Harper’s Annotation Take 2

After falling short with my first prospective annotation object, it was time to withdraw and regroup. I’d originally considered the tattoo machine as the perfect image to represent the research that I was immersed in. What better object to anchor the many facets of my project than the tool that bridges the artist and the customer, making the creative process possible. It would be like annotating the sword of the duelist, the gun of the gunslinger, the skateboard of Tony Hawk…you get the idea. But I thought that was too simple, too limited. But it’s not limited, and it’s only simple in its straightforward delivery of the topic. Bill Wolff suggested the machine as did several of my peers.

As fate would have it, as has been the course of my research this semester, I fell into an awesome picture. Brandee Gordon, Native Ink Tattoo, posted a picture of her holding her favorite tattoo machine.

Brandee's Machine (original picture)

It’s a bright pink tattoo machine. I emailed it to Bill and he suggested I get the machine alone, but loved the pink as it opened up discussion for gender issues and representation in the tattoo industry. I asked Brandee to take a separate picture of it, which she was more than happy to do. She has been incredibly receptive and helpful, providing me with a lot of additional information and media upon request.

Now, it just so happens that Brandee just had some new ink done on her own body and posted a Twitpic. I saw it and knew in an instant that it spoke volumes about what I was working on. Her new tattoo demonstrated the connection between art and tattooing. Again, Brandee was more than happy to let me use the picture for my potential Harper’s annotation. Here are the images I intend to use:

Brandee Gordon (new ink)

So, I’ll look to tackle the following themes in the call out boxes of my annotation:

  • [Brandee’s Ink Photo]: The move/dichotomy from tattooing as a trade to a fine art, along with the recognition as such and acceptance as a legitimate business.
  • [Brandee’s Ink Photo]: The fact that women represent the majority of people being tattooed right now and the dual struggle that women had to fight as far as gender discrimination AND perceived deviance as having tattoos
  • [Brandee’s Ink Photo]: The idea of aesthetic expression and the wearing of our “soul” on our sleeve (skin)
  • [the pink machine]: The rapidly growing tattoo industry. 6th Fastest growing retail industry, 20 shops in a 12 mile radius of my house.
  • [the pink machine]: Progression of tattoos from tapping dye under the skin to new technology, including the ability to laser remove them
  • [the pink machine]: mainstreaming of social media: TLC shows, books, etc..societies fascination with tattoos and celebrity artists.

I think that the two images compliment each other very nicely and provide a concrete base for definitive facts and solid research. Again, I am grateful to Brandee, who is on the road again…in NYC, guest tattooing and visiting there for a few days. Always on the move..lol.

I’d like to present this short film clip of Brandee at work, creating a memory on a customer’s arm and acting as the vehicle of love and a family’s embrace of generational divide. This video had a tremendous impact on the direction that my final genre piece will take. Enjoy.

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Third Eye Open to the Tattoo Nation

In Indian tradition, the third eye, or gyananakashu, represents the center of knowledge. It signifies wisdom, or enlightenment.

As a researcher, it is that moment when your efforts work independently of your actions. It’s like shaking the snow globe and then standing at its center as flakes of information fall upon your shoulders. It’s all you can do to collect the snow piling up around you and appreciate the beauty of the process.

I have been overwhelmed with the amount of cooperation, enthusiasm, passion and commitment that I have found in my research so far. The people I have interviewed have provided me with more information than I could have hoped to acquire and yet, stand ready to offer more should I need it. The purpose of this blog is to not only thank them, but to illustrate the point that those involved in the tattoo industry are proud, dedicated and supportive of their art. This is no loosely associated fraternity of like-minded individuals.

This is the Tattoo Nation.

Brandee Gordon

Brandee Gordon, of Native Ink Tattoo, has gone out of her way to answer my questions, provide me with pictures upon request, and share her time with me, despite the fact that she lives half her life on a plane, traveling from one client to another. She has taken new pictures upon request and agreed to let me use photos for my Harper’s Magazine annotation and film footage of her work, if needed. I have been in almost daily communication with her via BlackBerry messenger.

Christine O’Donnell, Mean Street Tattoo, spent hours answering questions, after a busy night at work, using her cell phone because her laptop was broken. She was determined that I understood what her craft means to her and that I knew how important her mentors are. She was excited to help promote an art and industry that she is proud to be a part of. In fact, she went on to send me a lengthy follow-up email (thank you) and has since been pursuing me to conduct a follow-up interview. Christine and I swap emails a few times a week, usually trying to chase down a time to talk in our mutually busy schedules.

Eric Foemmel volunteered to help me from the onset after hearing what I was doing. He’d been in a similar situation and was eager to help. He took time out of a busy road schedule, foregoing coffee (in the middle of his trip to get some), on one of his few days “off”, to spend 45 minutes on the phone with me. He was pleased to talk, filling pages with great information and opening up to me as if we’d known each other for ten years. He’s made it clear that if I need anything, any help, I just need to pick up the phone and call.

Brad Kingett, Risen Industries, sat for over an hour with me and talked. He’d had an entire weekend of filming and we did not know each other any more than a few emails. Our conversation was as genuine and informative as if we were not absolute strangers and I like to think that, upon leaving, we’d both expanded our circle of “friends”. He has agreed to invite me to his next film weekend for a tattoo reality television show he is spearheading.

Besides that, I have been at lunch and realized that everywhere I turned there were tattoos, and tattooed women and tattoos sneaking out from under sleeves to wink at me. People walk by engaging in conversations about tattoos. I’ve received Sunday comics about tattoos. I think I even saw that guy “Tattoo” from Fantasy Island pass me on the street the other day.

Tattoo of "Tattoo". Yep.

In other words, my research is everywhere, inundating me with resources. My Third Eye has opened to my research, and that is what we hope to accomplish as writer/researchers.

And the accumulation does not just stop with this project. It doesn’t stop with the story and the Harper’s annotation. I have at least eight other story ideas from this. I have intentions to travel to Indiana, Queens, and the remote part of Western Pennsylvania to get tattooed. Now, if only I could hit that Megamillions to support my ink desire.

I think it is important to understand that all of this does not happen unless you, the researcher, does not commit yourself fully to the process. If you are writing about miniature golf, you need to live, eat and breathe miniature golfing. Word of advice, never try to make it under the windmill. You need to blend active interviewing with ethnographic research, with intuitive creativity.

And when that third eye opens, and the snow starts falling, just spread your arms, ingest it, and be thankful for those who elect to share their world with you.

Thank you, now let’s get inking.

Incidentally, as I prepare to publish this blog tonight, Brandee Gordon is tweet connecting me to three other gentlemen with whom she believes I could learn more about the tattoo subculture from.

It’s still snowing here.