Scarlet Letter? Hester’s Lucky She Didn’t Know This Guy..

Thanks to Alexa for this timely, and bizarre, article. It’s kind of like a modern-day “Scarlet Letter”, set in China…with a crazed, knife wielding, jealous lunatic. So, you’s familiar.

The premise? Husband feels as though wife is cheating on him (and has been for some time). In an obvious moment of rational decision-making [rolls eyes], he attacks her, ties her up, and offers her the following choices:

1. Get a vasectomy and stay at home to take care of the children

2. Have her supposed lover give 1 million RMB to the husband (this is the equivalent of about $153,000)

3. They all go to court to solve the problem

4. The husband disfigures her face so that she will be unappealing to anyone else and her infidelity will be known

Raise your hand if number 3 sounds like a pretty good choice. Ok, good. In an equally compelling moment of wisdom, the wife opted for choice #4. If you ever find yourself in this position, you ought to know that the other alternatives turn out to be a bad idea…and that someone is going to go ahead and blog about you.

The victim, Xiaowei

Crazy knife wielding husband cuts the word “degrading” (cheap, lowly..depends on the translation) into both of her cheeks. But that’s not good enough. He proceeds to rub ash and dirt into the wounds. He makes sure she does not leave the house until well after the wounds have begun to get infected and scar, you know, making sure she doesn’t do anything crazy, like clean them out.

He’s in jail, she is disfigured, and I’m still shaking my head. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s got nothing on this story.

As disturbing as the story is, it brings to light another facet of tattoos often overlooked and sometimes forgotten. Tattoos are not always, and have not always been, art choices selected as individual expression. One need only look to the Nazi concentration camps during WWII, or the Russian prisons and Stalinist gulags. Tattoos have been used to mark prisoners, like branding cattle. These tattoos were painfully applied with needles, using ink made from soot and urine. Death was not uncommon.

As much as you can choose to permanently paint your body, that choice can very easily be made by another. When you are stripped of individual power and conscious decision-making, when you become nothing more than property, subject to whatever whim your captor may have, even your skin is no longer yours.

Tattoos have the power to convey your soul, to create art through aesthetic expression. Tattoos also have the power to corrupt, staining the soul or removing individual liberties. For good or for bad, these permanent marks will tell the world a story….

Life, Death and Proust with Lucio Privitello (Post-interview)

It’s a nice morning and spring whispers seductively that she is entertaining the idea of coming around for good. It’s a nice drive to the Stockton campus, where I’ll be attending Dr. Lucio Privitello’s lecture on Marcel Proust and his seven volume work “In Search of Lost Time.” The lecture is part of Stockton’s Classical Humanities lecture series, as presented by the Classical Humanities Society of South Jersey. Lucio is the president of the society and, as referenced in my pre-interview blog, an old friend of mine.

I find the building, and the room, with relative ease. It’s surprising that the campus seems so quiet. The lecture is set up in a small room inside the “K” building. A dozen or so people are there, seated in those “Little House on the Prairie” desks. You know, the “ABC Afterschool Special” kind of desks with the writing section attached so that you need to be a contortionist to sit down. Either that or a hobbit. There is a table against the wall with some water and snacks. I’ll eventually try the cookies (after the lecture). They are ridiculously tasty and it’s a good thing I did wait, lest I may have spent the entire time devouring cookies instead of taking notes.

A lot of the people seem to know each other and I assume that they are members of the Humanities Society. The grey haired heads in the room outnumber those whose follicles have not turned distinguished traitor. From what I gather, some of  these younger attendees are here to fulfill class obligations, while others are there of their own accord.

I set up at a desk in the back, MacBook running. The room has a chalkboard. An honest to goodness, chalk dust, eraser necessary, chalkboard.

Lucio strolls in looking much the same as always. Hair down to the middle of his back, mostly grey, nicotine influenced black in some of the more rebellious areas. He’s wearing his black, leather jacket. It’s so worn that the black has become grey in some spots. Same Italian leather boots. Same dark glasses on his head.

He sees me and a smile lights up his face. We shake hands and give that kind of half-handshake, half-hug, man kind of greeting that requires a back pat. He smells of patchouli and Camel cigarettes. It is truly great to see him again.

I sit down and listen as Lucio presents a fascinating look into the life of Marcel Proust

Marcel Proust

and his staggering work on “In Search of Lost Time.” In truth, I was not initially familiar with Proust and agreed to attend the lecture as a convenient means of sitting down with Lucio. Both of our schedules are exceedingly busy and this seemed to work best for both of us. I did some preliminary research and was intrigued at the possible parallels and connections Proust’s work had to the themes and concepts intended for my own research project. Lucio intended to dissect Proust and his masterpiece, intent on illuminating the author’s use of the classics.

As the lecture marched on, I found myself discovering that there were more and more points either directly related to concepts I’d planned to inject into my story, or fresh ideas lurking, yet undiscovered. I’d been ambushed by an unsuspected research opportunity! My fingers danced along the keys as Lucio lectured and Proust taught. By the time the lecture was over, I had 5 pages of type-written notes.

I must mention that the lecture, and more importantly Proust (again), had a rewarding subplot. Proust desired nothing more than to create, to write. His entire laborious effort was to produce writing and to examine and immerse himself in that process. It was enlightening and encouraging as a creator, as a writer, research project and story aside.

Some of the key concepts that I pulled from the lecture and intend to use in my story are:

  • “..the object that, in essence, captures the person lost..” Proust believed that there was some object, outside of the intellect, that would be a catalyst for memory, for rediscovery of a lost love. This thing could not be searched for. It had to be stumbled upon. I intend to use tattoos, as portraits done on skin, as the catalyst object. The idea of removing it from active thought and making it a “fated” discovery is intriguing.
  • Proust’s idea that “the value of the work you wish to create is equal to the life that you provide for it.” I intend to make the art of tattooing akin to sorcery in the hands of those trained, Ars Tattooica. If an inkslinger loved someone deep enough, could they infuse said portrait with the power to capture their soul?
  • Art triumphs over the destructive power of time. I’ll play with serial immortality here and art as the means to create life where death has left a void. Proust’s conceptual struggle of “cruel enchantment.”
  • Proust’s concept of the three “Ways”; three roads in life – Proust’s definition of how the world made sense to him. The Way of Love, The Way of Art (creativity), and the Way of Society. In my story, which seems to be falling into a tragic love story in a dark and dystopian world, The Way of Love becomes the Way of Lost Love (death), The Way of Art (Tattoos) and The Way of Society (mainstream vs. deviants).
  • Proust’s idea of “Paradise Lost” and how it can drive the pursuit to create art. Proust explains that poets try to find paradise to inspire and revitalize the spirit, but that “true paradises are those we have lost.” Loss is the impetus for the revitalization of writing.

I feel compelled to tell you that Proust was quite the ethnographic researcher as well. He spent a lot of his nights attending high society affairs just so that he could get the proper way one might wear a hat, or what dances were done in certain company, etc. He was a slave to detail, often completing one page, sending it to the printer, and then marking it up completely when receiving it. This is why it took him 17 years to complete his manuscript, but this was his search for order in the creative process. He was immersed in an inner journey to understand the process, the journey, much the same as was intended for our Research Methods for Writers course. Let’s just hope it does not take us 17 years.

The lecture concludes and I wrap up, allowing Lucio the time to speak with those who linger to talk to him. He introduces me to George Plamantouras, from the Department of Greek Studies. George filmed the lecture and later, when Lucio and I are talking in his office, he’ll stop by to give me a copy of the latest Greek Studies publication,  The Hellenic Voice.

I help Lucio take down some of the flyers advertising today’s lecture, stopping outside with him as he takes a Camel cigarette break.

It’s nice out and we talk about grad classes (he’s interested to hear about my studies), my projects, and about poetry. His wife is a poet and studying at Stockton. We reminisce a bit about the days at Glassboro and I’m surprised to hear that he still has a project of mine I forgot ever submitting. I knew he had one project that a friend and I had turned in, these aged and arcane scrolls, but not this other. He kindly tells me that “students like [me] elevate the entire graduate program, because [we] provide energy to the professors. [We] get [them] excited and energized.”

I put that here, not to boast, or pat myself on the back, but to illustrate to my peers that your level of enthusiasm and dedication is reflective in the energy returned in academia. That again Proust’s concepts come to roost: “the value of the work you wish to create is equal to the life that you provide for it.”

He draws in the last of his cigarette and says, “This is great. This is really great, keeping in touch like this, after all these years.” He shakes his head, “Aw, man. I meant to mention you at the end of the lecture. This is a perfect example of the lecture.” He is referring to the concept of something lost and fading from memory, returning to revitalize and rekindle friendship or love, and the spark it ignites in the soul of the creator.

We retire to his office, a small but cozy niche in the philosophy department. He has his desk and bookshelves, a comfortable love seat, a coffee maker and a small curio table. It’s dim, reminiscent of a small, city coffee shop. The walls are filled with pictures and post cards, of musical, literary and cinematic figures. Skulls and art and curious artifacts make the room a blend of Indiana Jones meets Aleister Crowley.

We sit and discuss the lecture a bit, about Proust, about where my project is going and what the story is. He is excited about the opportunity Proust has afforded me and intrigued by my idea of immortality via art. He digs through a pile of books that he has and finds a copy of his class text for his “Philosophies of Life and Death” class. His last copy. He begins by telling me all of the chapters I would find most resourceful, flipping through the text. Finally, he hands it to me. “I think you should have this,” he says. I cannot begin to tell you how excited I am. Not only do I understand the level of connection this man has to each and every text he claims his own, but this was put together by Lucio himself, a man I deeply respect and admire. I accept it with, what I hope, is understood as sincere gratitude.

We talk about immortality a bit more and the various cultural thoughts behind the soul, tattoos and the afterlife. I show him my note filled, dog-eared copy of The History of Tattooing. “Meghan would love this,” he says, referring to his wife. “She has a number of books about tattooing.” He stops to admire all the writing in the margins of the book. “This is what I love,” he says. “I stop whenever I see a student writing in their book, making notes.” He says that he let’s them know they’re doing the right thing, engaging the reading.

We talk about the aesthetics of expression and about tattoos. Lucio tells me that his own tattoos are “Signals for himself”. They are “acupuncture memories”, “bookmarks.” He begins to relate to me some of the concepts behind his own tattoos.

On the outside of his right hand, along the webbing between thumb and forefinger is tattooed, in Latin: Love your fate.

This has been put on his right hand specifically because he is right-handed, because that is the hand he shakes with.

On his left, in the same spot, is tattooed in Latin: laugh if you are wise.

He has placed them both in mirror spots because they compliment each other, like bookends. They bring things full circle.

The famous Davinci man is tattooed on his right arm. To Lucio it represents the travels his life has led him through. The order of things. On his left arm he has Georges Bataille’s Acephale man. This is not surprising considering Lucio’s love of Nietzsche and studies on death. But again, these are the alpha and the omega, the beginning and end. There is an order here. Lucio reiterates the importance of placement with tattoos. It echoes the sentiment that this is not just art, for art’s sake, but that this is an inner sense of self, translated on skin for oneself and for the world. It is an “apprenticeship in creativity,” he says.

He explains that when he leaves his body, when he dies, for a time those images will remain and that is, in a sense, an extension of life. A presentation of immortality that, if followed, presents his trajectory for life.

We say our goodbyes, reiterating how great it was to see each other again. Summer approaches and both of our schedules will ease up a bit. We vow to get together for dinner. He and Meghan coming down our way, Kristen and I coming up to see them. I haven’t seen his new place since I helped him move the “library of Alexandria” last summer.

The trip home is an exhilarating rehashing of how wonderful the research process is when you actively engage it and the mystery of life’s journey.

A Visit to Mystic Eye Tattoo

I took a ride over to Mystic Eye Tattoo yesterday, looking to take some notes for further field research. It was nice out, sunny and not too cold for once. The shop is about ten minutes away. I’d stopped in earlier to make sure that it would be okay. Matt Doherty, the artist who is working on my sleeve (which has not been touched in over a year..tattoos are not cheap) told me that it would be no problem.

So, here I am. It’s 4:41 p.m., Saturday and I’m in a strip mall that has seen better days. Mystic Eye Tattoo is on Greentree Road in Turnersville, next to an auto body shop that apparently (if their sign is to be believed) specializes in transmissions. The tattoo shop anchors the left flank of stores. The rest are, in this order: C&E Uniforms, Japan/China Food (a very original business name), and Crown Chicken/Crown Taco. All except the tattoo shop are ghosts of businesses past. Empty storefronts, dark and desolate interiors. There is a “Quick Shop” in the lot next door.

I grab my notebook and pen, and back up pen, and smile inwardly that I don’t have to wear a jacket today. The neon sign on the door says “Open”. The front window case is filled with Egyptian statues, a big Buddha, gargoyles and obelisks..all very intriguing and mystical.

Field notes, p.1

I enter the shop and the front room is empty, except for the girl sitting at the computer, behind the counter. I recognize her as one of the artists, but she doesn’t know me. It’s been over a year since I’ve been there. She smiles and asks if she can help me. I can see down the hall into Matt’s room. He has someone on the table, being tattooed. There is a dark-haired girl sitting in the room as well.

I tell who I am and that Matt said it was cool if I came by. I remind her that Matt started my sleeve (a tattoo that covers your entire arm). She says, “Oh yeah, I don’t think you had long hair then. It looks good long.” I thank her and tell her I plan on growing it out (much to my wife’s chagrin). “Yeah,” she says, “I have friends that tried to grow it out but had to cut it because of work and all. You should keep growing it.”

I tell her that I just want to take some notes, observe a bit. I notice she does not have a client and so I ask her if I could pick her brain a bit as well. She agrees, just as soon as she is done sending her message on the computer. It turns out she’s on Facebook. The guy who was getting tattooed eventually comes out from Matt’s room and busts her chops for being on Facebook on “company time.” She tells him, jokingly, that she has “a fan group.”

Field notes, p. 2-3

I sit in the front room, on the larger of the two green super comfy couches. The coffee table is covered with at least 30 different tattoo magazines. Some of the titles are Tattoo Society, Tattoo Review, Inked, and International Tattoo. A majority of them feature beautiful women in provocative poses on their covers.

A variety of art adorns the lime green walls. On the wall to my left an Indian brave rides a charging boar through a jungle, and a flower blooms to reveal dancing figures of flame bodies. Plastic bamboo plants and ferns fill out some of the corners and line the walls. Plastic ivy winds along the walls. There is a corner curio cabinet with more statues of Pharaohs, Greek sculptures and Aboriginal boomerangs. The wall across from me is covered with awards and certifications. More primitive statues decorate the shop, many of which seem as though they could be pulled out of the pages of National Geographic or Smithsonian Magazine.

Two rows of fluorescent light fixtures illuminate the shop from the drop ceiling. A radio is playing from one of the back rooms. It’s quiet. The buzz of the machine does not permeate the air like you’d expect.

Tracey Morse, the tattoo artist who spoke to me when I came in, walks out from behind the counter, through one of those swinging doors, like a hinged gateway separating the lobby from the realm of ink. “So, what’d you want to ask me?” she says. She sits down on the couch across from me. She’s wearing jeans, green Doc Martins (oddly similar to a pair that I sold once on Ebay and, to this day, regret doing) and an artsy kind of shirt with sheer sleeves that make some of her own tattoos visible as if looking at them through dragonfly wings.

Tattoo by Tracey Morse

I’d gone into the shop with the intention of just making some observations and recording data about the environment itself, but now I was faced with a spur of the moment interview. I’m quick to adjust. I ask her to talk to me about the process, about the machines she uses and needle sizes and uses. Tracey begins to rattle off facts and data about the machines that sound more like a motorhead discussing engine dynamics than a tattoo artist talking about her machine.

She talks about the variables in the machines. She tells me that she uses a coil machine that requires more adjustment and tinkering based off of needle grouping. These groups can range anywhere from one to five needles and more variables react to the gauge size of the respective needles.Tracey tells me that Matt uses a rotary machine that relies more on voltage settings to determine the speed and force of the penetration, as well as the depth setting of the throw. She is spitting facts as if she were telling me how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. She talks about pre-calibrated force and resonance and as I nod and scribble into my notebook, she says “I’m probably speaking Greek to you.” I wonder if Greek would be easier to learn.

Field notes, p. 4-5

Tracey explains that a lot of the control over the machine just comes with practice and experience. A tattoo artist can gauge the operation of their machine by the chattering, “like a car engine.” She uses a meter to measure how smoothly her machine is operating in order to take any of the guess-work out of it. She talks a little about the specifics of needle gauges and weight. There is a spring gauge setting that depends on how small the needles are. My head’s spinning, but I know that she has a customer coming in soon and I want to see where this conversation goes. I don’t want to interrupt her for exact mechanical functioning of the machine. There’s more I want to hear about the process and besides, I know I can come back to them, or email Matt if I need clarification.

Tracey explains that needles fall into a few different layouts: round grouping, stacked, fanned out (staggered) and round shaders. These are the typical needle configurations. She uses at least two machines per tattoo, especially if color is involved. A typical machine selection is one with fine needles and another bold shader (there are various shaders: liner shaders, bold shaders, etc). If it’s a simple name tattoo, she might just use one machine.

Field notes, p. 6-7

I ask them about the colors they use and what that entails. I understand that once you open them up you have to use them. Tracey explains that they have expiration dates and that you pour what you intend to use for a specific tattoo into a work cup. Some are very concentrated and she’ll use water and glycerine to thin it a bit. They come in 1 oz. to 8 oz. bottles, depending on the color. They use a lot of white and black, and there are different kinds of black. For instance, there’s blue-black and then heavy black.

Matt is done in the back and is standing at the counter listening. “Blue black?” he says. They engage in a discussion about the different shades of black.

We start talking about the process of the tattoo and how it starts with the concept. Matt explains that a large part of the process is being able to aesthetically incorporate a customer’s ideas and intent. Tracey adds that a lot of the tattoos are very meaningful and you “form a bond with the person.” I notice that there are no flash panels on the wall, or books of flash (flash is a  pre-designed, stock tattoo to use). Matt says that flash is still used a bit and that there are some good books, but the trends have mostly moved past that. There are a lot of trends in the business, like for a while every person who came through the door wanted Chinese lettering. I suppress the urge to laugh. I have such a tattoo on my chest. It is the hexagram for “The Traveler”, pulled straight out of the I-Ching. I was 19 and one of my best friends and I had the same symbol put on the same spots on our bodies. No regrets, but it’s funny to hear it called a trend.

Matt believes there is more custom work now because you have more artists getting into the tattoo business. The work coming out now is influenced by the artists getting into the trade.

Field notes, p. 8-9

“It’s less cookie cutter,” Tracey adds.

Matt expounds on it and explains that tattooing used to be treated like, and considered, more of a trade. Now it is more of an art form. This is a sentiment that has been repeated numerous times in the research I have been doing. It is a sentiment expressed by newer, younger tattoo artists and retired, venerated tattoo artists like Crazy Philadelphia Eddie.

Tracey tells me that was how she got into the business. She didn’t know anything about tattooing, but she brought in her own art for her tattoo. At the time they did not have any artists to create original tattoos. They had boards of flash on the wall. She started doing their art for them, drawing tattoos for the tattooists. It got her foot in the door and that’s how she started.

I ask her how difficult it was to transition into working on skin. “It was different transferring to a new medium,” she says. “The machine runs you at first until you master the variables.” She worked on friends and volunteers for a little over a year before she was ready to take on paying customers.

She’s getting ready for her appointment now, up and about. I tell her how it still seems so complicated to me and how much I have been learning. I mention my awareness of the terminology and “machine” vs. “gun.” “Yeah,” she smiles, “gun is a cardinal sin word.”

“Have you gone to any of the conventions?” she asks. I tell her that I did go to the Philadelphia Tattoo Convention. She tells me that the New York convention is a great one to go to. She believes it’s in May. She’s not sure about Baltimore, she’s never been.

Field notes, p. 10-11

We talk a little bit about the freedom of being a tattoo artist, how you have the artistic freedom to create, you can dress how you want, grow your hair if you want, live free and able to openly express your individuality while meeting interesting people from all walks of life. Tracey says she “counts her lucky stars every day”. She’s extremely happy with her lot in life. She pulls at her hair (it’s kind of pulled up and back into a ponytail/bun kind of thing). “You don’t even have to do your hair,” she laughs. “But you still have to present a decent appearance. You have to have respect for the people coming in. You can’t be a douche.”

I’m making some more notes about the shop in general. Matt and Tracey are gearing up for their 6:00 appointments. A younger guy walks in, prob in very, very early twenties, if not twenty on the nose. He asks if they “charge by the letter.” Tracey tells him that they “charge by style, intricacy, and how much time it takes.” She asks him if he wants to see a style book of lettering, but he declines. She also tells him that if he has a sample or something they cold take a look at that. He looks a little bewildered, as if the idea of standing in the tattoo shop itself is intoxicating. “Do you take walk-ins?” he asks. Tracey says that “more often than not we’re booked.” She recommends an appointment.

Tattoo by Matt Doherty

Matt comes around and has a seat on the couch formerly occupied by Tracey. It’s like a tag team tattoo artist information feed. Matt starts to tell me more about the act of tattooing. You have to hold the machine at a 45 degree angle. You can tell, he says, just by the vibrations of the machine hitting the skin if it’s a good line or not. Again, it comes with time and experience.

We talk about the influx of tattoo shops in the area and the growing business nationwide. He mentions Empire Tattoo for instance. He says that they have now 4 or 5 shops, all in the last year. But, he says, the owner markets the hell out of his business. Matt uses pizza parlors as an example. He explains that it’s not too hard to make pizza. There are pizza places everywhere in south Jersey, but they all manage to generate business. And with pizza, he’ll still eat it even if it is just “tolerable.” However, with tattoos, it’s a little bit more complex. “If you’re good, you’re good,” he says. “Your work speaks for itself.” People find an artist they like and feel comfortable with and dedicate their business to them. Less skilled artists are usually cheaper, he says. Again, I think, good tattoos aren’t cheap and cheap tattoos aren’t good. It usually works itself out, he explains. The more detailed, more complicated tattoos are going to require a better, more experienced artist.

“You have to promote yourself,” he says. “Not too many tattoo artists do that.” Matt went to school for graphic arts, specifically for things like book covers and fantasy art. He tells me that those artists pound the pavement. They research prospective markets and potential employers. It’s a lot of work in order to be successful. You don’t see that in tattooing. It seems to be more of a laid back, let the work come to you kind of atmosphere. But, he explains, the owner of Empire Tattoo has a billboard, has had mailers, bought a commercial spot last year during Monday Night Football.

Matt tells me that he is actually taking the shop over. Dave, the previous owner (and his previous boss) is already living in California. Matt has promotion plans and ideas for mailers and coupons (yes, tattoo coupons. Start clipping). I ask him if he intends to make any major changes. He’ll keep the name, he says, but the first thing he intends to do (as he eyes up the lime green walls) is paint.

He also tells me that he has a new apprentice, a friend from art school. She is close to being able to do work on paying customers. The process of apprenticeship entails a lot of drawing, a lot of practicing on friends and volunteers. Matt and Tracey both say that they had people lining up to volunteer. “If you mess it up, just fix it when you get better,” their friends would tell them. An apprentice needs to do about 2000 hours (one year) before the board of health comes in to certify them. They also have to take a blood borne pathogens course.

Tracey’s customer is in, a woman named Rachel. She is getting a dog memorial on the back of her neck, a paw print. Apparently she is on an antibiotic and has to call her pharmacy to make sure it’s okay to get tattooed. While she is on the phone, Matt and I discuss tattoos and mysticism and shrunken heads. Did you know that the headhunters shrunk the heads of their victims so that their soul did not escape to seek vengeance on them? Yeah, wild, huh? Rachel is off the phone. It’s okay to get tattooed.

Matt orders his dinner from a new delivery place. Some kind of turkey wrap. It’s nice to see he’s eating healthy. Matt appears to be in good shape, short cut hair, no visible tattoos from the biceps down, except for the pencil thin mustache on his finger. There is a picture in his tattoo room of he and his girlfriend with their fingers up under their noses, displaying their elegant mustaches. The sign on the counter states that there is a $100 minimum for any tattoo. A $1oo deposit is also required.

We sit and talk about school and kids. He remembers pulling at least one all-nighter a week. As a painter and fellow creator, he is interested in the whole process of what I am doing and understands the value of objective research for a subjective piece. It’s like panning for gold. You cast the net, pull up a whole load of silt and filter it through for the good stuff. We talk about my other projects and about painting and how easy it is to get bored with a long project. For him, it’s doing the background after the excitement of the detail work. For me, it’s sticking with a long novel when fresh ideas present themselves.

Field notes, p. 12-13

We talk a little bit about his new daughter, 6 months old. We talk about the couches. He thinks the one he is sitting on is just not deep enough. It’s just casual, comfortable talk, the kind of interaction that lends itself to a long-term relationship in which I can speak freely with him and he with me.

But, it’s getting to be that time. Tracey is in her room with Rachel. Matt has to get his station together for his appointment. He let’s me know that if I have any questions at all or need any help, just stop in, call him, email him. Whatever I need to do, he’d be glad to help me out.

Tattoo by Matt Doherty

We talk about my unfinished sleeve. He tells me that he’ll cut the price a bit for me, giving me about a 30% discount. He looks it over again and gauges how long it will take to finish certain areas. “I’m much faster now,” he tells me. He also says that some of the original needs a little touch up detail, some of the lines and some color need work. He says that’s free of charge, just come in and if he doesn’t have an appointment, he’ll work on it. “I’m a lot better than a year ago,” he says. “The more you do, the better you get.”

We shake hands, and I assure him that I’ll hit him up if any other questions come to mind. I have the itch to get more work done on my sleeve and so if the money tree decides to sprout a new branch of spare cash, I’ll use some to work on my incomplete sleeve. I’m going to try to get in and get a little touch up work done on it, take him up on his offer.

I see good things happening for Mystic Eye Tattoo. Matt is young, energetic and driven to succeed. I know he’ll do well and I look forward to seeing them succeed. The afternoon was, as has been all of my research thus far, fruitful and successful in building a bridge into the future.

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.

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 Prep for Brad Kingett, Risen Industries

My peer and friend, Alexa Mantell, was kind enough to point me in Brad’s direction. Brad is the owner of Risen Industries,

Risen Industries

a film and photography company that encompasses quite a spectrum of projects. Brad is filming a project for television that revolves around the tattoo industry and incorporates accepted “applicants” for on-air tattoos. Now, I have to profess that I am not aware of many of the project’s details. This past weekend was the first “shoot” and much of the talk has been kept under wraps for now. I hope to remedy that situation tomorrow night.

I will be meeting Brad at the Barnes & Noble cafe’ in Glassboro, Monday, March 14th at 6:30 p.m. Brad is from the area and also has an art gallery in downtown Glassboro. I think that Brad will be an excellent resource for me for two reasons. His film project is obviously of great interest, especially in the wake of those major shows that have come before (LA Ink, Miami Ink, etc). The opportunity to discuss the project, the direction of it and intended goals will be important in illustrating society’s  continued trends and interest in the art of tattooing. There are also thoughts that the industry has veered wildly off course from the intentions of the “fore fathers” of tattooing. There are those who feel that this change is to be embraced as it has catapulted the tattoo industry into an accepted part of mainstream society. These are some of the thoughts I’d like to discuss with Brad as we sit down over our triple, double mocha half-calf, iced double grande lattes (kidding, I’ll probably skip the ice).

The other side of the coin, is that I’d like to talk to Brad as an artist. Not a tattoo artist, but a graphic/fine artist. He works with many different media and it is interesting to me (especially in light of Lorraine Daston’s “Things That Talk”) what his thoughts are on tattoos as an art form. I’d like to know how he perceives the evolution of the craft and if/how tattoos can “speak” to us.

As far as Gubrium and Holstein’s “Postmodern Interviewing” is concerned, I believe that my interview with Brad will be an active interview, with a “developing plot” (p. 75). The parameters of the topic are so loosely connected that I cannot be entirely sure which path our conversation will take us. There is also the consideration that I am not entirely informed as to the breadth of the tattoo film project and/or Brad’s experiences with it. By conducting the interview in a fluid and dynamic fashion, it will ensure that we are both able to enjoy and contribute to the conversation.

I am looking forward to my interview with Brad tomorrow and very pleased with how receptive he was to sitting down with me.

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.