Exhibition Announcement: ‘Tattoos’ by Mark Leaver
The Tattoo Collective are excited to introduce British editorial photographer Mark Leaver. Leaver’s ‘Tattoos’ project gets under the skin of a varied group of individuals, each bearing unique facial tattoos, in a series of powerful portraits. His work reaches beyond the image captured, unravelling the story of each subject he encounters and challenging the stigma often associated with heavily tattooed people.
A selection of work from the ‘Tattoos’ series will be exhibited at The Tattoo Collective 17th-18th March 2018. This week, we caught up with the artist to find out more…
Can you tell us a little about yourself and your background in photography?
I initially found my passion for photography in secondary school, when my uncle gave me his old 35mm camera to use for my A level course. Through doing this I found a love for dark room techniques and photographing the world around me. I didn’t get into any universities to study photography, so I went to college instead and found a job in a local studio, where I learnt printing and editing. After three years at the studio I went on to study at Bournemouth Arts University. University is where I began to focus on portraiture and the documentation of marginalised groups.
What drew you to capturing portraits of heavily tattooed subjects?
I was drawn to heavily tattooed subjects for the same reason I’m drawn to any subject; it was fascination and providing a platform for an audience to fulfil their need for voyeurism, as well as my own. It could be the wrinkles on their skin, the medals they bare, the cultural differences, or in this case the tattoos on their face. For someone who is not at all in the tattoo scene or has any friends with tattoos, they won’t often have the chance to look at anybody with facial tattooing up close or in any detail. This series allows them that guilty pleasure (I had no tattoos when I started this body of work)!
Facial tattoos are slowly becoming more acceptable in mainstream society but still carry a stigma, even within the world of tattooing. Did you enter the project with any preconceptions about the tattoo community? Did you discover anything new?
Yes; one of the main reasons for tattooing becoming more and more socially acceptable is through the endorsement of celebrity culture, though that isn’t evident for the people in my series. By no means are these people following mainstream celebrity culture, the people in this series are on individual journeys and use their facial tattooing for a mixture of; creativity, aesthetics, transformation and spirituality.
Your images are accompanied by stories of the subjects. What was the most interesting thing you learnt from your conversations?
Some of the sitters told me stories of very traumatic upbringings, but I was more interested in where they are now. They all had down to earth and positive outlooks on life. Especially the tattoo artists who are self-employed, earning a decent wage and loving what they do. Gino did all of his own tattoos to cover up work he had done when he was 18. Xed started tattooing himself at 13 and has been gridding out the human body for the last decade. Rusty used to offer himself as a human guinea pig to an artist so they could practice tattooing on him. Paul had troubles with his knees which forced him to stop body building. Since then his goal has changed to a full body tattoo suit, so he now gets tattooed by the same artist up to 5 times a week.
In addition to your ‘Tattoos’ series, you have travelled the world photographing different cultures and groups. Did you encounter other tattooed communities on your travels, and if so, how did the subject’s tattoo experiences differ from those you met in the UK?
I’ve seen lots of work by other photographers on extensively tattooed communities abroad. I’ve always been interested by the Chin tribe in Myanmar, New Zealand Maoris and a few others. I also had the pleasure of going on assignment to French Polynesia, which is where tattooing began. Tattooing abroad is done for different reasons, less celebrity culture, more spirituality. In countries like India, one of the most common tattoos you’ll see is an ohm on the hand. This will be done with needle and ink by hand.
Do you plan to shoot any more portraits of tattooed folk in the future?
I have a few ideas for tattoo projects and follow ups in the future – nothing that I’m ready to share yet though!
View more of Mark’s work here.
Don’t miss the chance to meet the artist and view this amazing series of work at The Tattoo Collective, March 17th-18th 2018. Tickets are now on sale; get yours today!