The first tattoos I ever saw were on my uncle – back from the war. His son, my cousin Cliff, had “Mom” tattooed on his arm.
There is no such thing as a bad tattoo. It is a personal choice and I am not in a position to judge what a person chooses to do with their body.
A tattoo is a mark in time. It is an addition to the landscape of the body.
Back in the day, when kd lang lived in Vancouver, we were buddies. She called me up one day and said “Grab your camera -I’m going to get a tattoo”. John – the legendary Dutchman – put an old fashioned anchor put on her arm at his shop in New Westminster. As he was inking kd, John kept grinning at me and asking – “so when are you getting yours”?
The week before by birthday, kd’s assistant dropped by with a blank cheque made out to The Dutchman. So I have a tattoo of my family crest on my arm. A few years later The Dutchman gave me a spectacular Ganesh on my back. One of his hands holds a camera.
My great grandmother – also named Rosamond Norbury – had a small 1/8 inch tattoo at the base of the thumb on her hand.
The Dutchman hired me later to shoot some black and white portraits of him because there were rumours circulating that he was sick and old – nothing could be further from the truth. He has great sleeves that were done in Asia.
I really enjoyed shooting this project. There was a diverse selection of models who turned up over the three day shoot. The atmosphere in the common room was great – friendly vibes with great food. It was an easy place to get to know the models.
I only shoot men so it made the choice of models easier. I prefer to shoot men as they tend to be less precious about the portrait that is taken. They want a documentation of their work rather than a vanity portrait.
I generally use a very simple lighting set-up. I like to use just one light with, perhaps, a fill card. As a hint for shooting tattoos successfully, I would avoid using a flash on the camera because it causes glare on the skin – try to bounce the light or use a tripod and available light. In shooting any figure you want to avoid chopping off appendages – although I like it when you look at a photograph of a tattoo and have no idea where it is exactly located on the body. When you finally catch a nipple or a navel then that is the only reference point.
I shoot all my portraits with the ultimate aim of capturing the essence of that person. A tattoo just gives extra visual clues.