Pre-interview prep for Brandee Gordon, Native Ink Tattoo

Tonight I will have the pleasure of chatting with Brandee Gordon, owner of Native Ink Tattoo in central Indiana. Brandee opened Native Ink in 1998 and has established herself quite well in the industry. She has tattooed extensively amongst NFL players as well as other professional athletes. Her clients travel from across the country, and the world, for her talent. Brandee has also traveled to her customers, going as far as London and Mexico. Brandee has appeared in a number of magazines and continues to grow and succeed in a rapidly expanding industry.

I “met” Brandee through Twitter and found her to be quite friendly and informative about the craft (both traits that have no doubt helped her succeed in the close circle of professional athletes). She has been extremely helpful and responsive to my questions or comments, even when it seems that she is constantly on a plane or going somewhere to ply her trade. She has agreed to speak with me via Facebook chat tonight at 9:30.

There are a number of areas that I would like to discuss with Brandee, to include the ability of tattoos to “speak as objects of art”, the artist/customer relationship and bond she has established, the rapidly developing industry and her part in it as an artist, business owner and a mom, the power of the tattoo to embody a person’s true core. There are themes that I have stuck to throughout my previous three interviews in order to objectively piece them together across a spectrum of personalities, but there are new themes that have developed in the wake of these same interviews. For instance, a common idea of “tattooers” vs. “tattoo artists” has developed, an idea that there are true tattoo craftsmen and then there are fine artists that happen to use skin as their medium. There also seems to be disparity about the need or desire to share the complex and intimate details of a customer’s reason for their ink.

I have prepared my interview much the same as I have my previous three. I researched what I knew or could find on Brandee through her website, Facebook, Twitter and other related links. Then, I looked at why I was interviewing Brandee, how her insight was unique and at what angle she could provide me with new information, or at least another angle at looking at some previously discussed topics. I set up themed areas to hit around, but otherwise I like to let the interview develop itself. I do not like to put walls around people and force them through my gates. I want to follow their trail and see where it leads me. That’s where the best information can usually be found. It is amazing where the research takes you, often to unexpected and pleasantly surprising places.

Pre-interview for Christine O’Donnell, Mean Street Tattoo

So, tomorrow night the whirlwind of interviews continues. Interview number three in three days. Christine O’Donnell is an apprentice tattoo artist

Christine doing her first tattoo, 2009

at Mean Street Tattoo in Queens, NY. She has been kind enough to agree to talk with me tomorrow night, via Facebook chat at approximately 9:30.

In the course of my research for this project/story, I have found Twitter to be an excellent resource. If used properly, like-minded individuals, or those exhibiting an interest in a common topic, can connect regardless of time and distance. Twitter is how I “met” the artists and creative minds behind Mean Street Tattoos, to include Christine.

I am very interested in interviewing Christine for a number of reasons. To begin with, I find the tattoo apprenticeship fascinating. I chose to research tattoos, tattooing, and the artists because I find not only their craft to be powerful and beautiful, but also their very lifestyle and mindset to be liberating. So, how does the tattoo artist reach their journeyman status? What does it entail and how does it mold them? This is a very intriguing calling, and I am excited to hear what Christine has to say about it.

Christine also comes from a tattoo background. Her father is a veteran artist and has a hand in her training. So here we see a lineage of artists/craftsmen. This is an other interesting angle to explore. I wonder how often this happens? Is this a trade or craft that continues through families like so many other trades or professions (i.e. electricians, plumbers, musicians, teachers, police officers)?

I would be remiss if I did not point out that I will be looking at Christine’s gender. There are many, many more men in the tattoo industry than women. However, that is quickly changing as the number of women tattoo artists continue to enter and prosper in the trade. Kat Von D may be, perhaps, the most known or notable in the industry, but there are a lot more following suit. This is not in any way a gender issue or women in the workplace slant, but it is a subject worth noting.

Lastly, I instantly admired Christine’s honesty and forthright attitude, something that became instantly apparent in the few tweets, emails and brief phone conversation we had. She was quick to point out to me (for which I am grateful, keep teaching me, Chris) that it is NOT a tattoo gun. It is a machine.

"Guns kill. Machines create."

Guns kill, machines create. We discussed some possible ink work on me and she flat out told me that there are things she can do and things she cannot and she knows her current limits or capabilities. Furthermore, she was eager to help me with my research because she is “more than happy to help and spread the word about tattoos” and that there was “no need for thanks. It’s great to see so many people in and outside the business as passionate about tattooing as [she is].”

Christine is a young (24), refreshing and promising young talent in the art of tattooing. I look forward to speaking with her tomorrow and sharing her insight.

Though I do wish that I could sit down with her for a face to face interview, time and distance again play a factor. Facebook chat will allow for a real-time exchange and the ability to follow newly presented paths of thought (something email would not allow for). Also, I am happy that the interviews have fallen so close together. There have been ideas introduced and information presented in the previous interviews that spark new questions and branches for Christine, and Brandee Gordon on Wednesday.

Check back here as I post my follow-up, post interview blog before the end of the week.

Pre-interview prep for Eric Foemmel (Author/Ethnographer)

I had the pleasure of meeting Eric in Philadelphia, at the 2011 Philadelphia Tattoo Arts convention. Eric is the man responsible for putting the wild and crazy life experiences of Crazy Philadelphia Eddie (an icon in the tattoo industry) into words. It is Eric’s words that breathe life into Eddie’s life story.

Eric conducted his graduate studies at Penn State University, with his primary interest in the American tattoo culture. In fact, Eric spent some time in Los Angeles, conducting ethnographic field research at Traditional Ink Tattoo. His interest and immersion in the field eventually led him to Eddie, and their two-volume book length project “Tattooing, The Life and Times of Crazy Philadelphia Eddie”. When Eric heard I was conducting research on a shared topic, he was instantly supportive and eagerly offered me advice and support in my endeavors. For this, I am greatly appreciative.

After posting some recent blogs on my research and the themes I am exploring, Eric contacted me to weigh in on the subject matter. As it stands, he is touring the country with Eddie,

Crazy Philadelphia Eddie

attending tattoo conventions and promoting their new book. Their travels incorporate friends of Eddies, old and new, of which he has no shortage of.  One of which is Lyle Tuttle, another icon in the industry. Lyle has graced the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine, tattooed Janis Joplin and Cher’s behind, and angered the iconic Sailor Jerry enough that the Rolling Stone cover ended up in SJ’s toilet bowl for a bit. After breakfast with both Lyle and Eddie, and having read my blog, Eric contacted me to offer some thoughts on my research.

Since then, we have been in contact and Eric has invited me to pick his brain a bit, an opportunity that I will most assuredly seize. So, in preparation for our phone interview, I did some more research on Eric, on his company ( Uptown Research, LLC), on his travel blog, and in his book, of which I read and thoroughly enjoyed. However, I wanted to approach Eric as an ethnographer, not merely as Eddie’s ghostwriter. Obviously, his experiences with Eddie on the road have provided him with incredible insight into the mind of a man who has been tattooing since 1952. Sure, he can speak a bit for the man, but I wanted to get his objective insight as a learned researcher. And so, as I prepared my interview bullets and topics to explore, I kept that in the forefront of my thoughts.

The first thing I did was to compose a document that listed what I knew about Eric. I reviewed his listed influences (other ethnographers and authors in the field of the tattoo culture), his studies, his business. I looked at his comments on my research and thoughts of the men with whom he was traveling with. Then, I created a document that organized the themes I am interested in pursuing as I further develop my research project. Between what I knew or had shared with Eric, and the extensive notes I compiled while reading his book, I created a final document that outlined the direction I hoped our phone interview would take.

Notes from Book p.1

Notes from Book p.2

Notes from Book p.3

I am interviewing Eric for his experiences, thoughts, research into the tattoo culture. Although he may be influenced by his time with Eddie and other artists he has enjoyed meeting along the way, it is his information that I hope to gain some insight into. Eric is traveling around the country, sharing the memories and experiences of a man who has walked a most colorful life, a man I was fortunate enough to meet for a few moments one Saturday afternoon.

Crazy Eddie & Eric Foemmel

I look forward to my conversation with Eric and, who knows, the next time he and Eddie come back this way, I might just have them over for dinner. Eric, Eddie, my wife’s a hell of a cook, so here’s the invite…

Research Interview Schedule & Ambiguous Flux

As it stands, my interview schedule is in a somewhat tenuous position. The players are there, but the stage has not been set. However, I can tell you this:

Christine from Mean Street Tattoo, NY, will be interviewing with me via Facebook chat on Tuesday, March 15th at 9:30. Christine is an apprentice tattoo artist with a year’s experience under her belt.

Brandee Gordon, of Native Ink Tattoo, has graciously agreed to conduct an online interview with me. I have mentioned Ms. Gordon in several blogs and she has expressed her consent to help me in my research. However, she is currently out of town on business and I am waiting to iron out an interview time.

Update as of 3/8/2011: Brandee and I have established contact and will be conducting our interview via Blackberry Messenger next week at a time to be determined.

Brian Dicola, of Eddie’s Tattoo and Loyalty Ink, has communicated that he would be willing to talk to me at the Philadelphia shop (he is there on Wednesdays). I am trying to nail down the night of the 16th (March), but have not received confirmation.

Erin Kane, of Infamous Arts Gallery, will be unable to interview with me. She is suffering from some wisdom teeth issues and is in major pain.

I took this opportunity to look at the scope of my potential interview subjects and realized they were all tattoo artists. Christine offers a nice perspective as an apprentice, a role I feel is crucial to understand in my forming of trade roles and cultural establishment. It occurred to me that I ought to expand my interviewing scope.

Tonight I sent an email to an old friend of mine and extremely interesting (and knowledgeable individual), Dr. Lucio Angelo Privitello. Dr. Privitello is a professor of philosophy at Stockton College with interests in a variety of genre crossing and pseudo-mystical studies. In fact, he recently created a ran a course last semester focusing on philosophy and the HBO series “True Blood”, using the show to study death and immortality. Immortality, a theme I conceive will take a lead role in my eventual story. I am awaiting a reply from Dr. Privitello.

Dr. Lucio Angelo Privitello

Update as of 3/8/2011: Dr. Privitello has agreed to interview with me. His recent class (and subsequent class composed book length project) explores death, immortality, and the preservation and understanding of the self. These are aspects that are very close to the heart of my project. I will be attending his lecture on Proust, at Stockton College, on March 26th. We will be sitting down to talk after his lecture.

Update, as of 3/8/2011: Alexa Mantell was kind enough to point me in the direction of her friend, Brad Kingett, owner of Risen Industries (A film and photography company with dedicated art interests). Brad is working on a project that has not released any official information yet, and so I will not divulge. Needless to say, it is related to my research project. The following application was posted to Risen Industries Facebook wall:

Brad is interested in my research topic and has agreed to sit down with me for a face to face interview. We are tentatively scheduled to meet Monday, the 14th.

 

As changes and scheduling updates occur, I will post them to this page, maintaining a current interview schedule.

Through the Looking Glass (regarding field research)

Field research is a skill honed through practice. Not only does interviewing take some time to develop a level of comfort and confidence, but so too does our ability to actively observe. Active observing necessitates that the researcher not only engage the object of his studies in complete sensory digestion, but also balance the recording of field notes. After all, it is these notes to which we return after we have retired from our field studies. It is our recorded observations which we rely on to jog our memories and fuel the spark from basic notation to vivid experience.

Above all, our purpose as ethnographic researchers is to “describe a social world and its people.” (Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes, p. 68)

We recently had the pleasure of putting these skills to work as part of our Research Methods for Writers course (see Bowling for…Research!). Part of our responsibility was to upload, share and discuss our field notes transcriptions and the experience itself. As is to be expected, the experiences and reactions of my peers were widely varied.

This seemed to hold true especially for a perceived feeling of general animosity toward us as outside “observers” and a discomfort level with conducting interviews. Understandably, interviewing is a developed skill. Approaching complete strangers and getting them to open up to you requires a measure of trust, and a mutual thread of reward. You gain valuable information, while the interviewed enjoys the value placed upon their information and the interest with which it is gathered.

I did not perceive this same feeling of animosity that a majority of my peers felt. Neither did I find myself unwilling or hesitant to approach any of the bowlers with questions. I was not alone in this, but it did seem that we few were the minority. Now, it is interesting to me, as I reflect on my own levels of research, that perhaps those who are on the more cautious side have a self-preserving shield.

As discussed in J.W. Creswell’s book, Qualitative Inquiry & Research Design (2nd ed.), ethnographic research carries with it an implied risk. Proper data collection requires longer time in the field, longer time living amongst your research subjects. The danger is in the researcher losing himself in the process, or as Creswell states, “going native” or “compromising oneself.” I wonder if it is easier for those lacking this hesitation in interview approach or ease of comfort in field situations to succumb to such compromising? Do we, who do not know this level of separation, place ourselves in jeopardy of losing ourselves in the very same culture that we elect to observe and report upon?

It’s an interesting thought. It’s akin to a gun that has lost its safety. There is no fail safe. These are the dangers of the ethnographic researcher. There is that desire to creep closer to our research. Closer. Closer, until we teeter on the edge of responsibility and hope that we’ll fall back the other way, onto “our side of the fence.”