There is something vulnerable about showing your tattoos to people, even while it gives you a feeling that you are wearing a sleeve when you are naked. —Lena Dunham
[one_half padding=”4px 10px 0 4px”]I like tattoos. I like the artistry of ink on skin. I don’t have any, mind you, and at my age I rather doubt I ever will. At this stage of my life, it seems rather pointless to be making any kind of permanent statement on a body in such rapid decay. If they had been as popular and socially acceptable thirty years ago as they are now, I might have considered it. I grew up in an age that looked at ink suspiciously, though. Tattoo parlors had the bad reputation of being dirty places run by people of questionable morals and intent. The reputation was undeserved, of course, but it was there and was enough to make anyone who had a tattoo worthy of sideways glances and cautious observation.
Actually, as I was growing up, there were only two kinds of people who had tattoos: World War II veterans and carnival/circus workers. The WWII veterans with ink were mostly, interestingly enough, those who had served in the Pacific theatre, primarily in the Navy. Their ink was almost always high up on an arm where it would be easily covered by a shirt. Many of those pieces came with stories that I wasn’t allowed to hear when I was little. Unfortunately, most of those men were gone by the time I would have understood the stories.
I didn’t actually know any carnival/circus workers. We’d see them at a distance, though, smoking hand-rolled cigarettes, their ink shamelessly visible as they typically wore sleeveless t-shirts. We were warned to stay away from them, which was unfortunate. I’m sure most of those people had interesting stories to tell, too. They certainly tended to have a lot more ink, even the women. My mother would reach over and shut my mouth as I stood gaping at the sight of someone whose body art was expansive and colorful. These people were outliers, though. Rumors always swirled that they were convicts on the run. The here-today, gone-tomorrow nature of the carnivals didn’t help. They could commit a crime and disappear.[/one_half]
[one_half_last padding=”4px 4px 0 10px”]Amazing how much society can change in just a few years, isn’t it? Anecdotally, it seems that almost everyone has a piece of ink hiding somewhere, even preachers and the little old ladies praying fervently in the pews. As a photographer, I’ve come to expect that aspiring and amateur models are probably going to have at least one tattoo, even if it’s small and out of the way. When I come across someone who is completely bare I’m rather caught by surprise. We are more likely to ask someone why they don’t have any ink rather than why they do.
The cool thing about ink is that it allows one to be naked and still appear somewhat dressed. When one has a tattoo, especially a larger piece such as a sleeve, one is never really bare. From a fashion perspective, that permanent decoration can be a problem. Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld has famously said:
I think tattoos are horrible. It’s like living in a Pucci dress full-time.
By contrast, Christian Louboutin counters:
People are proud of their tattoos. It’s like a modern coat of arms.
All of this leads to the question: is one ever really naked when they’re covered in ink? Since I have none, I cannot relate to how it must feel to have one’s body permanently adorned. There are times I see a well-done and artistic piece and feel a twinge of jealousy. Other times, I see a mess of poorly done and ill-considered pieces scattered across a body and think how tragic. I don’t have a good answer to the question. One thing for certain, though, is that it certainly makes taking off one’s clothes a lot more interesting.[/one_half_last]