington state, one in Iowa, and one in Colorado. Contamination was found in inks produced by other manufacturers, which they do not identify, and could have come from unsanitary manufacturing processes or the use of contaminated ingredients. It adds the following key fact:

[...] All were related to inks likely contaminated by non-sterile water either during the manufacturing process or during dilution by the tattoo artist just prior to tattooing a client.

Contamination of tattoo ink products by non-sterile water is an ongoing problem, and this group of identified clusters may represent a snapshot of what we could expect to find at any given time.  Until tattoo ink manufacturers and tattoo artists fully understand the dangers of using non-sterile water to manufacture or dilute tattoo ink, these infections will continue to occur, and they can be far more serious than just an annoying rash.

Non-sterile water includes filtered or distilled water as well as tap and regular bottled water.

NTM infections look like allergic reactions and can be hard to diagnose and treat. Different types of antibiotics are often prescribed. [Ointments won't treat the problem.] If not properly treated, the FDA says that Mycobacterium chelonae can cause lung disease, joint infection, eye problems and other organ infections.

According to the FDA's Office of Cosmetics and Colors, Dr. Linda Katz, if you experience tattoo-related complications, notify your tattooist and the FDA through its MedWatch program.

contaminated ink infection2.jpg
03:32 PM
On Tuesday, I gave nine interviews with local stations of CBC radio on tattoos, taboos, discrimination and dress codes. Here's a link to one of them.

Interested in your thoughts on this post in the Needles & Sins Syndicate Group on Facebook.
04:43 PM
Pazyryk Mummy tattoo 2.jpg
Photos via Siberian Times.

A number of you passed along this Daily Mail article entitled: "The astonishing 2,500 year old tattoos of a Siberian princess, and how they reveal little has changed in the way we decorate our bodies." Considering the nature of the tabloid [one reader called it "Daily Fail"], the real meaty info of the news is buried at the end in favor of quoting a scientist at the onset discussing how Greeks make fun of British tourists' tattoos. They do, but the scientist had more to say.

So I hit up the original article quoted by The Mail, which was in The Siberian Times and it is packed with much more interesting information.

The Siberian Princess is also called the Pazyryk Mummy because she and the other bodies found with her are believed to be from the nomadic Pazyryk tribe. She's also known as the Altai Princess & Ukok Princess as she was found in the Ukok Plateau of the Altai Mountains near the border of Mongolia.

The "princess" was discovered in 1993 by Dr. Natalia Polosmak, the archeologist quoted in the articles, and largely kept at a scientific institute in Novosibirsk, preserved by the same scientists who who preserve the body of Lenin.

It's making headlines now because she'll be coming home to Altai and will soon be displayed in a glass sarcophagus in a mausoleum at the Republican National Museum in the capital Gorno-Altaisk.
princess of Ukok mummy tattoo.jpg Believed to be a 25-year-old healer, storyteller or shaman, the mummified woman was buried among others, including two tattooed men who also had intricate tattoos. Dr. Polosmak offers more on their markings:

Compared to all tattoos found by archeologists around the world, those on the mummies of the Pazyryk people are the most complicated, and the most beautiful. More ancient tattoos have been found, like the Ice Man found in the Alps - but he only had lines, not the perfect and highly artistic images one can see on the bodies of the Pazyryks.

Tattoos were used as a mean of personal identification - like a passport now, if you like. The Pazyryks also believed the tattoos would be helpful in another life, making it easy for the people of the same family and culture to find each other after death.

For more on the Pazyryk mummies and additional photos, I highly recommend clicking The Siberian Times article. And if you want even more, check these articles on other tattooed mummies.

The New Scientist: "Ancient tattoos linked to healing ritual."

Otzi the Iceman.

Smithsonian: "Tattoos, The Ancient and Mysterious History"

And Lars Krutak's texts for The Vanishing Tattoo (like this one).

Pazyryk Mummy tattoo.jpg

"Reconstruction of a warrior's tattoos, who was discovered on the same plateau as the 'Princess'. All drawings of tattoos, here and below, were made by Elena Shumakova, Institute of Archeology and Ethnography, Siberian Branch of Russian Academy of Science."
05:03 PM
old tattooed women .jpg
Just got back from vacation and catching up on the tattoo news. Here are some interesting reports and features:

Juxtapoz's post "Grandma's Ink" -- featuring our tattoo godmothers -- inspired to create a an extensive slideshow of vintage photos of tattooed ladies, which in turn may have inspired this Daily Mail article (although no credit is given). The Daily Mail article begins with the typical cringe-worthy cliches of tattoos belonging to bikers and "the wayward," and follows with some basic tattoo history and more vintage photos. Nothing mindblowing, but if you want to brush up on your tattoo FAQ, it's worth a quick click. In another UK paper, there was a pretty pathetic article about a mother who was "griefstricken" when her son came home with a tattoo. I refuse to link it or comment because it's pure trolling for clicks and comments to attract more visitors, and thus, more ads. I suggest we all abstain from commenting on these type of editorials. It won't stop the bigotry and feeds into their flaming.

Speaking of tattoo discrimination, in the city of Medicine Hat in Alberta, Canada, a new policy was put into effect where police officers must cover tattoos and remove piercings. I get the piercing requirement for safety reasons like rings being yanked from the body in a scuffle. As for tattoos, I'm on the fence. You'll find I'm mellowing from my previous position where I felt that some tattoo bans were acceptable if they impeded the performance of one's job. It gets tricky with cops. One of the main arguments for the visible tattoo ban by the Medicine Hat police force was that they polled the community last year and residents said they want their officers to cover up. As the police must create trust and respect with residents, the ban was then justified. Will tattoos slow officers down when chasing a suspect? Will it affect the way they gather intelligence when investigating crimes? Will it impeded the ability to write traffic tickets? Looking at the big picture, it may seem obvious to us that it wouldn't. However, those with serious prejudice against the tattooed may argue that suspects could claim they were running from cops because they thought they were thugs (if out of uniform); or they would not trust an officer to give possible information on a crime; or they might feel intimidated by officers at the traffic stop. Ridiculous you may think, but stereotypes are generally ridiculous. I've written about tattoo discrimination before here and here on the blog. Feel free to offer your thoughts on this in the Needles & Sins Syndicate Group on Facebook.

In a different vein, the WSJ had this video report on tattoos seen in the neighborhoods of Williamsburg and Greenpoint, Brooklyn -- where not having a tattoo puts you in the minority. Talk of tattoo acceptance is a big part of the piece, which brings up the point of location and culture in the discrimination discourse. Also some great shots in the video of local tattooed hotties. Bonus!

Helping to bolster stereotypes is this report on the "Anus Tattoo Trend." I swear I'm not making this up. Cameras at the 17th-annual South Florida Tattoo Expo caught a near-naked drunk girl getting her butt tattooed in the middle of the convention. It's NSFW and just gross on many levels. If you want to get angry, click it.

It thought it was pretty funny that I soon found this Sun Sentinel article touting the convention as a "family friendly event."

Check some photos (like the one above) from the convention by Adam Baron on

The Seattle Tattoo Expo also took place this past weekend. Ignore the "Tattoos are no longer just for bikers and sailors..." blah blah and check this video below which features an interesting Nordic-themed tattoo, in Japanese "munewara" style, on a molecular biologist. Much better than the butt tattoo.

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