Photographer and filmmaker Vince Hemingson calls tattoos a window to a person’s soul.
“If the body is a temple, then tattoos are its stained glass windows,” he said.
Hemingson should know. In 2010, he organized a three-day, marathon photography shoot that included 100 tattooed models and 11 photographers. A casting call went out asking anyone with tattoos to take part in exchange for $25 cash and a 16 by 20-inch portrait. One of the results of the shoot is a 200-page, fine art book called The Tattoo Project. The book is available for pre-sale now through Amazon.com and is expected to be on bookshelves in August.
“Because of the $25 cash we had a lot of street people show up, which was great,” said Hemingson. “But we also had a lawyer show up in his suit.”
Because tattoos are all about skin, Hemingson added the suit didn’t stay on for long. The book is divided into sections featuring work by each photographer, and depending on their interpretation, some models are naked while others wear very little. Photographer Dan Kozma clad each of his models in classic white, sleeveless undershirts, while Johnathon Vaughn paired side-by-side photographs of one of each of the model’s eyes next to a favourite tattoo. And while photographer Rosamond Norbury’s photos glow with red, each of the offerings from Marc Koegel are awash in sepia tones.
Other photographers included in the book are Wayne A. Höecherl, Melanie Jane, Spencer Kovats, Syx Langemann, Aura McKay and Jeff Weddell. The forward is written by author and Courier contributor PJ Reece, while a detailed account of the shoot is written by Oregon-based Bob Baxter, editor-in-chief of TattooRoadTrip.com and past editor-in-chief of tattoo magazine Skin & Ink for 14 years, who flew in for the event.
Hemingson has been intrigued by the historical significance and cultural anthropology of tattoos for years and in 1999 launched the Vanishing Tattoo website, which claims more than 20 million visits by individual body art enthusiasts. In a quest to study and photograph the tattoos of indigenous peoples, Hemingson has visited more than 90 countries. His quest to preserve a record of these vanishing tribal tattoos was made into a documentary film he co-wrote, co-produced and co-hosted. Parts of it were broadcast on National Geographic International. Vancouver tattoo artist Thomas Lockhart was also initially involved in the project, which was the focus of a Courier cover story 10 years ago. Like the Vanishing Tattoo, the video shot during the three days of The Tattoo Project will be made into a documentary film.
"We've filmed the whole process from beginning to end,” says Hemingson. “From casting the models, to the photography sessions, interviewing all the photographers and models about the experience, preparing the exhibition space, right through to opening night. We have great content and right now are in the process of looking for funding in order to complete the film."
Videos and interviews with the models are posted on the project website, thetattooproject.com.
Hemingson said he had no idea the project would ever make a profit. In 2010, he was hoping to break even for the cost of the venue and equipment rental for the multi-day shoot. But with the release of this book, Hemingson and his fellow creators of The Tattoo Project have decided to donate proceeds to the Ray-Cam Co-operative Centre in the Downtown Eastside. The inner city centre offers support, such as day care, for some of this city’s poorest residents.
“They do the work of angels,” said Hemingson. “It’s the least we can do.”
To see a video from the project, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gBLBmFnrJaU.