In the 1950s at fifteen while on the way out West on a family trip we stopped in Chicago where I was able to walk around by myself. I came across State Street and was mesmerized by the twenty plus tattoo shops on either side of the street with their colorful designs all over the walls, crackling neon signs and the buzzing sound of the tattoo machines inside. Upon my return, I received my first tattoo in the back of a barbershop in Newark, NJ. At that time I became obsessed with tattooing and tattooed people. Tattooing was exotic at that time and laden with mystery. While a resident at Peekskill Military Academy I ordered a tattoo supply catalog. I had dreams of becoming a tattoo artist, while my fellow students had plans to go to various colleges to become doctors, lawyers, accountants, and engineers.
My plan to become a tattoo artist never materialized and later perhaps, to stay connected to the tattoo world I decided to do a book about tattooed people. I became fascinated with people who had chosen to be heavily tattooed and their decision to become part of a visible minority. When I started my project tattooing was not as prevalent as it is now and many occupational doors were closed for those with extensive tattooing.
In my book, I have tried to capture the “tattoo culture”, people who are very serious about getting tattooed and the tattoo artists who are dedicated to their art.
I chose to photograph people in black and white in their own environment to emphasize the person and not just the art. They range in age from mid-teens to mid-seventies and represent a varied and diverse range of socioeconomic and educational backgrounds. Yet, they have a commonality in that they are all very committed to the tattoo art and the particular meaning the art has for them. I tape recorded interviews that I did with each person and wrote what they said in their own words.
I thought of the title since the ink is under a layer of skin, but also so many of the people in the book were irritated from people's unsolicited negative comments and judgment. Although it is sixteen years later and tattooing is more a part of the culture there are still many people who view heavily tattooed people negatively.
Since this was a long term project I was able to revisit seven people and rephotograph them from seven years after the first photograph to twenty years later and show both photographs. This was of interest to me to see how they aged, whether they got additional work and how their environment changed.
In 2002, Schiffer Publishing LTD, Atglen, PA published this work. The book is titled Under My Skin.