Grace Neutral chats Needles and Pins

From the illegal underground tattooists of South Korea to Brazilian women challenging social stereotypes, Grace Neutral’s productions with VICE offer an edifying shift away from the usual fetishizing of tattoos by using them as a conduit to highlight the often contentious social and political realms of each wearer.

Grace chats with writer Fareed about her experiences in front of the lens for VICELAND’s 2017 series, Needles and Pins, and what it’s like to be an ambassador for contemporary tattoo culture.

(This is an abridged version, the full piece will be published in INKED)

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Photo courtesy of VICELAND

Hi Grace. So, you were tattooing at Good Times and then suddenly you’re a media personality at VICE media. Can you tell me how that happened? Well, I was lucky enough to be approached by i-D a few years’ back to write an alternative Christmas speech about beauty, which received a great response.

i-D then made a film about me and my outlook on tattooing which also went down really well. It was after my i-D series ‘Beyond Beauty’ that VICE asked me to work with them.

And how has that journey been for you thus far? I started making films with VICE at the start of 2016 and we wrapped up the first series of Needles and Pins by the end of the year! It has been one amazing year, that’s for sure!

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Photo courtesy of VICELAND

Let’s talk about the shows. It’s so refreshing to have someone from the tattoo community represent contemporary tattoo culture in an intelligent and socially and politically charged manner, unlike other mainstream shows that often debase the art form. What are you hoping to achieve with these shows? Basically, what I wanted to achieve with these shows was super simple: I wanted to tell a true story about tattooing, and offer people a proper insight into how the art form came to be the big industry it is today.

I also wanted share some of the cultures and techniques that helped evolve the art. Just like you say, mainstream shows on tattoos seem to only fetishise and poke fun at tattooing. I got sick of this – and decided I’d have to do it myself 😉

What is the extent of your role in these stories, is it limited to presenter or are you actively searching out stories and utilising your knowledge and networks gained while tattooing? There must be so much involved! I am not a TV presenter, it has never been a goal of mine. I simply got offered a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn more about my craft.

Being in front of the camera and guiding the audience through my adventures was definitely something I had to learn, but because I am so passionate about tattooing it was natural for me to quickly form relationships with a lot of the people we filmed.

For me, it’s all about finding the stories. I was very involved in the development and making of the show. For example, I knew and suggested some of the contributors you see in Needles and Pins.

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learnt, whether about yourself or anything else, over the course of the shows? I have learnt so much from every single place I have visited. But the one common theme that strikes me is that that tattooing is such an amazing way to build friendships and communities. I feel so lucky to be part of the global tattoo family.

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Photo courtesy of VICELAND

Most memorable moment for you? The most memorable moment filming the series was riding around LA on quad bikes with Venice Bad Boys.

Most interesting thing you’ve discovered about tattoo culture? In one episode of Needles and Pins we go to New Zealand to learn about Maori tattooing and Maori culture – and this was the most interesting discovery for me. The Maori people are so beautiful – and its history is so intertwined with tattooing, nature and magic, it was hard not to fall in love there. It is definitely a place I will return to continue my tattoo journey and education.

Has the show received any criticisms? To be honest, I haven’t heard any bad comments about the show.

Obviously there has been the odd internet troll calling me a ‘freak’ because of the way I look, but I have heard it all before and I’m very good at shielding myself from any negativity comments.

All the feedback about the show has, so far, been really positive – and I’m over the moon about that!

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Photo courtesy of VICELAND

If you could do a tattoo show about anything or anyone, what would it be? The one I just made for VICELAND!

Would you agree that the normalisation of tattoos – great for reducing stigma and allowing autonomy over one’s body – has also created a new ‘beauty’ industry / ideal? Tattoos becoming less about expressing spirit and individuality and more about acquisition: the purchase of social capital and of ‘beauty.’ Yes for sure, I think the majority of tattoo artists (well, at least the ones I know and work with) understand how sacred it is to tattoo, the energy you share with that person is so beautiful, and sometimes, even life changing.

It’s been something that I have been conscious of for a long time – and I love that more and more people (not just tattooers, but also the people who get tattooed) are realising this as well.

And lastly, what have you got planned for 2017? 2017 is all about tattooing, travel and having a fucking good time while I do it!

Grace Neutral

Photo courtesy of VICELAND

Interview with Barbie Lowenberg

27-year-old tattoo artist Barbie Lowenberg works out of The Black Lodge in Portishead, Bristol, and creates beautifully bold tattoos. We chat to Barbie about what inspires her and how she started in the industry… 

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How long have you been tattooing? I’ve been hand poking for about four years and started machine tattooing towards the end of 2016.

How did you start? What did you do before? Having been a freelance illustrator for the last five years, I have always drawn inspiration from tattoos – particularly traditional and blackwork tattooing. My partner, Iain Sellar and I started our little brand Long Fox five and a half years ago, where we made prints, t-shirts and murals for shops/bars/cafes etc. Not long after we started Long Fox, Iain started tattooing at The Black Lodge and I decided to give hand poking a go – slightly intimidated by the thought of a machine. I immediately fell in love with it, it was the perfect starting point for me and such a calm and intimate way of creating art on someone’s body. It gave me the opportunity to really think about each line/element of a tattoo as it takes time and careful precision. It wasn’t until last year that I took the opportunity to learn with a machine and it’s been great.

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Do you have a background in art? Growing up, I was very musical. The focus was all on that and art was more of a side thing/personal hobby. I learnt loads of instruments in school and composed music, then went on to study music at university and become a violin teacher. I liked it, but the entire time I was drawing in the evenings, and the tattoo influence was evident even then. I never really showed anyone my drawings but Iain found my stash and that’s how Long Fox started.

What drew you to the tattoo world? I had always liked the idea, even as a small kid, of having something meaningful preserved on your skin. In the margins of my school books I would draw tattoo ideas based on my cat and my love for music. I have been presented with a lot of resistance and anti-tattoo opinions within my family which has been hard to deal with. I just love that there’s the opportunity to adorn your body with unique art directly from the artists, and it’s there to treasure for the rest of your life! I’m so glad it’s becoming more acceptable and more appreciated as an art form.

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Describe your style, has it changed? I’ve always drawn just black on white bold images. I’m not sure why, just the simplicity of black ink on white paper appeals to me. I think over the years, you can see a change in my drawings – I’ve played around with line weights, methods of shading, bolder blockier images and developing my own individual style and subject matter. I feel like it’s something that will continue to change and develop over the years, and that’s part of it for me!

What do you like to tattoo and draw? So many different things! Sometimes it’s mood dependent, sometimes it’s a spontaneous idea, or maybe an idea I’ve been thinking about for a while – those ones never turn out how I imagine though. Tattooing means I have the opportunity to draw up other people’s ideas and put my own twist on them as well as offering my own flash to choose from. I will sometimes obsess about a certain idea and it’ll appear in several of my drawings. I’m struggling to think of specific things I like to draw – other than cat eared babies and windy sky scenes! I guess I like to draw most things!

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What inspires you? From a young age, I’ve enjoyed surrealism, medieval etchings, scientific, dark ideas and botanical illustrations, amongst lots more. I take inspiration from all sorts of things like photography, editorial fashion, furniture, jewellery, book covers – so many things! And of course, tattoos themselves.

What would you love to tattoo? And what would you refuse to do? I love to tattoo anything bold, cute and a little bit weird. I also love to tattoo new and challenging ideas! I think I’d have to refuse to tattoo someone if I thought someone was getting it for the wrong reasons and that they might regret it. If someone wanted something which I thought would be offensive to someone else, I would definitely refuse. I wouldn’t want to be associated with anything that would cause offence or hate. So far, I’ve not had to refuse anything!

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Do you have any guest spot or conventions planned? I have my first ever guest spot coming up this April at Insider Tattoo (Edinburgh) which I’m really looking forward to! I hope to be doing more guest spots this year so keep a look out for more!

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Can you tell us about your own tattoos? I got my first tattoo when I was 21 from Marcus at Broad Street Tattoo in Bath. It was an idea I’d had for a while to honour my Hungarian heritage and it was a great experience. Since then Iain and I have travelled to see some of our favourite artists to get either flash or their take on our ideas. I still have plenty of space left and so many ideas I’m saving for artists I love.

Getting tattooed is such an exciting journey. I treasure all of mine as they either represent something important to me or hold a memory of a certain time in my life. My tattoos are always positive ideas that lift me up when I need them to and to me, they add beauty to my body. Not all my tattoos hold a specific meaning behind them, sometimes its nice to get a tattoo that simply looks nice and I can appreciate it for just being the awesome piece it is. Some of my favourites are the ones that turned out nothing like I had expected them to, which made me realise that it’s the idea behind it that holds importance for me and an honour to have an artist’s personal interpretation of it.

Five Favourite Stick and Poke Artists

Our guest blogger Katie Houghton  shares her five favourite stick and poke artists of the moment…

While once considered unregulated, raw and reserved, ‘stick and poke’ is still here, and it’s bigger than ever. Most of the people I know that have tattoos, now have a stick and poke piece to go along with them, and more artists than ever are replacing motor-led machines with the simple needle and ink combo instead. Having recently acquired a couple of my own after lashings of Mexican food and a harrowing hour in front of American Pie, I wanted to see what artists were bringing this out the bedroom and into the mainstream.

Grace Neutral

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Whether you’ve gone gooey eyed over her latest tattoo series on VICELAND or not, Grace Neutral is undoubtedly one of London’s biggest hand-poked names. Don’t let her slight of voice fool you, there’s a brassy, boldness to her lines that are unmissable. While stick and poke is an artwork often reserved for petite and simple pieces, Grace is dominating sleeves and covering skin with some of the most intricate and hardy work in the business.

Lotte Vanns

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Lotte, a plant enthusiast and illustration student, calls herself a ‘confused human bean’ on her Instagram account, but nothing about her work confuses me. A perfect example of the divine line work coming out of hand-poked tattoos, Lotte Vanns not only showcases the female form in all its honest, and often delicate glory, her range of flora, nods to fauna and wispy lines summarise everything I like about the art of stick and poke.

Zzizzi

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From Taiwan to Sydney, this is a stick and poke artist that likes to get around, but that’s not just what I like about him. I’ve always been the person that thought hand poked tattoos were reserved to one colour palette and one colour palette only, and that’s black. Not only proving that I am very often wrong, Zzizzi rejects modest and cutesy lines for thick, chunky ‘ignorant’ themed line work that screams of the fun of the 80s with a little rock ‘n’ roll thrown in for good measure.

Kelli Kikcio

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Born in Canada but currently staking her tattoo claim at a studio in Brooklyn, New York, Kelli is something of a creative butterfly, dipping her toes in production, art and design combined. Yet another example of the simple satisfaction that comes from stick and poke, Kelli defines the art with direct and natural lines that play with female figures, flowers and crisp imagery to generate a flash collection that keeps me coming back for more.

Ngh Mgco

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If I had my way, this entire piece would be dedicated to hand poked botany, but it’s the likes of Ngh Mgco from Russia that add a firm edge to femme-esque pieces. More old school than most that stay devoid of a machine, the bold pieces, dark colours and noir feel to Ngh makes his work enticing and rich in a scene of simple, light stick and poke. I like his edge and the bravery of anyone sticking it out under those thick lines.

Interview with Tattoo Artist Paul Colli

Clean lines, not too many details. Paul Colli, resident at Satatttvision in Milan, likes to call his tattoos “ugly and ignorant”. In this interview, our Italian contributor Ilaria Pauletti explains why and discusses his humble view on current tattoo society, more about Horitomo references and his Monmon cats…

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What brought you into tattoo culture? How did you start tattooing? I walked into the tattoo world when I was 16, with total ignorance. I got the initials of my mum and my sister tattooed, I thought it was cool as I was the only guy to have one in my class. A few months later, I went for the second and then goodbye, I was overwhelmed by the enthusiasm and I started getting tattooed all the time!

At 18, I bought my first “machine” and the first power supply at the Milan Tattoo Convention and I began to work on pork rind. Unfortunately some friends came in to get scribbled, but after a few months I stopped. I didn’t get tattooed for a couple of years until I met Max and Marta the owners of studio Vigevano. I spent everyday there, I had become a cumbersome presence and when I was asked if I was interested in learning how to clean, sterilise and live the apprentice life, I accepted. I began to draw more frequently, tracing Hoffmann, Sailor Jerry, Dietzel, tons of flash badly implemented on paper.

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You often say your tattoos are “ugly and ignorant” tattoos, how would you define this style? I’ve always loved simple tattoo designs. The less details there are the better.  “Ugly and Ignorant” is a deliberately extreme definition of  my work, linked to the clarity of a subject realised in an elementary way – a few lines that are immediately readable. Lately I’ve been putting a little more detail in my tattoos, but I prefer to use thicker lines that keep the process of simplifying the original flash, leaving many empty spaces where I can “scratch”.

Your cats are a traditional version of those recreated by Horitomo? Who/what inspires you? Yes, without a doubt! The first cat I made was at “Sailor Whisper” in Ravenna, the girl wanted the classic curled Monmon Cat. I remember having developed it until it became a skull! Since then I have studied and played with the cats of Horitomo, but also with various photographic references, changing the thickness of the lines and inserting traditional subjects pattern.

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What subjects do you prefer? Are there any projects you would like to start? In the past year I have concentrated on Eastern tattoo art, with the use of geishas, samurai and masks. I like to keep the classic traits of Japanese art but simplify it. The results look good, but I think I still have a lot to study and improve.

What are your points of reference in the world of tattooing? I have always studied traditional tattoos, and been inspired by the flash of tattoo artists who have shaped the history of this craft. Every artist I know is helping me to grow and to understand something different. Everything can be considered a good reference point when the exchange takes place in a constructive way.

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How do you think the future of this art will develop? On one side there are castes in the Italian tattoo scene that in my opinion should have never been created, and these contributed to make it definitely a worse world – success is not necessarily synonymous with talent. On the opposite side, however, exist and continue to come to light great artists who contribute every day to make the tattoo world a crazy and magnetic place. So really, I have not the faintest idea what will happen in the future!

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Some say that the tattoos are ‘not for everyone’, what do you think? Tattoos are for everyone. Now the market supply has exploded and this allows everyone to have the means to start tattooing, not necessarily having the qualities suited to undertake this type of work. Who now begins considering himself as an artist, often ignores history and is not interested in traditional iconography and has a very low personal culture. I think it’s fair to adapt to developments in a constructive way, to experiment, evolve, but always maintaining respect for the tradition. And above all, stay humble. If you think you made it, you will not be able to go on. There is always more to achieve.

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The role of the tattooist in current society, is it artist or craftsman? The question is all the rage in recent years! As I mentioned before, I think it’s a balance between craft and art. As I do not believe that a tattoo artist sees the tattoo only as an art work. Basically I think that technological developments have influenced the way tattoo artists act, work and so they’re a mix between a craftsman and an artist. Certainly it is always satisfying when a customer chooses you among a thousand others because of your personal style.

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Do you have any upcoming guest spots and projects in the works? I am now a resident artist at Satatttvision Collective in Milan. I will be working at Sang Bleu in Zurich at the end of February, April I’ll be at Area Industriale in Rome, Sailor Whisper in Ravenna and Maux Les Bleus in Paris. June I’ll be working at Modificazioni Corporee in Chiavari, and finally in November I will be at the Brussels Tattoo Convention.

TATTOO FAILS: ‘NO REGERTS’

Our guest blogger John James, Senior Associate at Levi Solicitors LLP, talks tattoo regrets and what to do about them… 

What happens when you choose a new tattoo, pick a tattoo artist you haven’t used before and then:
• “Never Don’t Give Up”;
• “Regret Nohing”;
• “It’s Get Better”;
• “Thuuder Only Happens When It’s Raisin”?

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Disaster! All of a sudden, you are an internet sensation thanks to your tattooist and your cruel friend who shares the photo with the world…

…Even worse, you have also been left with an infection from the needle the tattooist had used for the previous four days. And what’s more, you just found out he doesn’t have any insurance.

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What can I do?
The consequences for failed tattoo treatment can be very costly, both financially and physically. Needless to say, you have a right as a customer to have the artist fix the error or give you a refund.

However, you may also have other rights to compensation for personal injury or other damages you sustained as a direct result of this failed treatment.

Beware the tattoo fixer….

Unfortunately, there’s a surprisingly high number of people who have suffered cuts, burns, scars and even poisoning from failed treatments. Quite often, this is because people have been too hasty in choosing their provider – and if you choose unwisely, your options may be limited.

If you have been left with injuries after a failed procedure, you may be entitled to bring a personal injury claim against the person who carried out the treatment. Rather than trying to sue the individual (who may not have the money to pay your damages), your best chance of a successful claim is against the insurance company which covers them in the event that things go wrong.

However, if you have picked a tattoo artist without checking their insurance or their credentials properly, you could face the nightmare scenario of being left with an injury for which you cannot claim compensation.

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Prevention is cheaper than the cure

Whilst you might be in a rush to get your tattoo, or to have it removed, repaired or altered, you should take time to research properly the person you approach to carry out the procedure.

People who have taken their time choosing their artist to either create or remove a tattoo stand a much better chance of a claim succeeding if the treatment goes wrong.

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Therefore, my best possible advice to those people looking for the perfect tattoo is:
• Research the artist before walking into their studio
• Check they are insured before they go anywhere near you!
• Avoid the “backstreet” tattooist – you are unlikely to succeed in a claim against him/her if their treatment fails.
• If in doubt, do not have the treatment until you are certain you are safeguarded against things going wrong.

If you follow these three simple tips, you will have “no regerts” when you finally have your tattoo!

Guest article by John James, Senior Associate, Levi Solicitors LLP

Embroidery artist Jessica So Ren Tang

Here, 25-year-old embroidery artist and warehouse production worker  Jessica So Ren Tang, from San Francisco, tells us all about her beautiful hand-stitched pieces and the inspiration behind them…

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“As a child I knew I wanted a career in the arts. Throughout school I learned and experimented with various mediums, I started embroidering and playing with fabric and thread in my senior year of college in preparation for my senior exhibition. I graduated with a BA in Studio Art at Mills College in Oakland, CA.”

“I had semester-long assignment which involved playing with different materials and. for one of the experiments. I made a cup noodle container. I quickly found that styrofoam was a poor sewing material, so I began to replicate a cup noodle container with fabric instead. I enjoyed the softness and texture of embroidery in my sculpture pieces and I continued looking for other objects to replicate. I was more interested in sculpture but disliked the bulk clay and similar mediums had.

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“I continued to embroider because I loved the flexibility it gave me, as well as its rich history of being women’s work. In the future I want to explore more fibre art and sculpture and keep pushing my skills in fabric and thread.

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“I draw inspiration from memories of my childhood and my experiences of being an Asian American woman. For my object series, I look for items that I have bought or used that have Asian/American significance and use. Specifically, I look for Asian snacks and containers that I have used or seen in my childhood. Replicating objects in fibre is my way of exploring my Asian American identity – it is a way for me to replicate the duality of being too Chinese to be American and too western to be really Chinese.

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“Initially, it was not my intention for my pieces to have connections with tattoo art. Replacing the skin of suggestively posed Asian women was intended to obscure the girl’s identity, in an attempt to address this Asian American dual identity experience. the girls’ facial markers are removed but replaced with an Asian pattern, still retaining an Asian identity but non-specific to her ethnicity. But the style of pattern on the girl has specific origins to an Asian culture. I look for a variety of Asian patterns but so far they are mainly of Japanese and Chinese origins. Although I am looking to expand to different Asian patterns in my future pieces.

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“My girl series was inspired by Ikenaga Yasunari’s paintings of women and textile patterned clothing. The female forms help to emphasise the feminine medium that is embroidery, but it is also a familiar image that I express myself through. I create a little piece of myself through each girl, in the hopes of creating a tangible object that encompasses my Asian American experiences.

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“The colours in the patterns help to highlight a figure but to pull back and flatten – sort of like a silent wallflower girl. The facelessness of the women is to suggest a general Asian identity without pinpointing a specific nationality. Extending the pattern to the entire body was more aesthetically cohesive and balanced. Having the pattern on just the face drew too much attention to the head when I wanted the entire figure to be emphasised.

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“My object series, depending on the size and complexity, range from a week to a little over a month to be finished. Each mini girl takes about 50 hours of stitching and 100 hours for the larger girl pieces, as everything is stitched by hand.

“My works are currently not for sale for a variety of reasons. I still have a small body of work due to how long it takes me to complete one piece and exhibiting would be difficult if I started selling, I’m still attached to my pieces and I’m hard pressed to let them go, and I don’t have much free time outside of my day job and selling would take me away from working on my art. Of course, many of these reasons will eventually be solved and I do plan on selling my work.”

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View more of Jessica’s work on Instagram: @jessicasorentang

Interview with Lusy Logan

Lifestyle Fashion Trade Show, London Edge is this weekend – 12/13 Febraury 2017. This is an interview with Lusy Logan, alternative model for many of the London Edge brands, first published in The Edge Magazine.

Lusy Logan is an alternative model with a style all of her own. Known for her extensive tattoos and killer looks, Lusy has modelled for many LondonEdge brands and continues to reinvent her look each season. Lusy joined the show for the Influencer’s event – a part of the show where models, bloggers, media, press and other influential and creative people are invited to the show to connect with the brands. Here, Lusy tells London Edge a bit about herself, her career and her thoughts on the show…

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London Edge: So tell us a bit about your personal style…
Lusy Logan: I would describe my style as dark elegance, scruffy goth with a feminine twist.

LE: Have you always been quite alternative in your dress sense?
LL: I have always been alternative in my dress sense, all through school and growing up I wanted to be different.

LE: How long have you been modelling for?
LL: I have been modelling professionally for seven years. I’ve had many looks, different hairstyles and colours over the years, but it’s really helped me grow as a person and given me confidence in myself.

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LE: We’re used to seeing your modelling work at the show – namely that Hyraw campaign starring you and model Dickie Smith. Who are some of your favourite brands to work with?
LL: My favourite brand to work with is Killstar, they are my absolute favourite, and some others include Church of Sanctus, Disturbia and Hyraw.

LE: So you’re now moving into the world of tattooing. What motivated you to make this change?
LL: I started to learn to tattoo back in 2012 and it was put to one side due to personal issues going on in my life. Since then I’ve been working as a receptionist at my brother’s tattoo studio, and this year I have decided to get back into tattooing and make a name for myself because I think I could be really good at it.

I’ve started training with the master of portraits David Corden in Edinburgh, which I plan to continue to perfect portraits and realism. I plan to find a studio to settle into and carry on with apprentice work, hopefully Tokyo Tattoo are considering taking me on as I have applied to work there.

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LE: Sound like an exciting change. It was great to have you join us at the show as a part of our Influencers Event last season, and I know you’ve been attending the show for years.
LL: I enjoyed London Edge last year, seeing all my favourite brands, as well as gaining interest from other new brands who liked my look.

LE: Did you see any new collections at Edge in September that you’re exciting about?
LL: I saw some items from Collectif clothing that I really liked, one of them being a leather wiggle pin-up dress that I thought looked amazing! And of course seeing Killstar’s new range was very exciting.

Thanks Lusy! You can see Lusy’s work over on her Instagram @lusylogan

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Photos by Kris Askey

Women with Tattoos

The gorgeous blog Women with Tattoos was started by digital producer and photographer Eleni Stefanou, 30, from London, a year ago. To celebrate we caught up with Eleni to find out more about her inspiration behind starting the blog and her own collection of tattoos…

Portrait of Eleni by Eftihia Stefanidi

Photographer Eleni started Women with Tattoos blog
to record the stories that may otherwise go unheard

Photograph by Eftihia Stefanidi


Women with Tattoos
is celebrating its first birthday, but what inspired you to start it? 
I was spending hours on Tumblr researching my first tattoo when I realised how one-dimensional the representation of women with tattoos was. It’s the kind of imagery you’d find in a lad’s mag – women dressed and photographed to gratify the male gaze. Around the same time, a study came out revealing that, for the first time in recorded history, tattooed women outnumbered tattooed men. That’s pretty fascinating, yet mainstream culture wasn’t reflecting and exploring this shift. Women with Tattoos was an attempt to record some of the stories that may go unheard and to offer beautiful images that women could identify with.

Describe the blog in one sentence…
I think of it as a visual love letter to tattooed women.

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How has it evolved over the first year? It’s hopefully become more diverse in its representation of women from different backgrounds. I’ve also focused a bit more on the artistry of tattooing, by interviewing female tattoo artists and linking to portfolios when crediting the artists behind the featured tattoos. On a more general level, I’ve slowed down quite a bit. I used to do photo shoots almost every weekend, and while I loved it, it was becoming exhausting alongside my full-time job. I had to remind myself that this was something I was doing in my own time for my own enjoyment and that any pressure I felt was self-inflicted.

Gabriella

Gabriella

Who has been your most stand-out portrait, why? There’s a photo I took of a woman called Gabriella, which is really hypnotic. We were in Camley Street Natural Park, this beautiful nature reserve hidden away in a busy part of London. Gabriella has a beautiful botanical tattoo by Saira Hunjan down the length of her arm. It includes a lemon, butterfly, bluebells and other flowers and there’s lots of negative space around these elements, so it’s not your typical sleeve. Ironically, her tattoos aren’t that visible in this photo, but I kind of love that they’re subtle and blend in with the nature around her. First you see Gabriella, the person, then you see her tattoos.

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Laurence

What have you learnt while shooting these portraits? I’ve learnt that most people feel quite vulnerable when they’re being photographed. As someone who spends a lot of energy avoiding the lens, I can completely relate to this. So I try and adapt my approach depending on the person. Some of the women like to talk a lot in between shooting, while others prefer to listen to music.

I’ve also found that photography can be an empowering experience for many women. One of the most common feelings they express when I reveal their portraits is a sense of surprise at how beautiful they look. But they *are* beautiful and I’m just capturing what I see. It’s like the photo becomes a form of validation. When I photograph someone, they’re the only person in the universe in that moment. My focus is entirely on them, in fact, often I catch myself gasping for air because I’ve forgotten to breathe! Hopefully, the women can sense that they have my full attention and admiration, which is something that comes through their disposition in the photos.

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Hazel

What do you hope others will take from them? I really hope that the project will help shift people’s perspectives and prejudices about tattooed women. A friend of mine who I went to school with told me that he never really liked or understood tattoos, especially on women, but now he finds them beautiful and reads all the interviews on the blog. I also hope that women will see the project and feel understood and valued – that’s probably the most important thing.

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Daley

Tell us about your own tattoos…. I have a dotwork prism on my side rib and a wreath on my inner arm. My tattoos are a source of strength – they crystalise what’s important to me in life. I’m a big believer in the power of symbols and how they can hold meaning and memories. Every time I do a photo shoot I have a really strong urge to get tattooed. I try to avoid rushing into things though. Luckily, most of my favourite artists live in the US, South Korea and New Zealand, which kind of enforces a more patient approach.

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Jane

Where do you hope to take the blog over the course of the next year? I’d really love to travel to new places and represent cultures that aren’t reflected in the blog. I want to find out what it’s like to be have tattoos as a woman in other parts of the world – what is the common ground and what are the differences in experience? I want to photograph and interview more women who are over the age of forty (a large portion of the women I photograph happen to be in their 20s and 30s) and I’m really keen to speak to someone who has a mastectomy tattoo – to find out more about the healing process of covering a scar with a tattoo. I’m naturally inquisitive and drawn to people and their stories, so this is the driving force behind what I do.

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Fidjit

To view more portraits of women with tattoos, visit womenwithtattoos.co.uk