It’s an image ingrained in the culture of both the United States and countries throughout Central America: the heavily-tattooed, ruthless gang members on the prowl for victims.
These inked-up thugs – such as members of the feared Mara Salvatrucha (or MS-13) and Barrio 18 street gangs operating in El Salvador and Honduras – have been blamed in part for the surge in unaccompanied minors streaming north toward safety in the U.S. and have kept border agents busy making sure that none of these hoodlums enter the country.
While law enforcement officials in places like Los Angeles and throughout the federal prison system have been studying gang tattoos for years to get a grasp on affiliations and meanings, the countries in Central America have only recently latched on to this practice as violent crime rates spiral out of control throughout these nations.
Police in Honduras now claim to have cracked the code on the symbolic meaning of these tattoos even as more and more gang members hide their ink amid a crackdown on gangs in the country.
One of the most popular images found on gang members is two hands clasped together and fingers facing skyward in prayer posture. Experts interviewed by Honduras’ El Heraldo newspaper say that this tattoo is not a representation of any religiosity on the part of the gang member, but a plea to “forgive me mother for my crazy life.”
“This phrase means that there are normal moments in the life of gang member or a gang that let you think properly about the actions carried out in the course of one’s own life,” the newspaper reported. “As a result the position of consciousness arises because [the gang member] realizes he is doing something wrong which is against morality and decency, even taking the life of one or more persons.”
Other religious tattoos, such as Jesus or the Virgin of Guadalupe, are found throughout the Central American gang world and represent similar meanings, although the Christ tattoo is almost exclusively used by MS-13.
The yin yang is also a popular tattoo in gangs throughout Central America. While most commonly associated with Asian gangs, it has become increasingly popular among the MS-13 street gang in El Salvador.
The design, experts say, symbolizes the balance between good and evil, which the gang members have achieved through force, violence and death.
One the most notorious and widespread tattoos in any gang culture is the spider web, meant to represent power and a gang’s expansion into new territories. It is found mostly on elbows, shoulders or knees.
Experts recommend that young people thinking of getting a tattoo should study what they want carefully and make sure that the ink they get doesn’t have some subliminal meaning that could have them hurt or even killed unintentionally.
“Just having a tattoo alluding to one of those groups and crossing to some other group’s turf is an offense, because the person is identifying himself or promoting a different group,” an unnamed expert interviewed by El Heraldo said.
Tattoos, however, are becoming less prevalent among gang members in Honduras after the country cracked down in 2005 on gang associations by threatening people with ties to street gangs with nine to 12 years in prison and a hefty fine.
With tattoos being easy identifiers of gang associations, some members of gang’s leadership have warned their fellow brutes to cover up their body art or put it on a place of the body that is not easily seen.
Younger gang members have been saved from the cover-up because they came into the groups after the gang laws went in place, but older members have been forced to wear long sleeves in the hot weather and even caps to cover up their head tattoos.
By Kevin Miller
Tattoo artists in Brazil are being trained by doctors to look for signs of skin cancer, thanks to Sol de Janeiro. Sol de Janeiro is a sunscreen company, and had the brilliant idea of having artists attending training courses to look for early signs of skin cancer.
This is simply brilliant. With skin cancer being the most common type of cancer in the world, this could help people quickly identify the early signs.
By Pete Kasperowicz
The Food and Drug Administration is warning people that getting a tattoo comes with several risks, including the possibility of being infected with HIV or hepatitis, allergic reactions, and other skin problems.
And if you ever decide to remove your tattoo later, the FDA is warning about “pain and high costs.”
The FDA’s warning focused on women who get tattoos for “beauty, self-expression or cultural events.” It explained that tattoos can be done by injecting ink into your skin, injecting henna, or by getting a temporary tattoo.
FDA said that because of the risk of infections, scarring or other problems, the FDA “has not approved any inks for injecting into your skin.”
FDA has also not approved the injection of henna or hair dye into people’s skin. The FDA said it does not regulate tattoo parlors, but does monitor problems associated with tattoos — problems can be reported by calling 1-800-332-1088.
The agency said removing tattoos is not easy. “You may not be able to completely remove your tattoo,” it said. “You could get a scar when you remove your tattoo.”
There are other more complicated methods for removing them as well.
“Tattoos can sometimes be removed by cutting out the tattooed skin then sewing the skin back together,” it said. “Other times, the skin can be sanded down to remove the tattoo.”
The FDA indicated that least painful and easiest to remove option is the temporary tattoo, like the ones found in Cracker Jack boxes.
“A tattoo design is on a coated paper,” FDA said. “It is put on your skin with water. Temporary tattoos may last up to 3-4 weeks. Sticker tattoos last hours to days.”
By Erin Boyle
I think there’s something to be said about searching for an artist you can trust with personal symbols and parts of the self. I stumbled upon Melissa Fusco’s portfolio by pure chance after searching 4 years for artists in a different style; I was instantly swayed. I found her work captivating and unique: her craftsmanship was soft, colorful and organic, and I saw hints of depth and spirituality in her portfolios – these things really clicked for me. I had consulted with many artists over the years, and the request to tattoo over my scars was nothing new to me – I even met some who refused to work on scars. Finding a good fit was important; the artist would, after all, be spending several hours confronted with these scars and whatever it brought up for them. I was looking not just for the quality of an artist’s work but also the personhood of the one applying it, Melissa’s warmth and professionalism really showed through during our consultation process. Though she had no idea of my story at the time, I told her, “but really, who gets out of life unscarred in one way or another”…everybody has their thing…it’s all in what you do with it.
Now, I’m not much for telling soggy and dramatic tales about my life, much the reason why I chose this particular flower for my tattoo – but I’ll get to that later. The Buddha once said, “every experience, no matter how bad it seems, holds within it a blessing of some kind; the goal is to find it”. I, like many, was blessed with a difficult childhood; abuse and neglect were my reality for much of my childhood and adolescence. Though high achieving, at 17 there came a point where my goals took a backseat and I thought there was only one way out. This thought became not just a memory, but left behind the scars to prove it.
Every good story has a twist; mine came a few years later after coming out of an abusive relationship. At that point I looked long and hard at my life, I spent a lot of time healing old wounds and rebuilding the Self. Mindfulness, courage and sacrifice were essential building blocks in my process of change and moving towards doing what I love and loving what I do. I threw away my masks of success and achievement, gave up my fancy title and hefty paycheck, got a second bachelors degree in pre-clinical psych, and began working at a Residential Treatment Center for youth with mental illness. In other words, for mere pennies I worked with teenage boys who liked to break shit, especially your face, and taught them how to give and receive love. This is what makes sense for me; this is what life is about, using our humanity to help others grow.
The paradox of my story is that no matter how much I healed and evolved, I still had my past written on my arms along with the judgment from others about what that means. No amount of success, forgiveness or compassion would ever make that go away. However, life with this tattoo is different. Not just myself, but others see beauty and strength where shame and secrecy once lived. In a way it removes the stigma I once felt. I don’t perceive myself as a victim or a survivor, I see myself as a person with the drive and motivation to create and sustain social justice through guiding others to lead the best possible life they can. As an Art Therapy graduate student en route towards doctoral research, I’ve found that having the permanence of this image in my skin helped ignite this fearless internal integration of my personal and professional lives. It’s closure, it’s dignity, it’s confidence, and in a huge way it is taking ownership of my body while standing grounded in authenticity and unapologetically residing in my own identity and truth.
Embedded in the image also lies the memory of the process. To match my initial impressions, Melissa was grounded, focused, caring, calm, gentle, warm, empathic, funny, respectful, edgy, and an incredibly skilled independent female artist in a male dominated field. She made the process personal and relational, and that’s not something I got from any other tattoo artists I reached out to. I don’t know if I would have found another talented artist that I felt as comfortable with during this process, not to mention one who honored the experience. I’m grateful to have found her, and look forward to collaborating on future work.
As a symbol of the self, this phoenix of a flower holds no mythology – only truth. Coming from one of the oldest families of flowers on earth, whenever a wildfire ravages the area the King Protea is the first sign of new life. In fact, wildfires are central to their evolution – just as challenges, failures and setbacks are to ours. As I see it there is no fantasy in real life – our results come from our own hard work…or as Melissa would say, there is “no progress without sacrifice.” I couldn’t say it better myself.
To see more work by Melissa, or to get in touch with her, go to:
This has nothing to do with tattoos, and everything to do with humanity. I just really like it and wanted to share…
What have you done to touch someone’s life lately?
Japanese Tattoo Tradition in a Modern World
MARCH 8 – SEPTEMBER 14, 2014
About the Exhibition
Perseverance: Japanese Tattoo Tradition in a Modern World explores the artistry of traditional Japanese tattoos along with its rich history and influence on modern tattoo practices in this groundbreaking photographic exhibition.
As Japanese tattoos have moved into the mainstream, the artistry and legacy of Japanese tattooing remain both enigmatic and misunderstood. Often copied by practitioners and aficionados in the West without regard to its rich history, symbolism, or tradition, the art form is commonly reduced to a visual or exotic caricature. Conversely, mainstream Japanese culture still dismisses the subject itself as underground, associating it more with some of its clientele than with the artists practicing it. Both of these mindsets ignore the vast artistry and rich history of the practice.
Although tattooing is largely seen as an underground activity in Japan, Japanese tattoo artists have pursued their passions, applied their skills, and have risen to become internationally acclaimed artists. Through the endurance and dedication of these tattoo artists, Japanese tattooing has also persevered and is now internationally renowned for its artistry, lineage, historical symbolism, and skill.
Curated by Takahiro Kitamura and photographed and designed by Kip Fulbeck, Perseverance is a groundbreaking exhibition and the first of its kind. Perseverance will explore Japanese tattooing as an art form by acknowledging its roots in ukiyo-e prints. This exhibition will also examine current practices and offshoots of Japanese tattooing in the U.S. and Japan.
Perseverance features the work of seven internationally acclaimed tattoo artists, Horitaka, Horitomo, Chris Horishiki Brand, Miyazo, Shige, Junii, and Yokohama Horiken, along with tattoo works by selected others. Through the display of a variety of photographs, including life-sized pictures of full body tattoos, these artists will cover a broad spectrum of the current world of Japanese tattooing.
Mariko Gordon and Hugh Cosman
UCSB Academic Senate
UCSB Department of Art
The Japan Foundation, Los Angeles
Los Angeles County Arts Commission
Atsuhiko and Ina Goodwin Tateuchi Foundation
By Dan Mcnab
I’m a tattoo artist in the city of Huntington Beach, Ca. I own and work at The Tattoo Gallery with four of my very close friends. After years and years of leaking trash bags, I decided one day to put an end to it once and for all and created RinseCup CleanUp.
When I designed this product I made sure it is the best that exists and can not get any better. Also, it’s non-toxic because our trash gets put into landfills and that would only hurt the environment. I believe as a whole, us humans do enough of that! Disposing of our rinse cups and ink caps this way is the safest method and eliminates cross-contamination in our trade due to the contaminated liquids we produce.
Once in the landfill, RinseCup CleanUp slowly releases the water and improves soil conditions through aeration. It’s less expensive than using paper towels and safer than dumping it down a sink. When that method is used more toxic chemicals are needed to clean the area it was dumped in, which leads to poisoning our environment even more.
Now we are in many countries and the response is amazing. So much support from this trade! The only advertising I have done is thru IG. It’s spreading like wildfire and I’m excited to see where it goes from here. It’s only been about 6 months since I released it for sale!
For more information about Rinsecup Cleanup, email:
Having tattooed for the last 25 years, I’ve seen my fair share of tattoos that have healed badly due to the client simply sleeping in their bed. Usually these tattoos have incurred most of the damage, infection and hard healing from when the client sleeps with their fresh, new tattoo with unseen dangerous elements lurking in their bed. Sleeping is definitely one of the greatest moments during a new tattoo collector’s day to do the most damage to their new artwork. When people sleep, they are for the most part completely unaware of pain or minor discomforts, allowing them to be completely unaware of their new tattoo sticking to sheets, seeping onto the sheets and exposing their skin to possible other irritations to the new tattoo. Some of the most common issues while sleeping with a new tattoo is simply sticking to bedsheets, but it’s what’s on those bedsheets that matters during the healing process.
Sleep has a profound effect on our mental, emotional and physical well being! Sleep is the time the body can undergo repair and detoxification, although it can also be a determining factor in healing up well or not so well. Poor sleep patterns are linked to poor health and slow healing. Those who sleep less than six hours a night have a shorter life expectancy than those who sleep longer and naturally tend to heal slower. Getting enough sleep can also help resist infection, as some studies of healthy young adults have shown that moderate amounts of sleep deprivation reduce the levels of white blood cells which form part of the body’s defense system, preventing the tattoo from healing quickly.
There are many dangers to a new tattoo that your bed presents nightly. On average, most people don’t wash their bed sheets and pillows often enough, providing the perfect environment for dead skin cells to breed, potential infection or cellulitis to begin in a fresh tattoo. Another aspect is that most people don’t consistently shower or wash their hair before they go to bed, possibly having sweat or having been exposed to multiple situations during the day. People also can have their pets or animals sleeping next to them every night which undoubtedly brings animal fur, dander and the often overlooked feces that are on animal paws from the ground or backyard in general, which is simply horrible news for a fresh tattoo. Animal fur and dander can cause cellulitis which in worse than just a mild infection. Dander is an informal term for a material shed from the body of humans and animals, similar to dandruff. It is composed of skin cells which can be a major cause of allergies and skin infections in humans. Cellulitis is a common skin infection that happens when bacteria spread through the skin to deeper tissues. It is caused by bacteria, most often strep or staph and a cellulitis infected area will be warm, red, swollen, and tender and usually needs extra attention and antibiotics to help the tattoo heal properly. Animal and human dander are typically the biggest problems with cellulitis or skin infections in fresh tattoos.
Some tips to help avoid an infection in your new tattoo while sleeping in your bed is to first be sure to wash your sheets before you get any new tattoo. Always wash your tattoo off before bed and immediately when you awake, this will help eliminate any infectious materials that you’ve collected on your skin throughout the day before resting for 6-8 hours. Covering your new tattoo with a breathable, non-stick wrapping right before you lay down is an excellent way to help prevent infection from the beginning, it not only protects your new tattoo from sticking to your clothing or bed sheets, it also creates a barrier between you and your bed and helps keep potentially dangerous elements in the bed off of the new tattoo while the pores in the new tattoo seal up and stop seeping plasma. Remember to always wash the tattoo off and allow it dry with no lotion, etc before wrapping it at night. Wearing a protective piece of loose, breathable clothing also helps create another barrier between your new tattoo and infectious bed elements. Be sure to sleep on the non-tattooed side of your body, A pillow works great to adjust and hold your body part in a position that’s comfortable. Try to keep the body part somewhat elevated above the heart to reduce pressure and swelling on the new tattoo. Always wake up, remove wrapping and wash immediately with anti-bacterial foam wash when you wake up.
The most crucial time for a tattoo to begin the healing process is within the first five days, these are the days when a new tattoo is at the highest risk for an infection from everyday situations. After the first few days of wrapping or being very clean and safe while sleeping with your new tattoo, you can go about your normal routine of antibacterial soap, bactine, non-scented lotions or ointments depending on how you normally heal your tattoos. I personally like to mist my new tattoo with Bactine, it helps the body to heal while it’s trying to do two things. One is to fight any oncoming infection, the second thing is to simply heal and repair the tissue. The Bactine simply reduces your bodies need to dedicate white blood cells to fight infection and allows it to focus more on actually healing. Remember, the first days of how you take care of your new tattoo will determine the healing process and ultimately it’s final look!
By Kailee Bradstreet
Calavera x Kim Saigh x Keep A Breast
On Tuesday June 3, surf inspired swimwear label Calavera will show their support for young women from all walks of life by launching a limited edition tattoo print swimwear collection, designed by renowned artist Kim Saigh of television show LA Ink. For each suit sold, 50% of proceeds will be donated to The Keep A Breast Foundation in an effort to raise substantial funds to support the foundation’s educational recourses and community outreach.
Two styles of the limited edition print will be available online at Urban Outfitter in the retailer’s fitness and outdoor apparel division, as well as Without Walls, and the Calavera website. To launch the collection, Calavera will host a cocktail event and film screening at creative design agency space, Nouvelle Vague (701 Venice Boulevard, Venice, CA) on Tuesday, June 3rd, from 6pm to 8pm.
The campaign focuses on the concept that “every woman’s body is a work of art,” and to relay that idea, Calavera has created a short video filmed by renowned photographer Alberto Guglielmi portraying the story behind the limited edition tulip print.
PRESS RELEASE – Venice, California, Tuesday May 20, 2014 — Surf-inspired women’s active swimwear brand Calavera is set to launch a collection of limited edition tattoo print suits, designed by renowned artist Kim Saigh of television series LA Ink. For each suit sold, 50% of profits will directly benefit the Keep A Breast Foundation, supporting their mission of breast cancer eradication by educating young people about prevention, early detection, and cancer-causing toxins.
In order to support Keep A Breast, Calavera Founder Anna Jerstrom recruited the talents of renowned tattoo artist Kim Saigh; the result is a feminine and iconic floral print, inspired by the significance of this charitable partnership. In the lead up to the launch, Anna showed her commitment and passion for the program, by having Kim Saigh tattoo the signature print on her torso.
The pink, black and grey tulip motif will be available in two styles; Calavera’s best selling “Siren” bikini top (USD $65) and the one-piece “Leotard” suit (USD $126). From June 3rd, both styles will be available for sale online via the Urban Outfitter’s fitness and outdoor apparel division, Without Walls (withoutwalls.com) and the Calavera website (calaveraswimwear.com).
“Regardless of size, shape or scars, every woman’s body is a work of art. My hope is that women will wear these swimsuits with a sense of empowerment, beauty and strength,” says Calavera Founder Anna Jerstrom.
Calavera also joined forces with renowned photographer Alberto Guglielmi, to produce a short film that visually portrays the story behind the limited edition print; from being tattooed on Calavera’s founder, being body painted on to the chest cast of a breast cancer survivor, and finally being created into a one-piece swimsuit, worn by actress and avid surfer Tanna Frederick. Professional longboarder and esteemed photographer, Kassia Meador concludes the video with an important message reading, “every woman’s body is a work of art.”
About the launch event: To launch the collection, Calavera will host a cocktail event and film screening at creative design agency space, Nouvelle Vague (701 Venice Boulevard, Venice, CA) on Tuesday, June 3rd, from 6pm to 8pm. Limited edition temporary tattoos of the Kim Saigh print will be applied to guests and the short video produced by Alberto Guglielmi screened for the first time. A customized piece of breast cast art, molded from the survivor featured in the video (casted by Shaney Jo Darden and painted by Kim Saigh) will be available via silent auction. Breast cast art is an ongoing initiative developed by Keep A Breast; taking formation plaster casts of women’s chests, and developing them into customized works of art. DJ MisterG will be playing the night’s tunes, while refreshments will be supplied by Vita Coco and Bon Affair spritzers. A “Cirque Du Soleil” aerial performer Sarah Moser will welcome guests, performing tricks in the Calavera leotard suit.
This is the latest in an ongoing collaboration between Calavera and Keep A Breast. In September 2013, Calavera hosted a “Surfing for Survivors” event at Santa Monica beach, throughout which Keep A Breast cancer survivors took to the waves, with the same vigour and bravery they used to manage their illness.
Shaney Jo Darden, KAB Founder says of the partnership, “Calavera and The Keep A Breast Foundation are two innately aligned brands, brought together by their similar missions to inspire and support young women. I hope this tattoo print suit will be worn as a reminder for women to stay active, get educated, and be empowered.”
Started by Swedish investment banker-turned-surf obsessed swimwear designer Anna Jerstrom, Calavera is a technically driven, stylish triumph. Built for riding Kauai’s curls, beachside yoga in Bali, sunning in Santorini and everything in between, these bathing suits don’t budge. In creating Calavera, Jerstrom has applied design innovations to fill a large gap in the marketplace: performance swimwear for women that can handle the most rigorous environments yet is feminine and flattering enough for the most relaxed. For more information please visit the Calavera website, Facebook and Pinterest.
About Keep A Breast:
The Keep A Breast Foundation™ is the leading youth-focused, global, nonprofit breast cancer organization, with mission is to eradicate breast cancer for future generations. Keep A Breast provide support programs for young people impacted by cancer and educate people about prevention, early detection, and cancer-causing toxins in our everyday environment. For more information about Keep A Breast please visit the website, Facebook, and Twitter.
About Kim Saigh:
Kim Saigh is an American tattoo artist and TV personality. She has been tattooing professionally for over 16 years and is best known for her work as a featured tattoo artist on the TLC reality show, LA Ink. Kim previously owned tattoo shop Cherry Bomb Tattoo Studio in Chicago before appearing on the show and now currently works at Memoir Tattoo in Los Angeles.
About Nouvelle Vague:
The launch event will be held at Nouvelle Vague, a unique creative talent agency with 25 years of experience in photography, motion and illustration. Recognized by the Sony World Awards and the International Photography Awards, the agency remains at the top of its league. For more information about Nouvelle Vague please visit the website and Instagram.
By Jason Gale
Jimmy McManus slides up his shorts and points a laser at his inked thigh to show how he can blast off unwanted tattoos.
The part-time electrician began offering the service at Chapel Tattoo in Melbourne eight months ago to address a byproduct of the global body art boom: tattoo regret. Removing the skin designs has become a roaring trade, with one in seven people expressing misgivings — some enough to spend thousands of dollars for several searing laser sessions.
‘It’s a painful reminder to choose your tattoos a bit more carefully,’’ McManus, 30, says of the procedure he’s just demonstrated on his leg.
Chapel Tattoo isn’t the only studio to begin offering to undo its handiwork, entering a new line of business as ultrahigh-powered lasers pioneered by dermatologists make the procedure safer and more bearable. The American Society for Dermatologic Surgery estimates its practitioner-members did about 96,000 removal procedures last year, 52 percent more than in 2012.
“Tattoo removal is big business,” said Andrew Timming, an associate professor at the University of St Andrews’ school of management in Scotland. Tattoo parlors doubling as removal shops are “a brilliant business model because it creates its own demand.”
It also drives growth in laser devices. Revenue from sales of aesthetic equipment by publicly traded companies expanded 20 percent annually from 2009 to 2012 and is now worth about $1.25 billion, according to Cutera Inc. (CUTR), a supplier of laser and light-based medical devices from Brisbane, California. Israel’s Syneron Medical Ltd. (FDG) says it’s the industry leader, with 28 percent of the global market.
One in five U.S. adults has a tattoo, according to a 2012 online survey of 2,016 Americans by the Harris Poll. That’s up from 16 percent in 2008. Many may end up changing their mind. Thirty-seven percent of people with inked skin regretted it after about 14 years, according to a survey of 580 people in the U.K. published in a letter to the British Journal of Dermatology last December.
By Victoria Hansen
MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (WCIV) — It’s been five years since Sharon Dempsey took the shower that changed her life. She bent down to pick up a razor and immediately felt it, a lump beneath her breasts.
“My tumor was right under where they pull it up so it never made it on to the mammogram screen,” said Dempsey.
She quickly called her doctor.
“I said, ‘Dr. Scott, I felt something I’ve never felt it before. It doesn’t move.’ I went in to see him on Monday and by Friday I was already lined up for surgery,” Dempsey said.
The moment is still vivid as she makes what she hopes is her last doctor visit.
“I’ve always before I’ve had any of my procedures, I do research about it and there’s not a lot of research out there on how they do the tattooing,” she said.
At 55, Sharon is about to get her first tattoo — make that two tattoos.
“I wasn’t nervous until my son told me it was going to hurt, and then yes I was nervous,” she said.
Dempsey lives in Irmo, but has come to The Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction in Mount Pleasant to have most of her work done. Here, Dr. James Craigie took fat from her belly to build new breasts
“Tummy tuck and like the ladies at work say, I’ve got 18 year old boobs,” said Dempsey.
But that’s not all. Dr. Craigie even managed to create natural looking nipples from Sharon’s own skin.
“Well, we take the skin that is there and we turn the skin on itself,” said Dr. Craigie. “And we fold it up and we actually make the nipple from that skin.”
The nub of skin certainly looks like a nipple, only it lacks texture and color. There is no areola, just pale skin.
That is where medically trained tattoo artist Kimberly Kay comes in. She greets Dempsey for this final appointment, walking her through every detail.
“I will mark you in the area that will be the size of the tattoo, and then we’ll do color matching against your chest,” she said.
Together, Dempsey and Kay decide the size and shape of her new nipples. They use stick ons to trace.
The next decision is color.
“She said normally your areola matches your lips and that is why she wanted me to remove my lipstick so that she could match it,” said Dempsey.
Like an artist, Kay pops open small pots of color — pink, beige and brown in so many shades.
“She basically takes a little pot and she just starts mixing the color and then she puts splotches on your skin,” said Dempsey.
Once the perfect combination is created, Kay cranks up the tattoo needle, but not before giving Sharon a little numbing medication. Dempsey does have some sensation still in her chest.
“She does a basket weave when she does the tattooing. She goes this way and then she goes this way,” said Dempsey.
“There are different techniques,” said Kay. “It’s not exactly drawing. We have to actually put it into scar tissue.”
Kay pushes the tattoo needle hard, but Dempsey doesn’t flinch. She’s been through so much more.
“I’m just thankful that I’m here,” she said.
Kimberly finishes with some contrasting colors for a more realistic look.
“I’m going to spot do just brown and actually just do a brown ring around the base of the nipple to create the shadow effect,” Kay said.
She hands Dempsey a mirror and the reaction is immediate: “I look normal again, I mean it looks normal to me again.”
Dempsey will no longer have to be reminded daily of what cancer has cost. Her new tattoos cover the physical scars that will eventually heal. Mentally, she’s ready to move on.
“Well my tattoos are symbolic. My tattoos symbolize that’s the end,” said Dempsey.
“I made it. It’s over, yeah. I did it.”
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 Tom Blackwell
Mention tattooing and health in the same sentence, and chances are the topic is one of the nasty infectious diseases — from HIV to Hep C — that can be transmitted by dirty needles.
A new Canadian study, though, may be about to change that image, suggesting that tattooing equipment could actually be an effective new way to combat an array of skin conditions, penetrating deep enough to deliver drugs to the right cells, but not so far that the needle prods sensitive nerves.
“It’s logical that it works…. But we were amazed”
The just-published research found evidence that tattooing could greatly improve treatment for cutaneous leishmaniasis, a parasite that leaves millions of people worldwide with disfiguring, and often emotionally devastating, facial sores. It affects mainly developing countries, but even Canadian soldiers returning from Afghanistan have contracted the illness.
The technology, though, could eventually have application in treating skin cancer, psoriasis and other ailments, speculates the scientist behind the project.
“We were extremely excited, very surprised [at the success of the experiment],” said Anny Fortin, a biochemist who did the work at McGill University. “If you think about it, it’s logical that it works.… But we were amazed.”
She cautioned that the initial study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, was conducted on mice, so there is no guarantee the results will translate into humans. The next step is further drug-tattooing work on pigs, whose skin is closer to that of people, and then to try the technique on humans if the animal research is successful.
Ms. Fortin said she came up with the idea after talking to a colleague who works for a company that makes tattooing equipment for applying permanent makeup. She obtained funding to explore the novel idea from Grand Challenges Canada — a federally funded agency that finances research on affordable innovations to attack health threats in poor countries.
Leishmaniasis, it turns out, is ripe for some kind of new approach. Caused by a parasite that sand flies transmit, the most dangerous form attacks internal organs and can be fatal.
The more common cutaneous version will not kill, but leaves patients with stigma-inducing ulcers on their faces, sometimes making it difficult for them to find a spouse or otherwise affecting their lives deeply. An estimated 1.5 million new cases are recorded yearly.
None of the current treatment options are ideal. One drug can be administered systemically, but the intramuscular injections — one a day for a month — are toxic and painful. Hypodermics are also used to deliver the same drug directly into the lesion, also extremely painful.
“I’ve seen children being treated, six people were needed to immobilize the child and this little kid was screaming like crazy,” said Ms. Fortin.
The tattooing machine targets Leishmania cells just below the surface of the sore, depositing the drug — instead of ink — into the bottom of the little holes it creates, far less painfully than a hypodermic needle. Ironically, it acts in much the same way as the fly injects the parasite when it bites someone, said Ms. Fortin.
Her study compared treatment of ulcers in mice using the tattooing gear, versus the intramuscular injections, and a topical ointment applied on the ulcer. The tattoo method was the most effective in all cases, clearing up the lesions completely, the study reported.
It is possible the heat generated by the tattooing also helps, triggering inflammation that brings immune cells to attack the pathogen, said Prof. Uzonna.
Ms. Fortin said she is now trying to obtain another round of Grand Challenges funding, which would require her to find matching grants from other sources.