Why I don't show tattoos in my work - SleepingAwakePhoto
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Why I don’t show tattoos in my work

Why I don’t show tattoos in my work

Alrighty! I want to finally open up and talk about the absolute most asked question I get as an artist. I never thought that out of every single thing I do as an artist, this would be the burning question on many people’s minds.

“Why do you not have tattoos in your photographs?”



Yup. That’s it. That is the most asked question I get from pretty much every single person who has tattoos, and even a few from non tattooed people. I’ve always been open about my opinions on them and why I do or do not have them appear or feature in my work. When looking for models, I always say, “Minimal tattoos.” Each and every time I say that, I always get messages from people asking why or people who are upset because I am “excluding” a wide range of people.

So, why don’t I show tattoos in my work?

If we break down my work entirely, to me it seems very obvious, but it’s not so to others. Very straightforward; I don’t use tattoos in my work because I don’t want them in it. Now, before you get upset over that statement, let me explain. My work is a direct reflection of myself. I don’t have tattoos and therefore neither does my work. I typically do self-portraits so of course they’re not going to show up then but what about when I have a model? My work is either self-portraits directly or I use a “surrogate” for self-portraiture. That may be confusing to some but I very much put my entire soul into my images and tattoos are just not a part of my life, personally.

Do I hate tattoos? Absolutely not. I think they are stunning. I think they’re sexy as hell and can tell a lot about a person. That’s the “problem” I have with tattoos in my work. I use the term problem very loosely because in the grand scale of things, I have no issue with tattoos. In fact, I have many friends with them and it doesn’t bother me. Literally anything someone else does to themselves does not bother me. It’s none of my business. Also, when I say tattoos, I don’t mean small ones here and there, which I generally edit out anyways. I’m talking about large pieces to full sleeves in this post. Aside from that, I am a firm believer in symbolism in artwork. If I am telling a specific story, I believe tattoos can take away from that story. They can distract from the real purpose of the image at hand. I know not everyone will agree on that with me but it’s true. I can’t be telling a serious story with a tattoo that says, “eat ass”. It will come across as comical. Do I care if you have that on you? No. But that also doesn’t mean I’m obligated to have it in my work. If someone has tattoos that can be hidden by posing or by clothing, then I typically do that. I don’t purposely not work with someone because they have tattoos, I just don’t show them in my work. That’s it. Nothing more to it.

When a person gets a tattoo they’re telling a story, whether they think they are or not… they are. They’re telling either their personal stories, other people’s stories, or their personality. With my work, tattoos could potentially distract from the story of the image. I’m not sure if I’m making myself clear on this topic at all because I’ve explained this to so many people and I get mixed reactions each time. I’ve been told that it does make sense. I’ve been told that I’m closed minded. Which, if you actually know me then you know I am the least closed-minded person you’ll meet. I’m open to anything and everything and I’ve always accepted people fully no matter if they had tattoos or piercings, whatever their gender is, skin color, hair color, height, weight, etc. I’ve always treated people with respect and kindness.

Now, this doesn’t mean that I will not ever show tattoos within my work. If they’re meant to be there then they will be there. Take this portrait for example. 99% of my work is self-portraits but in this image I was telling a story of another person. These are their tattoos and they’re beautiful tattoos with so much meaning and symbolism of their life. They’re left there because this image is not about me, it’s about them. This is when I believe they’re appropriate. When I’m taking a photo of someone else – not of myself. I leave them in all portraits I do of other people unless we’re doing an image where they’re playing as a character, not themselves.

Image Title:"The Pain of Protection"
"The Pain of Protection"

I very much do not believe that I am a bad person for not representing tattoos or piercings within my artwork. Do I think they’re beautiful? Yes, I do. There are also tons of other people and artists who only photograph tattoos. I’m not mad that they never have a non tattooed person in their portfolio, it’s just their preference. All of this is just an aesthetic preference. I truly hope people can understand this and respect my vision as an artist and move on from the topic.

  • John Gilbert
    Posted at 04:53h, 09 July

    I hear ya!
    I don’t have any tats but that doesn’t mean I don’t like them. But I do think they can be distracting. Especially if you’re trying to create a period piece or create a certain feeling in an image.

    Thanks for posting this, love your work.
    John Gilbert

  • Samantha
    Posted at 05:03h, 09 July

    Thank you. I truly enjoy tattoos. They’re amazing pieces of artwork for sure and I actually wanted to be a tattoo artist at one point in my life… okay actually for like 7 years but I was far too scared to put something on someone permanently – haha. I still very much love watching them being made and seeing all of the body mods. It’s just not what I prefer in my work. Again, it is an aesthetic thing.