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GET A BODYSUIT


GET A BODYSUIT

Photography Konstantin Mitrokhov Monologue Alejo Barros Lombardi


—You can’t feel them but they’re there. I always hope that someday I’ll look and they’ll be gone… Are they still there now? —Yes, they’re still there. —For, you see,—said the Illustrated Man,—these illustrations predict the future. Each illustration is a little story. If you watch them, in a few minutes they tell you a tale. In three hours of looking you could see eighteen or twenty stories acted right on my body, you could hear voices and think thoughts. It’s all here, just waiting for you to look. Ray Bradbury The Illustrated Man


I am a 31 year old tattooist originally from Argentina. I am currently in a transition between living in London and Norway. I lived in London for nearly seven years of which attended a university for three years, although I never finished the course. The rest of the time I spent tattooing. It is hard to pin down what got me into tattooing. The person I was when I started having an interest in tattooing and the one I am now are not the same, and over the years the projection of my idea of why I started tattooing might have changed. At the beginning, when I was very young, I didn’t like tattoos and I found them quite shocking. I didn’t like the look of them, I didn’t understand why people would want something permanent on their bodies. Often I saw tattoos that were not nicely done and didn’t look great, and what they represented wasn’t something that appealed to me. While still being a teenager, I began getting along with certain people and getting more into music. On the other hand, I have got older brothers and sisters, and my sisters had boyfriends with tattoos or who were tattooists themselves. I was spending a lot of time with my sisters, so maybe the main influence during my youth was my sisters’ boyfriends. Perhaps, that was my way of identifying with someone. My first tattoo is the spiderweb on my elbow. I got it done together with a group of friends—we all got it done on the left arm. I liked it because it related to who I felt I was at the time as I was into punk and hardcore music. I saw that tattoo a couple of times on other people’s elbows and thought it had a very striking look; that it’s something that really makes an impact on people. I got it done on the left arm because in Argentina at that time most of neo-Nazi skinheads had the spiderweb on the right arm and I wanted to avoid any sort of confusion.


It has been a job for a while in my life. However, since I am already over 30, my perception of tattooing and of what I expect from my tattooing and myself changed significantly. When I started tattooing I worked quite a lot in walk-in shops, which are a traditional form,—this was both good and bad in terms of experience. It was good in respect that I learned to tattoo very fast but I didn’t grow much as an artist. The job earned me enough money to pay for the education, to travel and get tattooed; it was very important for that reason. After the university I didn’t care much about money and just wanted to try and develop a tattooing style of my own (that is what tattooing is for me). Generally, approach to tattooing—and the tattoo industry—has changed very drastically in the past 5-7 years. Being tattooed became more accepted and for that same reason nowadays it has lost a lot of its taboos. Tattooing is now something that belongs more to the world of cosmetics than it does to the subcultures. When I started getting tattooed I acknowledged the fact that I was going to make an impact on people. These days people see your tattoos and they think you are cool and want to talk to you, they want to know what the tattoos mean, why you got them done, where you are from… They want to know this and that. The reason why I started getting tattooed when I was younger was to provoke some soft of rejection from people. Funny enough, life teaches you that things can change very drastically. The original intention and the interpretation can be very different, particularly in a Western country, where tattoos became universally accepted regardless of their quality. The amount of high quality tattoos grew but the amount of shitty commercial tattoos grew as well. Taste is subjective, but if something is hugely popular it is generally seen and perceived as tasteless. For example, most tribal tattoos you see now were popularised by Leo Zulueta: he is a tattooist from the West Coast of the USA. He developed his version of tribal style by keeping it black, graphic, and flowing. It is mostly inspired by the Borneo tribal tattoos. Tribal is famous for having very meaningful stories behind the design, whereas Zulueta’s version of tribal is a non-figurative design which doesn’t have a narrative behind it. It is more accessible to people because it is ornamental without all the symbolism behind that sometimes can be a little


heavy. That said, I think this kind of tribal will probably always exist in one form or another. Maybe one time it will become popular again or maybe it never will. Anything that has any kind of design and craft to it goes through that cycle. The problem with tattoos is that they are permanent. How do you evolve as a person from the moment you get one done? It can be psychologically hard for some people; no need to mention political tattoos. Even by getting a lot of tattoos of similar aesthetics you are caging yourself. Somehow, if you don’t know how to deal with that, it can be quite hard. You carry your tattoos through the rest of your life. I don’t believe in cover-ups. Although I don’t like many of the tattoos that I have, at the time it was the right decision to make. The tattoos are the evidence of those decisions. If you made wrong decisions 10 years ago, maybe you share them with your own consciousness but you don’t share them with other people. Tattoos are capable of becoming a stigma that represents drug addiction or an affiliation with some kind of culture. Tattoos are decorative and ornamental. The tattoo has a beauty to it and is not a book or an encyclopaedia. The finished product has to have a certain degree of aesthetics and design—that is very important regardless of the people thinking it is a good or bad taste. I don’t think tattoos have to have a meaning, but if they have a meaning it is always good. Nowadays, many people who consider tattoos acceptable to have on themselves try to find something very meaningful for them to have as a tattoo. I think these people shouldn’t get tattooed: what they are doing is pushing themselves into something they don’t completely know or understand, and that is very dangerous. Sometimes people try to find something that relates to their family to get tattooed, as if it is something they won’t have regrets about. In some cases people come up with something that has a deeper meaning but it is more of an exception.  People try to define tattooing: they say it is an art. For me tattooing really is a craft,—that is the way I prefer to look at it. And it is not art because art is redundant, and tattoos aren’t redundant. When you are tattooing, the tradition is where you stand not where you aim, and you need to stand on that tradition. If you are a craftsman and make something, it needs to fulfil expectations. If you make


a beautiful pair of shoes but they break or are uncomfortable, they won’t succeed regardless of how much you like the design. Tattooing has so much history behind it that it makes it a part of the history of arts. If you look at it in an anthropological context, the process is a ritual rather than art. In the ritual, you are exchanging information even if it is something quite banal as a drawing that doesn’t mean anything. For the blood and pain there is always a certain degree of ritual. The practice itself is a craft which has a very high degree of artistry to it. I like the idea of negotiating between what I like to produce and what comes out of my own evolution as an artist, and what the customer wants. I do something that is going to be on someone else’s body, and it is always very charming and fulfilling when someone shows an interest in your work. There is a degree of negotiation on that as well. Sometimes I sit down and do a specific drawing and it catches people’s attention somehow. That is the best way to show what is on your mind there and then. If people come and ask you for custom designs, it keeps the process alive and it is good fun too because it challenges you as a craftsman. Sometimes things just work right. The best tattoo for me is always the one to come. I never felt great about the idea of inflicting pain to people. I don’t enjoy that, but it is an inevitable part of the process, unfortunately. I am never completely comfortable with this aspect of tattooing. It is something you try to deal with and at the same time not lose concentration and to work as quick as possible. It is a conscious decision for the customer to come and get tattooed. Getting tattooed is not something you need. Most of the times when you see a doctor and need some sort of surgery—it is because you have to, it is not an option to not have one. Getting tattooed is a deliberate choice. It is like any other job when you do it every day and it becomes something quite normal. Sometimes many other things could go through your mind and they don’t necessarily relate to tattooing. Being focused is crucial. The environment and the customers change the way you feel about tattooing. You are working on someone and the way that person behaves and feels about tattooing, about life, about everything, can make your session better or worse. It can be a bad experience


for me and for the customer. Tattooing can be really tiring, particularly when the customer doesn’t sit well and it makes your life a lot harder because you perceive all that. It can be quite an extensive experience. And you are touching someone— although with the gloves on—but you are still touching and feeling someone. It is something that makes you feel really close to a person for some time. You get to know what your customers are about if you are an open person. Many old school tattooists would maintain a bigger distance with the customer, particularly in other cultures. There is always a high level of respect between both, and I don’t think many tattooists are getting involved with their customers. However, you inevitably become friends with some people, and there isn’t anything wrong about that. Many tattooists wouldn’t agree as they think the customer is only a customer and that is how you keep it. I have a special relation with my customers, but it is a relation I have with people in general. If a woman is getting naked in front of you and trusting you their body and you come to be a straight guy, there is always a certain degree of exposure and vulnerability and connection. Sometimes the process of tattooing creates something so special and magical when it’s good that it’s nice to keep it just the way it is. Sometimes you can get a bit confused by the feelings. The ways you engage with your customers can be great or can be really bad because you get very close. A lot of the times I tattooed people who weren’t nice, and I didn’t have a good time and had to pretend I did,—that wasn’t great either. Sometimes you don’t know how to get rid of certain customers and it can be a problem: you just can’t stand a specific customer but you have to be nice. You show that you have a certain set of values and rules and that you respect your profession. All the stereotypes about tattooing and tattoos are pretty much on the same level of stupidity. It’s important to leave people a chance to change their minds though. Maybe, instead of having a bad reaction having a good answer is better. I think that people who have tattoos don’t have anything to hide. It isn’t bad, and it is not necessarily a good thing either. People feel particularly shocked when they see a heavily tattooed person, and they think the person is doing that to show off. This is arguable; to a certain extent this is like saying about a woman wearing a miniskirt


that she does that to show off. I don’t get tattooed for other people to come and look at me. I don’t mind that, but the fact that you can see something doesn’t mean that it belongs to you. There is a certain beauty in creating some sort of rejection in society. Sometimes I like that more than approval, particularly from people I don’t like. I would rather have these people not even talking to me than talking shit. Maybe keeping people away is not that bad, rather than having people coming and giving you approval. Tattooing gave me a lot of good friends and I want to believe that tattooing changed people for the best. However, sometimes—not in a malicious way—I made tattoos that I regretted doing in a hindsight. I compromised because of the lack of experience but not in terms of the craft itself. I might have made a wrong judgement whether that tattoo should have been done despite the person being very young, for example. There is an extreme case: the guy asked me to tattoo his girlfriend’s name on his neck and he was eighteen. I didn’t do it. The fact that the law allows you to do it doesn’t mean you should. When you are eighteen you are still quite young to make such a big statement. I am not going to stop you from doing it but I will think twice whether I should be doing it. Although it is your body, it is also my work. Sometimes you can tell that people are not ready to get a neck tattoo and bringing that up for their reflection could help. Street shops are like a tattooing factory. You start losing a human and artistic side of things in those kind of shops because there is not much of it in there. In the past I have done tattoos that I said to myself this guy or girl is going to regret this in a few years time. And I still did it. I don’t want to have to do that ever again. You are not forcing them—in fact, they are paying you to do it. There is always a sense of achievement after getting tattooed. It often hurts like hell but people keep on coming. They know the pain is unbearable and it only gets worse over the years, but at the same time there is always something that keeps you wanting to get tattooed and to be there, under the needle. And of course, it hurts. Every time, it hurts. Alejo Barros Lombardi January 2014


Get a Bodysuit v9  

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