catch and hook

A short one seeing how my internet connection’s been unreliable these past few days; hopefully it’ll change very soon.

An interesting promotion related to body piercing: ‘want a body piercing with that server?’  Wonder if the guys behind this idea ever heard about ‘relation between body piercing  and  mental illness’ 😉

A rare treat: suspension in the very Western/ North American settings and another article from India about an ancient custom related to body suspension.

A German one for dessert: ‘what you need to become a tattoo artist.’

movie review: heart in flames;

The tattoo (sub)culture is a strange one! Eternally associated with the youth, rebellion and anger, it also tries to remind us that its roots go deep in the past and that tattooing was always around. For the tattoo enthusiasts elements of the history, tradition, deeper meaning of this form of body art are an important part of their own experiences; for the pop culture this traditional part does not matter much and it’s more about ‘touching’ stories and ‘moving’ experiences to give people out there something to watch and wonder at.

No surprise then that the popular form of body art, as seen on the TV screen, seems rootless, stuffed with fake meanings up to the brim and focused not so much on the real people and real life but rather on a faked rock&roll lifestyle. Amy James rocks his shop, Chris Nunez is partying hard again and Kat Von D gets another of her (or rather her TV producers?) wonderful ideas how to make her look even better and cooler. The tattoos are a hot stuff now but they were around waaay before Miami/ LA Ink and they will also be waaay after these shows. And yeah, what all of us, the tattooed, will look like in a few decades? Faded tattoos, regrets about having wasted our money, skin and potential, inability to present ourselves decently at the church?

If you decide to watch the documentary I’m going to write about in this review, you’ll soon find out that all these warnings of the well-minded people and your own fears about your future as a tattooed person are pointless and you will be able to enjoy your life no matter what.

The English title of this documentary is ‘Blue Skin’ (which probably refers to the fact that the old black tattoos used to turn blue after some time) but the original, German title fits better – ‘Heart In Flames.’ The authors of this film take us for a wonderful ride in the past and they couldn’t have chosen a better tour guide than Herbert Hoffmann himself!

Hoffmann is a well-known German tattooist who used to run ‘the oldest tattoo shop in Germany’ in the *in*famous St. Pauli area of Hamburg, a photographer and an enthusiastic historian of the tattoo culture. His trade mark is an anchor tattoo and many people would love to get such a tattoo done by him (one of such people is featured in the documentary and even though his statement about ‘every tattoo he’s had done is connected to a memory’ is quite cheesy, the way this particular tattoo experience is shown makes it ring true).

Hoffmann is not the only main character here, though. The whole documentary focuses on the history of Hoffmann’s friendship with two other old tattooists, Karlmann Richter and Albert Cornellis, its ups and downs and the different roads all three of them took to fulfill their dreams about being heavily tattooed and brave enough to live their lives the way they wanted.

The opening scenes are close-ups of Hoffmann’s tattoos. His body is old now and his tattoos faded but his heart is still as fiery as ever and his eyes light up whenever he discusses tattoos and what they mean to him. There are many other close-ups here and they are both scary and fascinating – it’s not usual in the modern world to show old bodies and we are made to think that the old age is something negative. For these three old tattooists there’s nothing to be ashamed of and they show off their tattoos and their bodies with pride and dignity. Here are the decades of their lives, experiences, memories. Who needs a photo album if you can trace your life on your body?

The main thread of the documentary seems to be staged and very TV-like – Hoffmann, Richter and Cornellis, after decades of the fast friendship, grew apart and stopped talking to each other. As it seems, there was too much between them to remain friends but thanks to the crew filming the stories of their lives and the story of their friendship they have an opportunity to meet again and try to solve their issues. It’s something we can forgive, however, as thanks to this documentary we can gain a great insight into the history of German tattooing (Christian Warlich is mentioned here more than once and there’s also ‘Tattoo Theo’ appearing in one of the old pictures), how the first shops appeared and how they were received by people, how the first tattooists lived (and Hoffmann’s little ‘family’ was definitely unusual back then). All of this is illustrated not by the voice behind the camera but by the three old men themselves – they share their memories, old pictures and letters and, above all, their undying passion for tattoos!

There’s a very intimate atmosphere here – slow pace, frequent close-ups of the old, faded tattoos, old people sharing stories behind their tattoos and their lives. It’s not this fast-paced, American way to show glorious life of the modern tattoo ‘artists’ with a serious ambition to become ‘stars.’ This seems real, not plastic!

Now we hear it so often that it’s almost boring, meaningless and definitely a cliché: ‘cool ink, man!’ ‘I love tattoos!’ ‘it’s a lifestyle, you know!’ but when you see three old men who started modifying their bodies back in the days when there was no mass TV, when the social conventions were very constricting and when it actually mattered what other people had to say about you, one must feel that their words truly are their own and that they are not a mass product wearing an Ed Hardy t-shirt and addicted to Kat Von D’s TV show.

As Hoffmann said, ‘people without tattoos don’t know this feeling of pride and freedom [of being tattooed]’ and I know he’s right! There is more to it than stories sold on TV, published in newspaper articles and spread all over the virtual land. The real trick is to find it, embrace it and know it’s really something you want to experience and enjoy. Maybe then you won’t have any regrets and you won’t mind saggy skin and faded tattoo ‘blobs’ because in your eyes they will look as fresh and great as ever.


Flammend Herz, dir. by Andrea Schuler, Oliver Ruts, 2004

trying to keep abreast

Two pieces of news from Scandinavia will open this update: ‘Danish children and tattoos’ and an ‘expected review of the products used by Swedish tattoo studios.’

Speaking of reviewing and adhering to the rules, an interesting article from Bhutan about the local, illegally working tattoo artists.

Local tattoo scene rattled by probe’ is quite interesting to read.

Quite difficult art of cover-ups is covered here.

I think I posted links to articles about prostheses decorated with air-brushed tattoos but pictures seldom are included. Here’s an interesting article and a picture of it” ‘true colors.’

Something to look at in an article and a few pictures from ‘SF Body Art Expo.’

Finally, two other interesting additions to my ‘modified charity’ category: another case of tattooing for Haiti and ‘anti-tattoo mom getting a tattoo for a good cause.’

things to read, mostly

A small delay due to unreliable Net;

Not that many interesting links but there are always some worth our attention:

As a huge fan of books by Stieg Larsson, let me throw in this one not really directly related but it still discusses tattoos: interview with Noomi Rapace who played Lisbeth Salander in the ‘Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ movie.

A tribal touch in ‘Tahitian face a canvas of life’ and a Polish slide show focused on the book ‘Ancient Marks’ by Chris Rainier.

The tattoo industry in Hawaii is going to have its own tattoo magazine!

Entertainment: if you are into games, Yakuza 3 may mean something to you; here’s a short article about Horitomo who’s behind tattoos in the game.

A tad of humor in an article about ‘fingerstache.’

book review: pretty in ink. a tattoo shop mystery, p. 2

 The second part of ‘Tattoo Shop Mystery’ Series was just published and either it is growing on me or the author managed to get better at writing about tattoos in the totally-popular-and-not-so-serious way!

Let’s start with the bad stuff, though.

I do hope that I am mistaken but it seems as if there are certain patterns in the series which make it quite predictable (and that’s a crime on its own when it comes to detective novels, taken lightly or not).

Just like before, the main character, Brett Kavanaugh, a female tattoo artist based in Las Vegas, gets involved in a shady affair resulting in a death of one of her clients (previously, her client didn’t die but death followed her anyway). Makes one think that it’s not that safe to be tattooed by the owner of the ‘Painted Lady’ shop!

Just like before, no one likes Brett snooping around and trying to find out what is going on but, as before, she can count on her brother, her staff and her competitor-slowly-turning-into-a-friend.

Just like before, Brett is single and overly eager to get into a relationship again. Apparently Olson’s readership target may be young single women dreaming about love and romance even in not that romantic settings.

Just like before, there are several phrases that Olson seems to love so much that she can’t resist the temptation to use them more than once every few pages: Brett’s phone doesn’t ‘blast Springsteen’ anymore but this time it’s ‘warbling ‘Born to Run’’ that appears over and over again and let’s not forget about Brett’s pajamas set because this one, definitely not trivial detail is mentioned at least thrice in the novel.

Unfortunately Brett, again, doesn’t seem to be more knowledgeable about other forms of body modification and she still sports very 80s ‘hoop earrings’. Characters in this novel sport either some tattoos or some more common piercing but, again, there is nothing about stretched ears, split tongues, implants etc. Too bad that Las Vegas is shown more like a place good to grab lunch at than a place with many tattoo and body piercing shops haunted by people either brave or insensible enough to test their bodies’ limits.

It’s all forgivable, though, as Olson seems to have learned her lesson and she quit this awful manner of referring to the tattoos as ‘tats’ or ‘ink.’ Sure, there are a few minor slips when she mentions ‘ink’ or tries to smuggle in ‘inking’ meaning the tattooing process but a big improvement in this regard is easy to notice anyway.

She also tries to be more educational when it comes to tattoos, so we can read a few descriptions of the sensations one can feel while being tattooed (where did she take them from, though, if she isn’t tattooed herself?) and even a sort of aftercare guidelines. This part, however, does not really convince me.

I have one good reason for why to actually bother with reading this book, though, and it’s the fact that one can look at it as a kind of document showing how tattoos are perceived through a lens of pop culture, here and now. It is covered with lots of overly sweet icing and there is nothing about the real life and what drives people to get tattooed, what they have to face on daily basis in certain settings and what it actually feels like to be tattooed but that’s the way the popular culture works – always diluting reality, selecting the catchier elements and aiming for becoming ‘in,’ even if only for a while.

Olson is a decent storyteller with a trace of a sense of humor and an ability to write light, fast-paced stuff. She may try too hard to show the world she doesn’t know much about but it’s not a serious offence. If you don’t know much about tattoos and you’re into the Ink TV, you’ll find it pretty good; if you are into tattoos and have more than one tiny one, you’ll find it amusing at times but also showing you that these days tattoos are mainstream and ‘cool’ enough to write entertaining ‘pulp’ novels about them.


Karen E. Olson, Pretty in Ink. A Tattoo Shop Mystery, Signet 2010

endless limitations and possibilities

A quick and short update tonight:

Internationally: some insight into the Korean tattoo scene and a piece of news from Belgium about the legal situation of body modification in this country.

Californian conversations with Jill Sarrat’ is a pretty unpretentious interview with one of the local (female) tattoo artists.

Piercing lawsuit’ is from Panama and briefly discusses possible risks of getting pierced in an unknown place and neglecting aftercare tips.

World’s broadest and safest tattoo ink palette’ can make our heads spin!

This one is pretty good: ‘illustrated real estate agent gives tattoo certificates.’

warning needed when I’m getting reflective?

Tattoos, and body modification in general, becoming more and more mainstream is not a new trend, of course, but it’s definitely one of favorite topics to write about for journalists. Here we have an example from CA where journalists talk to the local tattoo artists and stress the obvious yet again: ‘TV, celebrities give tattoos high profile.’

TV is an important factor here and this short article about Karen E. Olson, the author of ‘Tattoo Shop Mystery’ series, shows it quite nicely. I haven’t read her second ‘tattoo mystery’ yet (although I didn’t like the first one much), so I can’t say anything about it but her own words on the reasons behind having gone for such a series are quite telling: “The editors were looking for a tattoo shop mystery, because of the shows on TV. I decided I would try it.” Is it how body modification becomes cheaper and shallower?

The ‘emotional’ trick in the context of tattoos is used not only by TV people; it’s also, unsurprisingly, newspaper and other media people. Here we have a sort of new series started by a CT newspaper: ‘Tat Tales’ with one such a ‘tale.’ I can admire the girl and her fight against her serious disease but since I’ve already seen such stories on TV and read them both in the newspapers and in books, I am not even moved much. Again, it’s kind of sad that the exploitation of body modification for a meager profit and short-lived popularity stats is so common these days.

On a way different note, here you have an English  ‘summary’ of the articles about the Polish sniper dismissed from the army since his tattoos made him unable to serve, ‘5 incredibly stupid tattoos’ and ‘Harry Potter tattoos.’

Something very interesting for dessert, though: ‘Defining moment: refining the art of criminal identification’ about a French policeman who started using tattoos as a way to identify criminals in the 19th century France!

dress code battles

Dress code strikes yet again in another article from UT, ‘In Ogden tattoos, piercings break the rules,’ and – surprise surprise – in a handful of Polish ones on a similar topic (since all of them say basically the same thing, I’m linking to only one of them). To sum it up (keeping in mind Bastian’s request), an excellent sniper was dismissed after the doctors saw his tattoos and decided they make him unable to serve abroad. The article makes a pretty good point, though, drawing our attention to the fact that soldier tattoos are often a means to deal with very traumatic experiences and stressful situations. And really, how tattoos can show under his uniform? I can understand that there may be cultural differences between the Westerners wearing tattoos and the locals being against tattoos due to their religion/ cultural background but after thousands of heavily tattooed American/ English/ Scandinavian/ etc. soldiers having stayed there for years now (Afghanistan), one tattooed soldier from Poland would hardly make a difference!

A different way of looking at tattoos in this CNN video about ‘Thailand’s superhuman tattoos’ (see? The power of positive thinking associated with body art!)

Tattoo removal in ‘study suggests a more personal approach to tattoo removal.’

A tad of humor never hurts, so here’s a German slide show of fast food tattoos.


I like weird coincidences and they tend to happen quite often; let’s take a look at this one: I’ve just finished reading ‘Kőrpermodifikation im Wandel der Zeit’ (which proved to be quite weak as a whole) where I got to read about Karl Rove’s father’s piercings and secret life only to stumble upon an online article about it: ‘Karl Rove Mum about gay, pierced dad.’

Dress code and a question of role models strike yet again in ‘Ogden teacher says it’s his right to display arm tattoos’ and in an article about a student suspended for having a nose piercing allegedly inspired by a teacher’s piercing.

In other, not that hot, news, another article about new Penguin book covers and a slide show of modified people as seen at a tattoo convention in Buenos Aires.

good causes, nice touch

Thanks to little help from the Master of the Links (a.k.a. my friend Bastian) I got to read about ‘a teen forcefully tattooed’ in Australia. Interesting are the links journalists thought about as forceful tattooing was described not only in a quite popular now ‘the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ novel but also in films (here ‘Inglorius Bastards’ are mentioned). The comment about the attackers ‘being not the reading types’ was both hilarious and quite unjustified.

Maybe it’s time to add a new category to my blog as apparently there are many modified people out there who are willing to reach out to others and help them; here a few new examples: ‘marathon tattoo session’ from Ireland and tattoo fundraisers from the USA.

Another interesting project involving tattoos and a good cause is featured in the article ’15,000 dots for Iraq and counting.’

Bastian also sent me this one about the history of tattoos.

A nice one for ‘dessert’: Dr Seuss tattoos.