Freelance art director, designer and photographer Ralf Mitsch has always been fascinated by tattoos, which is why he created the book: Why I Love Tattoos. The idea was conceived years ago at a studio in Duintjer CS in the Vijzelstraat, where he met Holger. About this encounter: “The tattoos crawling out of Holger’s shirt, immediately rekindled my fascination for this nowadays very popular body art.” Mitsch asked him if he could take photos of his tattoos and that’s how Holger ended up becoming the very first model (and cover photo) of his book. Author/journalist Henk van Straten interviewed the myriad of models, ranging from living pieces of art, to those who don’t give much meaning to their tattoos and sometimes even seem to use their body as a scrapbook – Jordy, 24: “I wanted a fish, but my friend was drunk so it looks more like a torpedo.” Van Straten is especially interested in the stories behind the tattoos by asking questions such as: What was your first tattoo, do you regret any, what’s your favourite one, what’s your next one, and what do you think of the current tattoo trend?
Asked about the style of photography Mitsch says it had to convey his respect for the tattoo. He didn’t use the usual setting of a dark background and theatrical lighting – a form that photographer Krijn van Noordwijk did use in his book about tattoos, coincidently also published quite recently. Mitsch: “My concept was to capture the essence. Each model is depicted purely with a bright background and even exposure. Almost in a documentary style.” The result is a clean visual message.
When reading the book it quickly becomes clear that almost all of the tattoo models are addicted to getting tattoos. They already start thinking about the next tattoo, when they’ve just finished the previous one. The only struggle some of the models have is whether they should do their hands, neck and face, the parts that you cannot hide from society with clothes. Some of them don’t go there for their relatives (“I couldn’t do that to my mom” says 34-old Joram) some know that a proper job from then on will be out of the question. That’s why Hugo, fully covered in tattoos – including his genitals – did his first “visible tattoo” at 54, when he had to stop working due to bad health. But a ‘normal’ job with tattoos is possible as Rene proves; regardless his blue lips and colourful, indian-looking mask over his face, he works at a telecom shop at Schiphol Airport – of all places.
Rene is a clear prove that tattoos have become much more accepted in society. When the tattoo addicts are asked whether they mind this or not, those who truly enjoy the art of the tattoo – and who, understandably, often work in a tattoo shop – are mostly positive, while the ones that wear tattoos to be original or to look tough, are often disappointed. Bill, who immigrated to the Netherlands from the US: “I got my first tattoo, a rose, in 1968. (…) Back then there was something dangerous about tattoos – now your mom and your maths teacher have them. It has become part of pop culture.”
When you leave through Mitsch’s rich collection of people and tattoos, you almost forget that most groups of tattoo lovers still form a sub culture – albeit maybe not very homogeneous ones – and that most people still prefer to keep their body ink free. It doesn’t matter though to which sub culture you belong, the book makes a rich source of visual and social inspiration for everyone.
The design of the book was done by Claudio Garcia, alias Blacktropik and freelance copywriter Ben Blench was responsible for the English translation. The book launch will be held on 15 June, 4 pm, at NAME Gallery Amsterdam, as part of an exhibition called Rauw. The book can be bought through its website.