Damon: It’s Become a Meaning of Me

Damon’s Celtic Band tattoo was done by Steve at Art Freek Tattoo in Providence, RI. When I asked Damon about the meaning of his Celtic Band tattoo, he first said, “No real meaning behind it.” Yet, his story speaks of the ways tattoos can have emerging meaning. He writes:

I’ve always had an affinity for Celtic art and knot-work.,,

Rebecca: Sugar Skull

Rebecca’s Sugar Skull tattoo was done by the legendary Shanghai Kate Hellenbrand. Her Calavera (Sugar Skull) is more than decorative, and commemorates the life of a lost family member. This is in keeping with her Mexican heritage. She hoped that tattoo fans could become more informed about this tradition, so I provide this source which I found to be a short and nuanced explanation of the meaning of Calaveras, cases of their cultural appropriation and how they can be presented artistically in a respectful manner.

Jess: Living Rose Garden

Jessica Mendez’ Rose tattoos were done by a variety of tattoo artists over a period of time. I photographed her tattoos in the night market at Share Space in Providence, RI. Jess explains her tattoos as follows:

The roses started out as a lasting memory from my childhood, but have grown to my collection of family members. I grew up in a small Texas town with the population of around 100 with my mother, grandparents and aunt under the same roof. Around our property were different styles and colors thanks to my grandparents who were into gardening. I remember being excited for the spring because of the roses. I would constantly pick roses for everyone and can still remember their smell, color and feel vividly.

Julia: Two-Headed Swallow

Julia Genesis’ two-headed swallow tattoo was done by Andy Reach of Providence Tattoo. Her tattoo is so interesting that I couldn’t wait to hear the story behind it and what she explained was so fascinating that I can hardly do justice to it, but I will try my best.

“Looking up close like this, it actually seems like each swallow – are they two? Or one? – has a different personality. It’s wild!” I said as I was photographing.

Emily: The Library of Babel

Emily Fu’s mandala tattoo is not quite what it appears to be at first glance. A closer look reveals that it is a representation of the infinite library found in the story, “The Library of Babel,” by Jorge Luis Borges. [If you’ve never read that story, it’s a great one you can find here.] Her tattoo was done by Brian Mullen of Art Freek Tattoo, Providence, RI. Emily explains the inspiration for her tattoo:

My first tattoo was based on an etching by Desmazieres of the infinite library from Borges’s short story “The Library of Babel.” The story’s exploration of the ways people choose to live in a world of limitless knowledge has meant a lot to me, as does its author. Borges was the first poet I read, and I love being able to carry his library with me.

Poe: Life Has Not Forgotten You

Poe’s tattoo is an original design that she and her tattoo artist, Peter Toatley of Providence Tattoo, collaborated on to capture the meaning of a passage from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet #8. Macro photographs of tattoos capture small portions of tattoos, like portraits, so the design as a whole is obscured in the photos. The passage they focused on begins:

So you mustn’t be frightened, dear Mr. Kappus, if a sadness rises in front of you, larger than any you have ever seen; if an anxiety, like light and cloud-shadows, moves over your hands and over everything you do. You must realize that something is happening to you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand and will not let you fall.

Sondra: Companion through Life

Sondra’s Rose and Compass tattoo was done by Mike Johnston at Blackstone Tattoo Co., Pawtucket, RI. We did the shoot at the Makers and Merchants Sale on Wickenden St. in Providence. Sondra explains the meaning this tattoo has for her:

This tattoo came to me during the greatest transition of my young adult so far. The transition to independence, to college, to finding myself. I had grown up hearing my father read me The Lord of the Rings on lazy Saturday mornings when school nor work bothered to interrupt the day. I adored the series because it was filled with adventure, with creatures of different make-ups and cultures. And it showed the power of friendship. It inspired me to adventure past my own Shire someday.

Platonic Solids

My newest tattoo of Johannes Kepler’s Platonic Solids design was done by Dennis at Providence Tattoo. The Platonic Solids have a significant metaphysical status. In Plato’s Timaeus, they are the basic elements forming the material universe. Their special status is sustained in the alchemical and early modern astronomical traditions. I specialize in Ancient Greek philosophy and wrote my dissertation on Plato, and this would seem a great reason to get a Platonic Solids tattoo. But…it gets better.

Lonely Moon Sister

Sometimes people volunteer to be photographed and tell me their stories, leaving it up to me entirely to post about their tattoos. This is the story of the Lonely Moon Sister, which I retell as best I can:

It’s sort of like the David Bowie song, “Bewlay Brothers,” except with sisters, which is what we were like, spiritual sisters.

And our talk was old and dust would flow
Through our veins and though it was midnight back at the kitchen door
Like the grim face on the cathedral floor
The solid book we wrote cannot be found today

Nate: Biomechanical Exploration

Nate Fisher collaborated with me on photographing his Xenomorph Giger tattoo recently at the Field of Artisans‘ Night Market. His tattoo was is by Marcus Blanchard, owner of Eridanos Tattoo in Cambridge, MA. The sun was setting at the time of our shoot, the lighting becoming strange, challenging, but totally appropriate. There were alien worlds inside his tattoo, which we discovered with the macro lens.  Nate explains the inspiration of his tattoo below.

The story goes like this:

Growing up I was always fascinated by Sci-Fi movies and television, and felt as though the works of Ridley Scott, H.R. Giger, and the other directors, producers, cast, writers, and illustrators who created the movies Alien, Aliens, Alien vs. Predator, Predator, Predators, Alien Resurrection, etc; were extremely talented and original, and I wanted to add their artwork to my body because of how unique and different it is.