By Deb Yarian
The first thing out of my mouth when a couple says “We’ve decided to have a baby” is usually “Congratulations,” not “What happens if you get a divorce?”
I wish as many obstetricians counseled their patients against having babies using the same reasoning as some tattooers do when they advise their customers against getting a partner’s name – “What happens if you break up?”
Well, what happens if you break up is that you, having made an adult decision to show your devotion to someone by getting their name tattooed on your skin must now also make another adult decision and learn to live with it, cover it, or change it.
A ludicrous comparison, yes – but the name tattoo (a foolish choice only in retrospect) seems far less permanent when compared with the really permanent – living child.
This sort of counsel is a particular pet peeve of mine… I think that when a person, for whatever reason , wishes to commemorate their love and devotion to another person by choosing to get that person’s name tattooed on their body, then that is their adult decision and they don’t need my opinion, other than possibly font or calligraphic design choice or placement.
I’ve heard so many tattooers respond to name requests with such negativity. With mocking responses ranging from “That’s a sure way to end a relationship!” “You sure you want to do that?” To ridicule or refusal to do the name tattoo.
But why should any couple coming in to get name tattoos from me or any other tattooer have to validate anything other than their legal ability to get tattooed? Since when did the tattooer become the priest and rabbi and moral counsel of their customers?
During my 35 years of tattooing there have probably been hundreds, even thousands of tattoo designs that I have been asked to do that I, myself, would not have chosen to get. In my opinion many more ugly or foolish design choices have been made than choosing to get the name of a loved one.
I am speaking solely on my opinion of a person’s decision to get another’s name – not the aesthetics of it.
Certainly, if the aesthetics of type interferes with the look or design flow of a larger tattoo then when asked for my artistic opinion I would give my honest one. However, if asked my opinion as to whether someone should get their partner’s name – how could I answer that?
I feel that it’s only my responsibility to advise on design choice and placement and to try and do the best job that I can regardless of my opinion of someone else’s choice of what to wear on their body.
By Chuck Greenberg
Most of you probably know of Chuck Greenberg, A.K.A. Chuck DeeZee. Over the past several years, Chuck has gotten an insane amount of work all over the country by artists all over the world. The list of artists that have tattooed Chuck is mind boggling. With all of the time getting tattooed, traveling to get tattoo, talking to artists, and generally being around tattooed people – Chuck has picked up a thing or two.
I’m excited to say this is the first of a regular series of columns that Chuck is going to write for Tattoo Snob. Chuck is going to tackle subjects that a simple Google search won’t find. Below is the first of many article. If you have a subject that you’re interested in hearing Chuck’s thoughts on, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below.
My name is Charles Greenberg, and I have been a collector for as long as I can remember. I’ve collected all sorts of things over the years, from cassettes to vinyl, mountain bikes to historical and music memorabilia, and, of course, tattoos. I’ve always been a collector of art, starting with comics and collectible cards at a young age. Now I’m working on a near complete, but still in-progress double body suit that features work from some of the most highly regarded artists in the industry. You really have to want it in order to tackle such an undertaking, but I’m here to share some personal insights in the hope that maybe I can spare you some of the bumps you may encounter on your own path to great skin art.
Some of the facets of collecting tattoo work might seem relatively obvious, while others might not. The purpose of this column is to touch on many of the facets of being a tattoo collector, including, but not limited to:
- The obvious financial element, including some bartering tactics
- Preparing for (and scheduling) the number of hours involved in collecting tattoo work full-time
- Working with tattoo artists
- Tattoo artist collaborations
- Tattoo conventions and their associated contests
- Tattoo removal
- Tattoo shop hygiene and cleanliness, including standards and best practices
- Etiquette for booking with high profile artists
- Perhaps the biggest factor involved here is the element of cost
To be honest, I hate it when people ask me how much I’ve paid for my skin art just to hear them brag about having paid less for their own work, or to have them bark at me that they think I’ve paid far too much. $150-250 an hour is standard in the industry these days for upper echelon work. Most people do not realize how much time and effort an artist puts into crafting a custom piece, and time is money. If you are going to get a big tattoo, you need to have some kind of reasonable financial stability to pay for the number of hours that piece will take to be completed.
Bragging about how you got a deal with another artist will not get you terribly far in this industry. It’s advantageous for you to do your homework and to go to an artist who’s best suited to your idea. Time and time again I have read about people going to the wrong artists because they did not do their research in finding the correct artists to suit their needs. I can’t stress enough how important it is to work with your artist. You don’t want to be the sort of person who goes to the local bio-organic artist to ask for a black and gray anime portrait of your grandmother. With that in mind, it’s best to do an in-person consultation about your idea beforehand, if you can. It just might be the difference between a good tattoo and an epic one.
Patience is the name of the game if you seek out the artists who are in the highest demand. Get pieces which will exploit their strengths and challenge them. Avoid the same old recycled ideas that are common on Pinterest and Google. Of course there are different types of tattoo collectors; many want to focus on one style, such as traditional, illustrative, bio-mech, or black and gray work. Others, like me, appreciate all styles equally, and try to collect a piece from each of them. I’ll be writing here regularly, so I’d like to encourage all readers to contribute to this column by asking me any questions about tattoo collecting or other relevant topics that you want to discuss. I’ll do my best to provide a thorough answer for all of them, time permitting. I appreciate your time, and I hope you’ll be coming back to the discussion in the future.
By Nick Baxter
If you’re into oil painting or realism and somehow not already a fan of Jeremy Geddes, do yourself a favor and check him out. He is a modern master of the fantastic realism genre. When I found out that he recently did an interview about his process and thoughts on realism art, I eagerly read it and found some pearls of wisdom in his humble and deftly concise responses.
Especially helpful to me as a painter were a few choice reminders about the process of completing larger or more ambitious works, including this advice:
One mistake I often catch myself in is launching into a full sized painting before I have addressed and resolved all the potential problems in small scale studies. It means I can spend days or weeks in rework for an issue that could have been sorted out in hours if I had followed the correct procedure. Tampering down enthusiasm with pragmatism can be a tricky thing to hold onto sometimes, but it is almost always worth it.
And then there’s this insight regarding the public perception of “fine art” and the communicative power, which is a timely reinforcement of some of the conclusions about modern art I described in my “What Is Art?” essay:
…the disconnect between the intended meaning of a conceptual work and the meaning that ‘Joe Public’ will take from it is obviously huge, the work is most likely buried in decades of obscure theory that the public has no knowledge of or participation in.
By Melissa Fusco
For a few years now, I have had a strong desire to visit the land of my great grandparents and become immersed in my ‘genetic roots’. Italy, my much anticipated trip, has arrived…
Outside of conventions, guest spots and gatherings in the states, I crave a culture change and new scenery at least once a year. I was meeting a friend here in Venice, unfortunately for good reason she was unable to make the first leg of the trip. So I prepared as best as I could to be in Italy for 6 days before the Rome convention, alone.
For more than half of my life, about 20 years now I have traveled alone more times than accompanied by a travel companion. No doubt I would enjoy a companion on my travels, however, there is something precious about solo travel and how it contributes to my inner self. It helps build my confidence and aids in my personal growth. For me, when I travel, I prefer to live amongst the locals, so first thing off the plane, I find my way to the small water taxi dock. I purchased a water taxi pass on-line that would take me from the airport to the nearest taxi stop from my hotel destination. After the taxi makes a few stops along the way, I finally arrive at my exit and play the alley way game to find my hotel. Hotel Tiepolo, is settled down the alley that runs directly along side the Piazza San Marco. One of the most visited tourist landmarks on the S. Marco Island in Venice. I thought I was a little further away from this touristy area and at first was a little let down by the busyness of the surrounding areas. However, I feel I couldn’t have picked a greater location.
When I depart from the front door of the hotel, which is located at the end of an alley, I weave my way through narrow alley ways that ended at the water front Palazzo. I quickly find myself amongst the crowd. The sounds of sea gulls, water taxi’s, sales men, and tourist chatter fill the breezy ocean air. Kiosks filled the waterfront walkway selling duplicate Venezia souvenirs, scarf’s, hats and Italian leather handbags. Landscape artists work amongst rip off Coach bag sellers, and not to forget the slightly annoying single rose auctioneers. The phrase “ no thank you” leaves my lips more times then I could count throughout the day. I quickly head to the water taxi stop titled S. Marco Zaccaria.
By Kayla Matthews
1. Your standards are the only ones that matter
Of course not everyone will think that your new chest piece is as gorgeous as you do, but why should that matter?
As long as you love the way it looks and feel great about yourself because of it, those stares on the street are laughable.
2. First impressions aren’t always right
Anyone with tattoos or a heavily tattooed friend can tell you this life lesson is true. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched perfectly nice, loving, and intelligent people get judged because of their ink.
Having tattoos and knowing people with tattoos teaches you to not place value on appearances and, instead, spend more time getting to know new people.
3. Pain is temporary
This, for sure, is something every tattoo-ee can attest to. Regardless of your pain tolerance, you’re bound to encounter one tattoo that hurts like a B. But making it through a painful tattooing experience just makes you more proud of the end result.
Sometimes we forget that painful things can lead to great things, but I think tattoos are a fabulous reminder of that.
Tattoos by Chris Stuart
Skee. TV presents Marked Up Episode 1 featuring pro BMX rider Rick Thorne & Celebrity tattoo artist Danny Balena. Marked Up is a new look into the culture and lifestyle of the art of tattoos. In this series we will talk to celebs, tattoo artists and people of all ages and aspects of life to see what their tattoos mean, the story of why and why not to get them and how the culture has evolved thus far.
By Jacob Gersham
Randy Harris worries that lawyers are leaving a stain on the tattoo world.
A court tattooist to basketball royalty, Mr. Harris says he has inked dozens of NBA players, drawing everything from a giant tree on Dallas Mavericks guard Monta Ellis, to a beady-eyed owl on Washington Wizards point guard John Wall, to a basketball-toting angel on Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant.
Recently, he has found himself shaking his head at the litigious direction of his image-conscious occupation as the question of who owns a tattoo has become a source of tension.
To him, it’s simple: “Once they paid for the tattoos, man, they paid for it,” he said from his shop south of Atlanta.
Other tattooists say the issue isn’t that clear, especially in the case of sports videogames, which digitally re-create not just the bodies of athletes, but often their body art as well.
Phoenix-based tattoo artist Chris Escobedo took an intellectual property rights training course and in 2012 sued now-bankrupt videogame developer THQ Inc. over a mixed-martial arts game in which one of his tattoos—a large, scowling lion on the right rib cage of Ultimate Fighting Championship star Carlos Condit—makes a cameo appearance.
Last year he settled the lawsuit for an undisclosed sum, he said.
“They’re doing it without consulting the original artists, and that’s what makes it illegal,” he said. “I’m the little guy in this situation.”
Such lawsuits have left a mark. When videogame giant EA Sports, a brand of Electronic Arts Inc., EA +0.11% developed its own fighting game featuring Mr. Condit, which will be released this week, it left out the lion, causing gamers to growl. Electronic Arts declined to comment.
By Indigo del Castillo
Sculptor Jessica Harrison has forever changed how we see Victorian-era ceramic figures with her works involving ladies in fancy dresses sporting badass tattoos or their own blood and guts. In this exclusive interview, she talks more about her roots as an artist and her unique take on ceramics. [read our original posts about her sculptures here and here]
How did you discover your passion for sculpture?
When I was little I wanted to work in animation – there were quite a few great children’s tv programs on in the 80’s that were made with 3D models and I decided quite early on it looked like the best job in the world to mess around with clay all day.
Let’s talk about your grotesque ceramic ladies with severed heads and misplaced body parts. Where did you get the inspiration for this collection? What was the message you were trying to convey here?
That series is called ‘Broken’ as the pieces are made using found ceramics that I have quite literally taken a hammer and chisel to.They present an impossibly fair-skinned ‘perfect’ woman and my attraction to these works was precisely because of this image they portray of the female body – my aim was to counter it and present its opposite within itself.
This was simple to do, by breaking apart the hollow cast pieces and ‘revealing’ the interior, a standard formula in Western knowledge for making discoveries about the body. The female interior is a space still laced with taboo in a way that the male interior is not, and for me this gender bias of what is most often an invisible space in our everyday lives was a fascinating and important one to address. This series, like my other works in stone, ceramics, silicone and ink comes from exploring shared ideas about the body, unraveling shared experiences of different spaces, textures and shapes.
Do you have any memorable reactions and responses regarding the macabre ceramics?
Not really, the pieces from the ‘Broken’ series are very bland to me before I break them. I think they make more sense in their altered form.
Seeing as you’ve been into sculpture all your artistic life, how difficult was it to move into tattoo art in your series about the Victorian-era ladies with tattoos?
It wasn’t difficult as it is not something different. I’m using the tattoo in this series to explore the skin space rather than creating any tattoo art itself, which is a completely different thing. Tattooing is not a painting or a drawing onto a static plane, it is incredibly sculptural, literally threading ink into a moving surface, one that has no flat surfaces.
So although the pieces are called ‘Painted Ladies’ in reference to the old term for a tattooed woman, they in fact draw from something incredibly sculptural and active in space, the skin.
The tattoo imagery I have used is all from war-time source imagery, to recall a time before the popularity boom of the tattoo when it may be pointed more towards a particular kind of harsher life. The idea was to present opposing outer layers, contrasting skins, where masculine illustrations are intertwined with overtly over-idealized feminine costume. The viewer is presented with the question of what we are supposed to consider beautiful, which costume to believe.
How long did it take you to finish a piece?
A long time, that’s why there are only a few, and why there are unlikely to be any more!
Do you have anything you’re currently working on that we should look out for?
I have an exhibition opening at Jupiter Artland in Edinburgh this July. It’s going to be very pink…
Tattoos by Victor Policheri
Heidi Hay Tattoo
A message from Kate Hellenbrand:
TODAY is the DAY!!!
PBS SPECIAL airing TONIGHT at 7:30 p.m. here in AUSTIN, Central Time~
Available on line thru their website tomorrow for the rest of the world to see.
This isn’t some crappy “reality” TV SHOW. This is a respectful overview of the real art of tattoo. It’s PBS, people!
I’ve continued to turn down “Ink Disaster” and “Tattoo Titans” and all the other crap thrown at me that is made up and disrespectful to my glorious art/craft. Thankfully, I held out. I am proud. And even though haters will pick it apart, I say: SUCK IT!
I am almost excited enough to buy a TV (which I don’t have) and subscribe to cable (which I won’t do) so gratefully I’m going to watch at Chris Kirkpatrick’s home with his lovely wife Christine. He’s the client
getting the girl with the cobra that you’ll see.
LEMME KNOW WHAT YOU THINK
My favorite style tends to be illustrated realism, not even sure if that’s an actual style haha.
By Aya Lowe
The Spanish conquistadors who landed in 1521 dubbed the Philippines the Islands of the Painted Ones after the heavily tattooed locals. Nearly 500 years on, tribal tattooing is almost extinct. Aya Lowe met the islands’ last practitioner and those trying to keep the tradition alive.
For more than eight decades, Whang-Od has been inking the headhunting warriors and women of her Kalinga tribe.
Using the traditional “tapping” style, dating back a thousand years, she hammers ink into the skin using the spike of a calmansi (lime) tree attached to a bamboo stick that has been dipped in wet charcoal.
The simple designs are evocative of the nature around her in the mountainous region of the Cordilleras – outlines of centipedes, trees and snakes or basic geometric patterns such as diamonds and squares.
These, she says, are “earthly messengers from the gods [that] protect you from enemies or bad spirits”.
Not for the light-hearted, this slow, primitive method is extremely painful and would have been endured for short periods only. Large tattoos might take several months to complete.
However, at 94, Whang-Od – whose own skin is etched with a variety of designs – is likely to be the last of her kind.
Training her niece
Tradition dictates that skills can only be passed down family lines. Having lost the love of her life at the age of 25 in a logging accident, Whang-Od did not marry again and bore no children.
“It can’t be passed on to anyone else,” she insists. “It has to be within the same family because if someone else who is not from the same bloodline starts tattooing, the tattoo will get infected.”
However, the young in her village are not keen on adopting the body work of their elders. Though she is training her niece to carry on her work, Whang-Od says that her young relative is more interested in her studies to become a teacher.
The preservation of tribal tattooing may, however, lie thousands of miles away in Los Angeles, where a group of dedicated members of the Filipino diaspora has been working hard to ensure the tradition is not lost.
Tatak Ng Apat na Alon, which translates as “Mark of the Four Waves Tribe”, was formed nearly 15 years ago in Los Angeles by Filipino-Americans.
Their name is a reference to the “waves” of immigrants who came to the Philippines.
The group has grown to become a global community made up of hundreds of people with Filipino heritage looking to revive the tattooing traditions of Filipino tribes by having their designs etched on their skin.
“People are sacrificing their skin to revive this ancestral form of art and make sure it is not forgotten,” says Elle Festin, the co-founder of the community.
“The only way you can find proof of designs is through oral history and artefacts. The only way to stop it becoming obsolete is by reviving the designs.”
Having left the Philippines as a teenager, Mr Festin said his journey into the world of tribal tattooing became a way for him to connect with his own heritage, something he felt he had lost growing up in the US.
“Filipinos in the Philippines don’t need to define themselves, but for the Filipino diaspora many are looking for a connection back to their heritage,” he says.
“It’s more important for them to define themselves as Filipino in a foreign country.”
Tattoos were a prominent feature among pre-Hispanic tribes of the Philippines. They acted as a corporal roadmap designating people by tribe and rank, acting as a protection charm or medal, or as permanent make-up.
Dr Lars Krutak, a tattoo anthropologist in the Visayas region of the central Philippines, says traditional tattooing practices had vanished in the region by the 1700s because of the presence of the Spanish military and the influence of the Church.
But in Mindanao, an island in the country’s far south, and the mountainous region of the Cordilleras – the home of Whang-Od – the practice survived because of the area’s remoteness and warrior tribes who successfully defended their ancestral homelands from foreign invaders, like the colonial Spanish.
People who receive a tattoo have to be of Filipino heritage. The artists work closely with their clients to research their family histories and life events to create a design.
“We were very careful about how it grew and who our tattoo artists were,” said Mr Festin. “We didn’t want it to go viral and turn into a trend like Polynesian designs. We wanted to encourage curiosity to getting people talking about the meaning behind the markings.”
In 2008, Mr Festin made perhaps the most important pilgrimage in his career as a tattooist when he returned to his homeland to visit Whang-Od and the Kalinga tribe.
“When I first met Whang-Od I was afraid of what she would think of my designs, especially as they were modified from original form,” he said.
“But she was impressed with my tools and asked me to tattoo her. You could tell she was experienced by the way she lay down and stretched her skin.”
While the sight of a fully tattooed man or woman is becoming a rarity in the Philippines, it is this small dedicated group of enthusiasts, far across the ocean, that is keeping the art form alive, hopefully for many decades to come.
About the author: Based in Manila, Aya Lowe writes business, travel and human interest stories around South East Asia and the Middle East.
Lastrites.tv: A NEW and Online Community
New York, May 2014 – Last Rites is excited to announce the launch of its brand new website, Online Community and Forum. Lastrites.tv will serve as the umbrella site for both Last Rites Tattoo Theatre and Last Rites Gallery, uniting the two separate meccas for the dark arts under one roof, alongside the birth of the Last Rites Online Community. Although Last Rites Tattoo Theatre and Last Rites Gallery will still exist independent of one another, we hope this new site will make it easier for our patrons to enjoy all the talent and beauty under one roof, similar to our space at 325 West 38th Street in NYC. Our intention is to provide a digital space to serve as a comprehensive community of like-minded individuals that have a true appreciation for the dark side of art.
We’ve designed the structure of the website to make your journey simple yet visually stimulating as you peruse all facets of the dark art world that is Last Rites. Our main navigation gives constant access to Last Rites Tattoo Theatre, Last Rites Gallery, the Last Rites Store, Forum and Online Community. Each category gives you access to drop down menus allowing you to choose which component you wish to explore. Further, we have integrated social media streams, videos, appointment forms, a forum and tons of images for your viewing pleasure! It is our hope that our patrons will browse and interact with the art and one another on our platform through our Forums and Online Community.
Paul Booth truly wishes to unite friends, fans, and enthusiasts from both the Fine Art and Tattoo worlds. His inspiration and aspirations can now be accessed through the free Last Rites Online Community and Forum. The Online Community will allow visitors to create their own profiles, photo and video albums, chat, and interact with the website fully, including commenting and liking on artwork and pages. The Forum will offer a wide array of subjects to ponder and discuss, also accessible from logging on to the Online Community. It is our hope that these avenues of discussion and social sharing will allow you, without the restricting guidelines of censorship, to explore, contribute and embrace the dark arts.
Lastrites.tv is also mobile friendly and easily accessed from all smart devices. We hope our site proves to be ergonomic and a haven for all friends, fans, and enthusiasts.
Last Rites Gallery
325 West 38th st #1 NYC
A tattoo exhibition? You mean, not in the corner of a tattoo convention? In a real museum? Well, it’s for real, and it’s happening now in Paris, at the Museum du quai Branly, which is quite famous for showing high quality exhibitions, usually specialized in anthropology and ethnology. And it is now showing “Tatoueurs, tatoues” (or “tattooists, tattooed”).
Of course, having a few tattoos myself, and being both interested and a bit educated in tattoo history and techniques, I had to rush there, and report back on what this exhibit has to offer:
The exhibition was curated by Anne & Julien (who’ve been involved in the modern art scene for many years now), and advised and directed by famed French tattoo artist Tin-Tin. The goal of the exhibit, as explained by Anne & Julien, is to show how tattoo, which has existed since ancient times, has changed, developed, disappeared, and been reborn to the art we know today.
In the first part, named “from the global to the marginal,” the exhibition tells the story of tattoo throughout history, and society. You can view a mummified tattooed arm from Peru, antique tools, and amazing portraits of Algerian tattooed women. This part also explores the role of tattoos in the navy, and in prisons with, among other things, a short movie that I highly recommend: “La peau du milieu” (1957), showing the “underground” side of tattoo, at a time when the meaning was much more important than the style, which was, well, rather poor.
Then, you enter the marginal and colorful world of sideshow, circus, freaks, and…traveling tattoo artists. As a transition, there’s a very interesting “Wall of Fame,” displaying a timeline of tattoo culture, including laws, techniques, famous tattoo artists, and famous tattooed people.
The exhibition goes on with a focus on tattoo in Japan, North America, and Europe. The Japanese selection shows some stunning paintings, tattoo projects, photos of tattooed people, videos, a photo of a tattooed skin taken from a dead man (gulp! I first didn’t notice it was only a photo); other incredible artifacts include a kabuki costume painted so that it looked like a tattoo when worn by the actor. In the North America and European selections, there were more photos and prints of tattooed people, and interestingly, a copy of Samuel O’Reilly’s patent for his tattooing machine (and some modern day machines as well).
Moving through the exhibit, at this stage, museum goers now view works made by tattoo artists exclusively for this exhibition: 19 artists worked on “tattoo project” paintings, and 13 artists tattooed silicon body parts to great effect.
There’s also an exploration into the revival of traditional tattoo in Oceania and South-East Asia, displaying some impressive masks and head sculptures (I was especially impressed by those), traditional tools, as well as modern tattoo projects. There’s further cultural discussion of tattoo in China, the Latino and Chicano cultures in the US, among others.
At last, the exhibition ends with the “new generation” of artists, such as Yann Black and the “Art Brut” movement in tattooing, as a nod to the future of the art.
To read the rest of this article, go to: http://www.needlesandsins.com/2014/05/tatoueurs-tatoues-musee-du-quai-branly.html
By Nick Baxter
Last year I started collecting my thoughts on the continual debate in my head about what art is, and how it can be (among other things) an effective form of communication. That effort was and still is intertwined with the process of further understanding my own art, and all other art, as well. In hindsight, I thought the initial writing (here and here) was a bit unfocused, and since it was also incomplete, I took the time recently to revisit those blog entries and rework them into a more cohesive essay.
The final part of that essay, as mentioned in the second of those prior blog posts, is about my belief that photojournalism can be viewed as a creative art form, possessing an almost-accidental form of raw beauty capable of inspiring other works of art (such as many of my own). This critique of photojournalism introduces broader questions about the “unintended” as art, and–for now–completes my investigation into the sneakily complicated debate “What is art?”
In the future I’ll post the final version of the essay in its entirety, but for now here is the “part 2″ continuation of those prior blog posts.
Photojournalism and the Unintended as Art
In the last 100 years, photojournalism has become a fixture of our visual landscape. On the surface, it’s simply defined as the use of images to tell a news story or to report on current events. In this role, the photos are not art, and their photographers are not acting as artists, which means their images are typically held to strict ethical standards of honesty, impartiality, and objectivity. But these attributes are graded on a scale that becomes increasingly inexact amidst the complexity of postmodern thought and the digital age of endless reproduction and re-appropriation. This is the point at which the question “What is art?” becomes relevant and fascinating to me, when applied to the medium of photojournalism.
I’ve always appreciated the naïve purity of an image that’s been produced with no pretense of art, utterly uninhibited by the finicky shackles of artistic rules or the whims of unreliable muses like inspiration. In this open and wild space, artistic qualities and natural beauty are given the chance to emerge on their own, unintended and raw, like the strongest of weeds in a perfectly manicured lawn, and photography seems to be an ideal medium for this phenomenon. This element of chance can produce quite powerful images, capable of communicating intensely to the viewer while remaining—and precisely because they remain—firmly grounded in the truth of reality “as it happened.”
And so the commonplace photos we’re bombarded with through ever-increasing media saturation begin ostensibly as visual data comprised only of ‘facts’ or neutral information, yet end up loaded with symbolism, embedded with the perceptions and beliefs of their creators and audience after becoming the subject of this artistic line of inquiry.
In studying art history, it seems this afterlife of the journalistic image became much more possible in the wake of the Dada movement, when artists (including photographers) carved out new niches for their work beyond mere decoration or commemoration of important people or places. Art in the 20th century became increasingly deconstructivist, philosophically charged, and conceptual in nature, filling multiple roles while having its meaning manipulated by the increasingly complex worldviews of both creator and audience1.
Because of this evolution, just about anything could be considered art in the right context, meaning that most contemporary art now resides as much in the blurry, ambiguous realm of provocative ideas as it does in the realm of traditional craft. Hence a museum visitor might encounter an exhibit of random paint splotches that, beneath its completely underwhelming, childlike appearance, contains a metaphor referencing complex political or psychological theories learned by the artist through years of intense academic study.
This can be maddening to the viewer who simply wants to marvel at a skillfully executed object of beauty, or it can be liberating for those who want to engage in debate, controversy, or social change through the arts. My own art has always attempted to straddle this fence by incorporating the best of both worlds: technical, precise handling of paint in the realism tradition, yet depicting modern subject matter and informed by the angst and alienation of postmodern philosophies. It is my belief that photojournalism in the modern age, thanks to that 20th-century process of expansion and deconstruction, straddles a similar fence, one separating objective observations from subjective beauty and meaning.
This ability of the journalistic photograph to transcend genres is confirmed in the academic community by the fact that “Breaking News Photography” is a Pulitzer Prize category. This prestigious yearly award started in 1917 as a way to honor impactful achievements in American journalism, literature, and music. Winning photographs are resurrected as art objects, receiving appreciation for their poignancy and beauty—a second life of sorts, after their initial purpose or function in the journalistic media has been served.
This second life also takes the form of photo essays, curated and arranged into cohesive narratives, which are now commonly presented in art and lifestyle publications, fine art galleries, and museums throughout the world. Depending on the intentions of the photographer and exhibiting institution or publication, as well as the sensibilities of the viewing audience, these photographs may be appreciated for their communication about the world events that comprise their content, or for their artistic qualities—or both.
In his 1995 essay about the modern age of photojournalism, writer Richard Lacayo wades into the debate surrounding artistic subjectivity and meaning:
“Photojournalists tend to stay aloof from talk about camera aesthetics. There is something about dodging gunfire in Beirut that discourages ruminations on style, understandably enough. More to the point, no one who catalogs bloodshed or poverty wants to be thought of as yet another vendor to the senses. Some news photographers spend half their lives chasing wars; who can blame them if they reach for the door when they hear the word art? …The stereotype survives: artists have visions; journalists have assignments. They may both think to themselves, ‘I am a camera,’ but each means something different.
“Yet aesthetic questions have a moral dimension. Color is pretty; misery is not. How does one keep the simple appeal of color from confounding the full range of meanings a photograph may convey? If pictures of genocide come to us in the muted pastels of a GAP ad or the vivid hues of a rock video, how does a photographer keep atrocity from looking palatable?”2
While the moralist in me sympathizes with this sentiment, the artist and rebel in me, raised in an age of cynicism, desensitization, and ambiguity, views adjectives like ‘palatable’ as mere subjective opinions, impossible to resolve into an absolute truth for all to agree on. Human culture is so diverse that practically anything could be considered palatable art, by someone. And so I answer Lacayo’s question with another question: “Why should the photographer keep atrocity from looking palatable?”
I want to ask this question not because I enjoy atrocity, but because I am capable of the postmodern complexity of holding multiple feelings and competing appreciations within me simultaneously. In this case, that multiplicity includes the horror and revulsion at the tragic events occurring in our world as well as the aesthetic delight at the spectacle of color, shape, line, emotion, symbolism, and meaning on vivid display, emerging somewhat accidentally (and perhaps with more purity) through the photojournalistic medium.
As if to concede this very point I’m making and pay homage to the “What is art?” debate, the author goes on to admit, “The most capable photojournalists…have learned to incorporate the unruliness of color into a deliberate statement. …Barbaric rule can operate in the broadest daylight, suffering can happen in sensual settings, a place can be cruel and inviting at the same time.”
And so we see that through the inescapable conduit of subjectivity, passive observation becomes intentional communication, and thus, photojournalism can also be the highest of art forms, loaded with inspiration for artists working in any medium. I’ve always appreciated the best journalistic photography for this transcendent ability, the point at which the happenings of this world become awe-inspiring images, and the deepest truths contained in the human condition are put on poetic display.
So once and for all, “What is art?” This question may never be fully answered. But with an integral approach and an open mind, artists and viewers alike can use this line of inquiry to enrich their experience of reality, to deepen the communication that is the purpose of all art, and to find beauty everywhere, even where it may be unintended.
1The Situationists of the 1960s took this evolution to the extreme, espousing radical anarchist views on art that embraced destruction and merciless re-appropriation of all imagery, in the service of transforming society and conscious reality into a powerful and playful dialogue with the present moment.
2Lacayo, Richard. “IV: Resurgence 1980-1995.” Eyewitness: 150 Years of Photojournalism. New York CIty: Time, 1995. 166. Print.
By Leslie Jamison
MY tattoo kept getting delayed by other people’s weddings: a bachelorette party in Vegas, cliff-top vows in Zion, a ceremony in Westchester. I wasn’t just attending the ceremony in Westchester, I was officiating at the ceremony in Westchester. I couldn’t picture giving my blessing in front of 200 people while my left arm glistened under Saran Wrap. I felt the slightest twinge of resentment. My life seemed perpetually tucked into the pockets of time created between the milestones of other lives.
I was getting the tattoo, in part, to mark a break from the man with whom I’d spent four years building and then dismantling a life. I was branding myself to mark a new era: my body was no longer entwined with someone else’s. It was mine alone again. I was moving to a new city and I had a new book coming out, and the tattoo would be its epigraph: “I am human: nothing human is alien to me.”
The quotation belongs to Terence, the Roman playwright. In the original Latin, it reads: homo sum: humani nil a me alienum puto. When I first came upon it, I felt its force beyond rational explanation. I knew it was something I needed to keep saying.
I got the job done by an artist who worked in a converted fire station. His walls were lined with giant beetles in jars of formaldehyde, taxidermied birds and bright oil paintings full of wizards and dragons. “Sure you don’t want anything drawn?” he asked, gesturing to his art. I pictured a dragon with a thought bubble: “nothing human is alien to me…” I said I was fine with just words. He wrote them in a cursive line from elbow to wrist. “I’m going to do this so we miss your veins,” he said. I said that sounded great.
It hurt just enough to make me feel like something was happening. There was a sense of deserving — that I’d earned this by hurting for it. It was an old logic I hadn’t felt in a while: Pain justifies ownership. It scared me, a bit. It also thrilled me. I left with Very Serious Aftercare Instructions and an arm encased like a pale sausage in plastic wrap.
The woman at the drugstore where I bought my Very Serious Aftercare supplies immediately wanted to know what the tattoo said. When I told her, she looked at me for a long time. “I think there is so much evil in this world,” she said, “and so much good.”
From now on, I realized, my body would basically be asking every stranger, “What do you think about the possibilities of human understanding?” During the months that followed, I found myself explaining the tattoo to a parade of strangers and acquaintances. It’s about empathy and camaraderie, I would say. Or else, it’s a denial of this lifelong obsession I’ve had with singularity and exceptionality.
We often think of tattoos as declarations of selfhood: this is what I am, love, believe. But there are other things we might inscribe on ourselves: what we fear, what we hate, what we hope to be but can’t yet manage.
“I am human; nothing human is alien to me” — my tattoo wasn’t true for me, not yet. But it was what I most needed to hear, an asymptote, a horizon.
On a hot day near the end of summer, another drugstore clerk reached for my arm with a searching look on his face. He was a large man, imposing.
When I told him what the tattoo meant, he shook his head. “There are people going through things in this world that are really bad,” he said. “Do you understand that?”
I tried to explain about aspiration, asymptote, attempt.
“You will leave a little piece of yourself with everyone you imagine,” he said. “You will get exhausted trying to give yourself away.”
I didn’t know what to say to this. I felt exhausted by him. I felt how much I needed, from him and everyone, a certain kind of response: to feel inspired by the tat, and tell me so.
“You tried to give me something,” he said, pointing at my arm. “But I blocked it. I blocked what you were giving me.”
He was interrupting the ticktock rhythm of my righteousness, saying something about the easy aphorism on my arm: how it didn’t go down easy for him and shouldn’t go down easy for me, either.
He wasn’t the only one with questions. My father wrote from the Rwanda Genocide Memorial: Did I really believe what my tattoo said, even about perpetrators of genocide? And on a first date, a man asked me whether my tattoo could even apply to evil? We never went out again. But there were other dates, other men wanting translations, running their fingers along the script. It started to feel uncomfortably like philosophy as accessory, something to match a certain kind of intellectual posture.
Before these men, there was a moment with the original man, the one from whom the tattoo marked my liberation. I ran into him on an ordinary afternoon, about a week after I got the tattoo and a week before I moved away from the city we shared. He was surprised to see my arm holding something it hadn’t held before.
I realized how different things were now. Something could happen to my body and it would be weeks or months before he knew about it. The tattoo was supposed to represent a new freedom but in that moment it felt like a shackle. It showed me how much it still hurt to feel the new distance between us. I felt that loss of proximity like a flesh wound.
It’s like being pregnant, people would tell me. Your body is a conversation-starter. Eventually I started drawing the comparison myself. But the truth was it didn’t feel like being pregnant at all. I was alone; my body was my own. It was a deep privacy, an autonomy tinged with sadness. It was the opposite of pregnancy, the residue of intimacy.
I’d always insisted I didn’t get the tattoo so that people would talk to me about it. In fact, I told myself I wanted nothing less. But at a certain point I’ve had to admit to a desire for contact I couldn’t own at first: It’s there and it isn’t.
The script is full of vectors pointing in opposite directions, a statement both aspirational and self-scolding, a desire to be seen and a desire to be left alone; a desire to have my body admired and a desire for my body to need nothing but itself, to need no affirmation from anyone. The tattoo holds an idea and its refutation, a man and his absence, a vote of confidence from the world and — in that downtown drugstore, on that humid day in summer — something more like the opposite.
By Marisa Kakoulas
In Athens, Greece, the Sake Tattoo Crew is an incubator for top tattoo talent — not just respected in the country, but worldwide. One artist from this collective is Kiriakos Balaskas. Tattooing for 8 years after a tough apprenticeship with Sake, Kiriakos developed a style combining abstract expressionism watercolors and graphic art. But I wanted to learn from him how he views his work, and tattoo culture as a whole, so I took him away from organizing the Athens Tattoo Convention, which is May 23-25, for a quick Q&A.
If forced to define your style, how would you describe it? What are the strongest influences on your work?
My tattoo style in general has always been a combination of heavy themes/ lines/ shapes, and naive — almost childish — color details. I’ve always found this invasion of joy into strictness (two sides that equally attract me) very interesting and exciting. As soon as I started experimenting with the watercolor technique, I felt I had finally found the absolute way of expressing this ultimate combination. My pieces mainly include these distinctive elements: a black graphic stencil or sketch, and either a brush or wide, “clean,” kid-style watercolors — usually two colors only. It is hard for me to define it in a sole, strict term as there is no one else in Greece who practises this style, but if forced to define it, I’d use the term my costumers use when they ask for it, “Kiddo.”
Some old school artists believe that “only bold will hold,” and that every tattoo needs a heavy outline to stay strong longer. What is your response to this?
I agree and I myself use total black outlines in the stencil/sketch part. But as far as the watercolors outline is concerned, I feel the lines should create an ephemeral impression — if you take the loose element out of the watercolor, the very substance of it is gone.
Because you are doing something new and innovative with your work, what kind of reactions do you get to it?
The reactions are positive, if not overwhelming. People are interested in trying this new technique or inflowing the style into their tattoos, and their eagerness to experiment with unconventional styles sincerely moves me.
What are some of the greatest lessons you learned in tattooing?
I’ve learned the greatest lessons and values of tattooing from the person who initiated me to this art, Sake. It was a tough apprenticeship by his side that I had to go through in order to become a respected tattoo artist, and one of the greatest lessons he gave me was to pay this respect back to the customers. They will have that piece on them forever, and that is something we always have to keep in mind.
What do you think makes a good tattoo — and what do you think makes a good tattoo artist?
A good tattoo is a tattoo that remains the same over the years, as if it was only done two weeks ago. I consider good artists to be the artists who won’t rest or let themselves go as far as their technique, style and inspiration are concerned.
How have you seen tattoo culture in Greece evolve? How has mainstream culture in Greece adapted to the art’s popularity?
**To read the full article, go to: http://www.needlesandsins.com/2014/05/artist-profile-kiriakos-sake-tattoo-crew.html
Tattoos by Olaf Lobe
True Love Tattoo