The blog of photographer Kim Ayres

Portrait and Tattoo Photography

There were only 2 things my father really objected to – 2 things he absolutely wanted his kids to avoid – smoking and tattoos.

All three of us took up smoking, and both my brother and sister ended up with tattoos.

I thought about getting a tattoo at the same time my siblings did. A friend of my brother was wanting to start up as a tattooist and was looking for people to practice on for free. I began thinking about possible designs, but wasn’t particularly impressed with the artistic skill now permanently embedded on the upper arms of my brother and sister and I decided against it. If I was going to endure a huge amount of pain for an image I would be carrying with me for the rest of my life, then I’d want something a little more meaningful and professionally done.

And so the moment passed. A few years later I met my wife, 3 months after I had given up smoking, and she wasn’t particularly impressed by tattoos, so it was never given serious thought again.

Last year, invited by a guy I’d photographed singing in his punk band, I went up to Edinburgh for the Scottish Tattoo Convention. As a portrait photographer who loves faces, seeing all these people covered in piercings, tattoos and more than a few outlandish hairstyles, I felt like a kid in a cookie factory (click here for the blog post about it).

One of the things I came to realise afterwards, was there seems to be very little good tattoo photography about. There are millions of photos on the web, but most are very amateur. It seemed odd to me that people can pay hundreds of pounds, even thousands, for their tattoos, and yet the best photo they have of them was taken on a phone or a cheap camera in poor lighting.

In response to this revelation, this year I’ve taken out a stall at the Scottish Tattoo Convention (Sat March 31st & Sun April 1st) and will be setting up with camera, lights and a laptop. For a very reasonable rate (dirt cheap in fact, until I can work out what the market is likely to pay), I’ll take their photo, edit it right there and email it to them so they can put on Facebook, print it out for their wall or send it to their granny.

So for the past couple of weeks I’ve been honing my skills by taking photos of anyone I can grab with a tattoo and have been discovering it’s quite a different kind of photography to my usual black and white portraiture. Not only am I having to think much more about colour, it can also be a tricky thing to strike a balance between a person’s face and their tattoo - because that’s mostly what I want to do – take portraits of people with their tattoos rather than just the tattoos on their own.

I’m in the process of getting a banner printed up to hang above the stall to attract attention. Ami, with her brightly coloured hair, piercings and back piece that runs from her neck to her derriere was an ideal choice.


For a few more photos of the colourful Ami, check my Facebook or Flickr pages.

I’ll be taking my son, Rogan, along with me - partly for the company, and partly to help deal with waiting customers when I’m busy.

However, I’ll be letting all the tattoo artists know he’s only 16 years old, and he will not be allowed to enter the Win-a-Free-Tattoo competition...


Unknown said...

I am actually looking forward to photos from the tattoo convention... please do put some up!

Anonymous said...

oh my we are a protective father...thank goodness you never had a tattoo done, excellent role model ;-) while tattoos aren't for me...I've seen those you photographed that were, well, beautiful! artistic! imaginative! creative! and fit the person's personality perfectly! looking forward to seeing your "tats"!

Pat said...

This particular photo has a lovely Art Nouvesu look about it. Very pleasing but if only it were not for ever.

Kim Ayres said...

Zena - make sure you come back in about 2 and a half weeks then :)

Theanne - although I've never had one, I do find them fascinating

Pat - when we finally get together for your photoshoot, we could get some felt tip pens and give you a dramatic back piece if you want - what do think - dragon? Skull & crossbones? An intricate celtic knot? :)

hope said...

A fascinating subject...that I have no urge to ever try personally. :)

Love your eye for people and the things which make them unique. Looking forward to the end results of this project.

pilgrimchick said...

You definitely have a point about most tattoo photography. This is a really great idea. I hope you have a lot of takers.

Jeremy Bates said...

Please be sure to post some images of your work.

I always wanted a tattoo, but like you have thus far refrained. My hunch is that the longer you hang out with tatted folks, the more likely you will be to one day post a pic of your new tattoo.

Please make sure it doesn't have 'Mom" under the art. lol

Pat said...

An intricate celtic knot sounds about right:)

Anonymous said...

I remember last year. I think it's a good idea. I love the photograph with this post.

Charlie said...

What about photgraphing the Edinborough Military tattoo?
Or am i missing something here?

Lynne said...

I've been so wanting to take some photos of people with tattoos, I have so many ideas when I see some great ones ~especially when I notice they're parents of small children. I have 2 and I agree with you no one really ever gets a great photo of themselves with their tats. I will keep a look out for the photos of the tattoos and can't wait to see what you come up with.

mapstew said...

My Tats are all black so you can do my pics in B&W, when I get over there! (I also need to lose some weight before I allow pics to be taken! Oh the vanity!!)

I really hope to get over later this year, work is quiet right now (so have the time to travel but not the resources!) I'm fairly busy for most of the summer (CASH!) so I should be able to afford a little jaunt in the autumn.) :¬)

Kim Ayres said...

Hope - I just find people endlessly fascinating - the differences AND the similarities :)

Pilgrimchick - so do I - we'll find out in a week and a half :)

Jeremy - I'm sure there will be photos aplenty to follow :) I'm unlikely to end up with a tattoo myself as my wife would be none to happy about it...

I have a friend who has his partner's name, Eve, tattooed on his chest. I said to him once he'd better hope they never split up, to which he replied, if they did, he'd just get an N and an R tattooed either side of it :)

Pat - I'll bring a celtic knot design book with me :)

Allen - thank you :)

Charlie - I've had quite a few people make that mistake when I've said I'm going to Edinburgh for the Tattoo convention :)

Lynne - get yourself along to a tattoo convention and take your camera - no one minds you taking their photo if you ask - in fact some seem disappointed if you pass them by without pointing your camera at them :)

Mapstew - It would be great to meet up - keep me informed of your travel plans :)

Xiao Shan said...

Wow, think this is really cool. Haha! Can't wait to see those pics on your blog :D (Tattoo inspiration for me!) Hehehe!

Kim Ayres said...

Xiao Shan - welcome to my ramblings :)

Do you have, or do you plan to have any tattoos yourself?

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