CATS AND TATS
A long time ago during one of many hunts for the elusive Manhattan Sky Lion, I found myself on Wall Street, and in the distance I saw a single stylized lion-head sculpture, mounted high on the side of building.
From blocks away I steadied my zoom and captured her. In front of that distant wall, grew a construction site where an even taller building would soon be erected, covering up that rare lion forever. Now it was mine, an image that I saw, a view others will never see again unless I chose to show it to them.
Later that day at the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan, my daughter and I put the final touches on ourselves before heading downstairs to attend a relative’s wedding. As she prepared, she lifted up her hair and on the back of her neck flashed a tattoo of a sensuous stylized heart.
At a completely different and unrelated time, inside Kennedy Airport, my other daughter, arrived home from Israel, and after greeting her affectionately, she lifts up the back of her shirt to show me her brand new brand, a simultaneous allegiance and challenge to our tribal traditions, touting a Star of David proudly emblazoned on the flat canvas at the base of her spine.
Throughout my life, countless friends and companions dazzled me with epidural delights, from celtic symbols on feet, long feathered peacocks on hips balanced by fluttering hummingbirds above breasts, roaring boned barn fires burning up from the butt, and endless ink in private places, designed to seduce, remember, affiliate, tell a story, express artistic freedom, and control the visual packaging of one’s body.
As for me, I still have not found my skin graphic that permanently shouts how I will always feel, what I will always want to say, a memory of the past that won’t depress me, or any mark without a reason that I will identify with forever more.
Flash forward to this past weekend, there was a tattoo convention in town. I resisted going because the light is so much better outside for shooting. However, it was so hot on this Sunday, that I retreated to the air-conditioned venue for cooler inspiration.
I marched the aisles with my 85mm looking for unusual dark perspectives and non-staged spot lit poses. What I found was an odd mix of folks who love to put tattoos on those who love to get tattoos. Beyond the buzzing sound of dozens of vibrating needles, was the din of calm and quiet, as the dance of intimacy between art and flesh went all Rock N’ Roll.
Across the floor, bodies were contorted to expose just the right angle to get lit and stamped. Serious artists donning surgical gloves signed skin and colored characters on legs, thighs, shoulders, rears and everything in between.
For some it is an addiction of guilt and pleasure. For others its just a transaction in exchange for plain ole pain, as sharp needles carrying indelible ink piercing the skin. I walked and watched with amazement as common individuals transformed themselves to extraordinary masterpieces.
Also, the procedure of coloring on a person is usually carried out in private, or in the smokey shop near a bar, dock or gritty avenue. On this day, everyone was out in the public view which really is the essence of a tattoo. For why would one get a tattoo if it would not eventually be seen by others, unless just admired privately by the bearer.
I was consumed with the concentration on the faces of the artists, aimed at the complete submission by the bodies of work. It was hard to tell who was being honored more; the crafts-person leaving their mark, or the signed human who would carry the art for the rest of their days.
Forlorn faces worn by those who have passed, movie stars striking a pose, and wild animals ready to pounce, appeared on anatomy like a montage of aspirations, inspirations and fond memories. Sure there was the usual barbed wire arm cuffs, and Polynesian plume on puffy shoulders, but mostly there was the essence of people being changed, by the ones making the change happen.
Occasionally as I stole a photo here and there, an artist would leer at me, unable to give chase for the ink would dry.
Other times, the painted on patrons would stare, as I made permanent in my camera, the expression of their surrender.
Throughout the convention hall there were faces and bodies of every shape and size. I imagined for some the exterior package of their vessel was not consistent with how they would like to see themselves, or saw themselves from the inside.
Me and my camera put the eye in ink. I wondered about the artists getting their nose up close to someones ass in order to dot out a fragrant flower. There was a woman with her chest revealed to the world like the Grand Teton, in order to get tagged from just the right angle; nobody noticed, nobody cared… it was just flesh meet ink.
When my friends heard that I had shot the convention, of course they wondered if I had found an image suitable to be my mark for ever and ever. Disappointed they were to hear that I walked out just as unmarked and lily-white as when I walked in.
I thought about many things though. I thought about contacting some major sponsors and soliciting some form of payment from them if I was to wear their logo for the rest of my life. Shouldn’t Apple Computers pay me if I had their trademark on my forearm? Or shouldn’t Intel pay me for showing the world that Intel was inside me?
I wondered if in the future, instead of delivering ink just under the skin, if it would be possible to insert inert wireless pixels that could be organized in an array and activated from a website offering a collection of images to choose from. This way people could go out wearing permanent tattoos of their choosing, just for the night.
And as their beliefs and commitments change, so could their body billboard. Hell, people could sell sponsorship space on their bodies, like Nascar profits from a logo on a fender, or a tennis player with hat.
I suppose if I had to get one, I would choose the one that chose me. A glimpse of that lion head on the side of that building on Wall Street; something that I own that no one will ever see again unless I choose to show it to them.