Friday, May 11, 2012

Pictures Of Tattoos

I wanted to carry on with an idea from yesterday, namely the idea that the naked body is seen without thought to class, country, or culture. I've heard it said in the context of photography, and have found it to be mostly true. Mostly true, but not entirely.

The activities of one's life does show on the body. A physical laborer will have calloused hands and probably strong muscles. A person of privilege will probably have healthy skin (fair or tan, depending on the culture) and a trim figure (again depending on culture). A fighter may be strong like the laborer, but will have a good posture and may wear the scars of battle.

Despite all of the varieties the human form can take, when you take a picture of the human body, you are seeing the person as a whole. Even a person who has a notable deformity like scars or amputations, I find that they are still whole people in photography.

The difference for me is with tattoos. I don't have anything against them or people who have them, but I find that whenever I see a picture of a person who has a tattoo, it always looks like a picture of a tattoo. The person seems secondary.

Part of it could be my bias, because they are so alien when it comes to human flesh that I focus on them. Part of it could also be the photographers, choosing to shoot in a way that shows off the tattoos. I'm sure it is a combination of both, since there are exceptions here and there. But in general, whenever I see a picture of a person with a tattoo, especially a nude, I cannot see the person as a whole.

In a sense, a tattoo becomes a kind of permanent clothing. Your natural body can no longer be seen. The standard argument is that a tattoo is an expression of a person beyond what their natural body shows, and as such, they are more real and exposed than an unmarked person. I won't say that they are wrong, but I will say that not everybody gets such meaningful tattoos.

In prose writing, it is interesting because the tattoo only exists when you mention it and, unless the reader is constantly thinking about it, it goes away when not mentioned for a while. So in a sense, you can see the person as a whole. Though, prose will always be quite different from photography.

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