Redefining The Tattoo Cliche With Light.

Several years ago, I began a project called Inked-In, that would visually explore individuals who had tattoos. I didn’t have an interest in photographing individuals who had tattoos for the sake of having them, but those who treated their bodies as an artistic medium.

I’ve always been inspired by the idea of “living art” and the visual eye candy that tattoos have the potential of becoming despite not having any myself. Tattoos and tattoo culture have this ongoing reputation of grittiness, edginess, and all around rebellious qualities, which is often translated as being a rough alternative lifestyle. No different in photography, tattoos are mainly portrayed in black and white to emphasize the rawness of this art-form. But that’s not how I saw tattoos and the people who sport them.

I believe that, just like an image maker, each individual who has made the conscious decision to utilize their body as a living, breathing canvas, is also telling a story. A story about them, as they know themselves to be at a given point in time. And just like art, we find more meaning as these pieces age, and they continue to define them as individuals.

I designed a lighting set that literally wrapped each tattooed individual in light.

Visually, I wanted to represent tattoo culture in an alternative mode, for the beauty that it is, and the identity that it represents. I deliberately took a step back from the cliches; instead I designed a lighting set that wrapped each tattooed individual, each “living piece”, in beautiful light. This really struck me as a means to relate the tattoo to the person. To see the tattoo not only as a work of art, but as something that represents those who carry them.

In my mind’s eye, this set had to be light, airy and ethereal to demonstrate that the beauty between the art and the individual was paramount. Thus I constructed a cylindrical background made up of reflective Mylar material. The reflective material was to add a layer of dimension to reflecting the skin and tattoo in an abstract way, to an otherwise white and airy background.

Next was the lighting schematic. How do I light a highly reflective background that encapsulates the subject 360 degrees? The answer was to light it from the top and from the bottom. The cylinder was created to have an opening at the top that was slightly larger than an Elinchrome Octabank. This was my main key light. The bottom light sources to fill in any shadows was illuminated by 3 Profoto small Striplights bouncing off 4x8 boards that surrounded the set. The end result created was an environment with little to no shadow, soft, but yet directional lighting to literally wrap around the subject.

This project initially began as a means to portray the art of tattoo culture, and those who have utilized their bodies as living canvas’. As I developed this idea, and worked with all these different individuals, it occurred to me that just like an art piece, these tattoos tell a significant story, the story of the person who wears them.

Find the full series on my micro-site at: