A few months before the death of their revolutionary leader, Fidel Castro, I was able to visit the island of Cuba with a friend. The idea was to experience the country, with its communist history and anti-West tendencies, before globalisation and capitalism changed it forever.
If we were speaking of any other topic, the issues of cost, permanence, and visibility would be seen as positive, but when we speak of tattoos, all of these, for some reason, become lines of attack.
When we discuss cars, jewellery, or technology, the price is often seen as a sign of quality, but this attitude is ignored when we talk of tattoos. The ink that we choose to put on – or should that be put under – our skin is dismissed or even criticised as a waste of money. People I speak to are shocked when I tell them how much money I have spent on this body modification – around the £4,000 mark currently – but in the same conversation they are more than happy to announce how much they spent on Friday night in a club, or on Saturday afternoon at the shops.
With Oscar fever beginning to sweep in, accompanied by the justified criticism over their complete lack of diversity, I feel its only right that we turn our gaze to the big screen and its portrayal of tattoos.
Though both online and on the small screen tattoos are the focus for many shows, Hollywood’s glamour does not seem so keen to embrace the topic.
What started with Miami Ink, “the gold standard” of tattoo shows as AV Club labels it, has now grown, for better or worse, into a multi-million pound industry of tattoo-related output for television audiences.
Ami James, Chris Nunez and co pioneered the standard format for tattoo television and paved the way for a host of other artists to make their mark on their clients, and the public, with AV Club stating that Miami Ink “spawned the whole subgenre”.
It is important to remember that not everything we see was designed purely for our own gaze. Though many things may appear aesthetically pleasing, this may not be their sole purpose.
Cars can look nice, but even if they don’t – I am looking at you Fiat Multipla – they can still function and adequately carry out their intended purpose; to get a person from A to B. The same can be said of umbrellas, some are designer, some are styled really nicely, and some are ludicrous cat-like monstrosities with fake ears, but first and foremost, no matter how they look, they must perform their function of keeping someone dry. If it achieves that, the looks are secondary.
Too often we take the aesthetics and the image as the primary driver, the main role, or the most important function. Shoes have to look good rather than be comfortable, musicians have to be attractive rather than talented, and our food has to be served artistically on slate boards with decorative leaves and gratings, who cares if it only hits a five on the taste Richter scale.
In The Land of the Rising Sun, not everything is as it seems. A place known for its rich ancient history, its cultural delicacies, and more recently for its superb standard of life, Japan also has a darker claim to fame. A secret that I was told is “very, very underground.”
With the writing of my (non-tattoo related) first book out of the way, I have found time to return to the topic of ink on skin, and an issue which I have been wanting to write about since the moment I heard about it almost exactly 12 months ago.
Whilst walking around The Great British Tattoo Show last year, my cider in one hand, and my notepad in the other, I came across a stall and an artist who we shall call Barratt (he wanted to keep his true identity a secret for reasons that will become clear later). He was working out of Scandinavia at the time, but he had been an apprentice in Japan for a number of years, and it was he who told me about the shady world of Japan’s human canvas industry.