Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Tattoosday #5: Dolphins, Shackles and Skulls, oh My!

So last week, BillyBlog received its first unsolicited tattoo submission. I had no specific policy on this, but decided that, due to a gloomy week in NYC, I could use all the help I could get. Tat number one is blogged by proxy, courtesy of The Ancient One, Blessed Be He. He is, after all, Dear Old Dad, so I couldn't possibly refuse. Well, I could, but that would just be silly.

Dad wrote:

If you are willing to accept photos from others, I have attached a tattoo photo taken ... of the lower leg ...[of] one Suze Campagna, an extraordinary stage manager whom I featured on the blog a month or so ago. I have seen this tattoo often but yesterday I asked to take a picture of it and have her permission to send it to you. I can't offer too much back story. Suze turned 40 recently (like you) and when I asked about the little dolphin, she said it was her first tattoo and that she got it in celebration of her 30th birthday.
Thanks, Ancient One!

So, as mentioned, it was a cool, rainy week and the preponderance of flesh, let alone inked flesh, was atypical of August in the Big Apple. However....

The sun came out late Thursday, followed Friday by a slew of tattoos.

I discovered early on that my old reluctance had returned. I saw some nice ink, but everyone seemed to be heading somewhere in a hurry. Imagine that, in New York City!

But late Friday I was headed to a Cyclones game (thanks, Atlantis Health Plan, for the free tickets!) and the prospect of heading to Coney Island excited the tattoo aficionado in me.

But on my way to the ATM before hitting the subway, I saw a guy standing in front of The Garden, smoking a cigarette. He appeared to be covered with tattoos. Without hesitation, I ambled up and introduced myself and he obliged to be the first participant in Tattoosday, part V.

The guy I met was in his 20's, maybe early 30's and said his name was John Adams. He has an even dozen tattoos. He offered me up two tattoos, with the following tales...

He said he was most proud of this one, around his left ankle. It is a shackle with a broken chain.

He elaborated on this piece's history (forgive me, I am paraphrasing):

I got married in Vegas and it was the worst mistake of my life....the marriage lasted about 2 weeks...the divorce is still going on....after the marriage ended, one of my friends suggested I get this, showing that I had been chained down by a bad mistake, but I had managed to break free....the more I thought about it, the better the idea seemed, and it's one of my favorite tattoos because it reminds me how I escaped from a bad situation.

Again, I paraphrased there. John, if you're reading this, feel free to correct any details.

John's shackles were inked at Chris P. Tooles Tattoo Incorporated in Vacaville, California. He is originally from Vacaville and he seemed delighted not only to learn I knew where Vacaville was, but also that I had stayed there on numerous occasions with old college friends.

John also offered up a second piece, on his right elbow.

Through a seres of events, John here had been living in Slidell, Louisiana two years ago, right before the birth of BillyBlog. A weather disturbance known as Hurricane Katrina rolled through town and like so many Louisiana denizens, John found himself relocated elsewhere.

He found himself in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, and ran into a tattoo artist at a shop called Tattoo Zoo. According to John, the tattooer had designed the skull, but no one wanted it. It was an orphan design, looking for a host. The artist felt bad for John after Katrina, and offered to ink him for free. John requested he add a jester hat to the design, and the rest was history.

John noted that the piece was particularly sentimental because it had come on the heels of Katrina and it had been a generous gift from a sympathetic artist.

John was in New York just visiting. He was very cool.

Thanks John for your tattoos and accompanying stories!

Finally, as I headed home on the R train on Monday, I spotted a young lady with a nice koi tattoo on her left biceps. This was the first person I ever asked on the train to participate, and my luck has continued. No one has declined my invitation yet to be on BillyBlog, and this individual, although tentative at first, agreed once the train stopped at 95th Street, to let me take a picture of her arm above ground.

This piece, which is a part of a theme for her, is a carp, or koi, representing the element water. Her right biceps has a dragon on it, representing wind, and her back boasts a phoenix tattoo representing fire. She understandably told me that it would not be appropriate to show me the back tattoo, not that I was forward enough to ask, I figured as much.

Her carp, if not all of her art, was inked at Rising Dragon Tattoos, a shop only 7 blocks from my office, situated just downstairs from the Chelsea Hotel on 23rd Street. I imagine that this will not be the first tattoo I find from this famous shop.

We talked briefly about how I was lucky I caught her on a good day (I did, after all, interrupt her while she was reading). She acknowledged that she is occasionally annoyed by people asking her about her tattoos. I was surprised, as I have not seen a lot of people going out of their way to ask about tattoos. She thinks that women get asked about their tattoos more because it is more accepted for men to have tattoos, and because hers are so large on her arms, people tend to ask about them more than one would think.

I gave this nameless, yet friendly, subject a printout of a prior Tattoosday post and invited her to e-mail me when she had some color added, as she is thinking of doing.

That wraps it up for this week's Tattoosday. Have a great Labor Day weekend!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Tattoosday #4: Ozzfest Edition

Well I had this all worked out. This week's Tattoosday was going to kick butt. I went to Ozzfest last Thursday and figured it would be a piece of cake to get a cavalcade of awesome tattoo shots. Hmmm.

One problem: I'm a dork. Going up to people twenty years younger than me and asking them if I can take pictures of their tattoos for my blog, Sephora and I agreed, would be the pinnacle of dorkiness. Not quite, we later acknowledged, when we saw a young metalhead going to his seat with his mother, who looked like she was there to chaperone, rather than enjoy the show.

The scale of body art was unfathomable. I imagined I would see an incredible range of tattoos, and I was not disappointed. We arrived around 3:30, and I decided around 5:00 that most of my tattoo shots would be candids, without the hosts knowing they were being photographed.

Here are some of the folks I shot whose tattoos didn't come out so well:

Snap enough random pictures of passers-by, and you'll get a few good candid shots:

A closer view reveals a pretty nice "Don't Tread on Me" tattoo:

But ultimately, I did get some fairly nice pictures, especially of one back piece after the concert when everyone was reeling homeward.

First, there was this cool tattoo from someone sitting a few rows ahead of me:

Then, there was this one on the shoulder of someone sitting a few seats over from me:

The detail and coloring of this Aztec piece is quite impressive:

There were so many amazing back pieces and sleeves that it would have been impossible to catch them all. As mentioned before, this guy was ahead of me as we exited after the show. The eyes are amazing. Not anything I would do myself, but still a bit awe-inspiring. Note his friends Misfits tattoo on the right:

I can only assume he meant to spell Alligator with an "e" instead of an "o".

Ultimately, though, I really missed the Tattoosday theme, which is to get back story on the pieces I photograph. Wouldn't you like to know who this guy is? And why did he do his back like this? How long did it take? Whose eyes are those? And did he mean to spell Alligater the way he did?

For those shortcomings, I offer my heartfelt apologies. Nonetheless, I hope you enjoy this week's edition of Tattoosday.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Tattoosday #3: BillyBlog Pulls a "Tat Trick"

Welcome to the third installment of "Tattoosday". They get better with age. First a quick recap of the week:

8/7: Interesting tidbit came in the form of a friend (Jill) sending me over to this blog, more specifically this post about the good and bad in a tattoo experience. Interesting read. I posted a comment inviting her to contribute to Tattoosday, if she wanted.

8/10: Rain in the forecast all day. Not the best for tattoo-spotting. In fact, by the end of the day, I realize that this little venture, difficult now, will be next to impossible once the mercury drops below me 60 degrees, 24-7.

8/12: Last Sunday was good to me so I had hope today. At the laundromat, a woman who works at the local bank and who I see occasionally at the laundromat, was sporting a nifty ankle tattoo. Jolee even spotted it and suggested I ask her. Despite many opportunities, I failed to ask. Later in the afternoon, I ran into her again down the block and this time asked her, finally, if she'd be interested in the project. She seemed receptive to the idea and said she'd let me know next time she saw me. She indicated she had designed the piece around her ankle herself.

8/13: (7:00 A.M.) I have decided that today will be the day. I will leave at lunch and find a cool tattoo. I will rely on the students of the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) to supply me with the body art. Let's see if I can do it.

[Later that day....]

Ok, BillyBlog-ience, enough of my bellyaching. I just went out, under the deadline, and snagged a tat-trick (I love coining new words). I got not one, not two, but three subjects in less than sixty minutes (and managed to run some errands in the process.

I was walking back from the bank on West 27th Street when I passed a guy standing in the doorway with tons of tattoos. He had a King Tut on his right forearm. I walked past him and then said to myself that he looked pretty cool. I ambled up and said, "Hey, mind if I ask you about your tattoos?" He hesitated for maybe a split second and then said sure. I explained the concept of tattoosday to him and asked if I could take a picture of one of his tattoos. He said sure, and selected the one on his left leg.

He selected that one because it represented New York City and is one of his more recent pieces. It reads "Too Tough To Die," features a skull, and the New York skyline peeking up out of his sock.

I asked him how many tattoos he had and he didn't know. He has two full sleeves, tats on both legs, and he said on his chest and back as well. The tattoo I photographed, he said was an homage to the Ramones, from their 1984 album of the same name.

He gave his name as "Tops," and although he didn't disclose more about where he had the art done, he did look at one of the previous tattoosday posts and said he knew the owner of New York Hardcore Tattoos.

Well I was pretty proud of myself for finally jumping in the pool. Even though I didn't know James from last week, we had seen each other around and were familiar with one another. Tops was the first complete and utter stranger I approached. I was proud of myself for finally getting someone for Tattoosday.

Perhaps because the pressure was off, I walked with a lighter load. I headed back to 7th Avenue and decided to walk through F.I.T. over to 8th Avenue. Perhaps I would encounter some artistic student who would be approachable.

Sure enough, halfway down the block I saw a young lady approaching with two tattooed arms. I used the same approach, and mentioned BillyBlog. She gently kidded (I think gently, and I think she was kidding) about me asking her to be on my "nerdy blog". I have to remind myself that I am forty and your average F.I.T. student is in their early 20s, at the oldest.

Anyway, Jackie Alvo didn't mind giving me her real name, nor did she mind letting me snap shots of both arms. I found some of her design work here.

I noticed the cherry blossoms on her left arm first and she indicated that all her work was done on Long island because that's where "all the best artists are".

Her right arm, she joked, had to have a fashion theme, because she was at F.I.T. As cool as her left arm was, the dressmaker's form and other aspects were highly original and quite impressive. She let me know that her work was done at Timmy Tattoo in Huntington, NY (on MySpace here).

I thank her for her contribution and later saw her zip away on a bright metallic blue Vespa scooter.

The third tattoo was a bit of a surprise. I was in the plaza in front of the Borders at Madison Square Garden when I saw a woman with the following gecko tattoo above her left ankle.

She preferred to remain anonymous, but she is the first tourist tattoo on BillyBlog. The gecko design, which she searched for for years, has no specific significance. She just wanted a gecko tattoo. The piece was inked at Atomic Buddha Tattoos in Greeley, Colorado, from which our tourist hailed. Well, Colorado for sure, not necessarily Greeley.

We talked about geckoes a bit, especially the fact that, growing up in Hawai'i, I had them in and out of the homes I lived in. Shayna, coincidentally, just got a rubber gecko from a science museum last week. It went through the laundry on Sunday and she flung it at the ceiling last night and it stayed there until I pulled it down.

Thanks to the folks who let me take the pictures. Tops, I don't think, will be checking out the blog, but Jackie said she'd google BillyBlog and I gave a printout to our friend from Colorado. Please, feel free to add comments, questions, anecdotes, whatever. Or e-mail me if I need to clarify or edit any of the facts from my brief encounters with you.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Tattoosday #2: Dragons and Gargoyles

7/31: Last Tattoosday, the inaugural day, was a bust. First exhibitor Sephora was thrilled with her initial post and suggested I add some of her other tattoos to the post. We agreed to do so.

I looked, but found no worthy candidates. A woman in Starbucks had a tribal tramp stamp lower back tattoo peeking from the chasm between the bottom of her short shirt and her low-rise jeans. It wasn't very impressive and I'm not comfortable asking a strange woman to move clothing in order to photograph her ink. Co-worker Ian, when I told him of this later feature, said I should rename it "Tramp Stamp Tuesdays" instead. He said he would be more likely to come visit the blog. I agreed it would surely attract more viewers, but I don't see it as very positive.

8/1: Spotted a cool anime shoulder tattoo on a passenger on the A train. Alas, I was getting off at the next stop, so time was a factor, and the opportunity passed.

By 4:30, , it looked like the day was going to be a bust. So, I settled. I took an opportunity in the public domain. This person did not know I took their picture. One thing about New York, a camera doesn't necessarily make you conspicuous.

A closer look reveals a simple black tattoo that jumps off the flesh:

A cool design with the star in the center of a different star.

8/2: A promising day ended with a thud. A couple on the train were chatting, and the male, young in his twenties, seemingly a nice guy, had a very interesting piece on his right biceps, but I couldn't figure out what it was. They were deep in conversation and I didn't want to interrupt, when they abruptly got up and exited at the Prospect Avenue stop.

I did however, get a clearer picture of Sephora's om (go back to last Tuesday to see), along with her swastika on the back of her neck.

Came to the realization that stories of people telling me they don't want to participate will likely be more interesting than stories of me thinking about talking to an inked person, and then not following through.

8/3: No luck today, despite temperatures in the 90's. Not even any close calls!

8/4: Ditto. Even stepped into Body Art Studios, our local tattoo shop, but asking the guys that work there to participate seems a little bit like cheating, no? This is harder than I thought.

8/5: Sunday. I have a positive feeling I might find someone at the laundromat. Just a hunch.

Success at last!

At the laundromat, I saw a guy who I have seen in the neighborhood for years, and he had a gargoyle tattooed on his upper arm. His son was talking with my girls and, as it turned out, he is a year behind Shayna in the gifted and talented program at P.S. 104, so they have had the same teachers each year. I broached the subject about his tattoo, mentioned my "Tattoosday" project and asked him if he wouldn't mind telling me about it. He agreed and when I asked if I could take a photo of it, he said, "Sure, but it's big." He then pulled the sleeve of his shirt up to show me how it went up his shoulder and across over his armpit.

He then said he had another one, and turned around and showed me the one below his neck:

This one was his first tattoo, that he got about 12-13 years ago. Originally from Guyana, he explained that he understands it to be a Native American birth sign and also represents the water sign for Pisces. The artist was known as "Fallen Angel."

About the other, larger tattoo, it's actually a combination of three works that were done by an artist named Carmine based on three separate covers of Metal Edge magazine, or he, said, a magazine similar to Metal Edge. His wife at the time subscribed to the publication and they really liked the designs.

He indicated that the dragon over the armpit was extremely time-consuming, as there had been a lot of pain and sensitivity in that area.

I told James that the piece I first saw on him reminded me of the demon on the cover of one of Metallica's early singles, "Jump in the Fire".

He was quick to point out that what he had was not a demon (I guess his mother thought it was, as well), but a gargoyle which, he explained, are viewed as symbols of protection. They serve a design purpose as well, as water spouts, moving water away from the edifice.

He is particularly happy with the way the eyes glow:

We had a lengthy discussion about tattoos and how he initially would have gone further down the arm but, at the time, he was in school and considered studying biology, that he did not think it would have been a good idea, considering a potential career in medicine, to have the tattoo visible below the elbow. Of course, plans change, and James changed his career path and became an electrician, and is now a member of the I.B.E.W.

What I also found interesting was that none of this work was done at a shop, but was done at the artists' apartments. James explained that the rules regarding tattooing in New York State were different over ten years ago, offering greater flexibility for artists working out of their homes.

It was very cool talking tattoos with someone new. Later that day, I complimented a woman in line at Rite Aid and would have loved to snap her tattoos as well, but she was in a hurry, thanking me for the thoughts before exiting the store.

8/6: Nothing to report today. But a first week of tattoo-spotting was at least not a total wash, thanks to James. I'm hoping the relative success of getting my first person to offer up their tattoos for BillyBlog will make things easier in the future. James seemed to really like sharing his stories.

Thanks again to James and Sephora from last week for helping launch this feature on BillyBlog!