While tattoos and piercings have been integrated and normalized in Western culture, there are still stigmas regarding certain body modification processes. Stretched piercings, implants, scarification (of which I will someday write about my own)–all are still considered taboo, to a certain degree. But what about facial tattoos? The latter aspect of that term is definitely not stigmatized these days; celebrities, preschool teachers, parents, grandparents, and more all have tattoos. However, the fact that some people put that ink onto their face differentiates the procedure in many observers’ eyes, bringing it from “normal” to “oh my god what a terrifying criminal monster with no regard for social norms” level. This, of course, is a false stereotype of people with face tattoos, which is exactly what UK photographer Mark Leaver is attempting to show in his new series.
The UK photographer decided to begin his photography project due to the unpleasant assumptions people often have about those who have face tattoos, according to his interview with Skinked Magazine.
Too often people have a negative opinion of those who dare to face tattoo. This is often linked to depression, unemployment or crime. I knew a few people with tattoos on the face, so I started this project, saying it was time to establish a truth about his people. I photographed over 30 people across the United Kingdom with the most impressive and I can assure you that these people are the nicest human being on earth.
The project tries to bring light on his people and gives a contemporary view on the tattoo, although today the tattoo is much more accepted in our society that a few years ago.
Additionally, Leaver “wanted to bring a new aesthetic” because face tattoos are rarely showcased, so he wanted to “make the most of their beauty.” Rather than showing all his 30 subjects in tattoo studios or simply on plain backgrounds, he photographed them in their homes, with their loved ones, hanging out with their pets, sitting at work–just normal, everyday situations in their normal, everyday lives.
In his interview, Leaver talks about the types of difficulty people with face tattoos often face, from being asked to leave clubs or restaurants to being publicly ridiculed by others around them. While I am sure many people would respond to these complaints with, “Well, they’re doing it to themselves” or “they know what they’re getting themselves into,” it is important for us all to remember that what we find aesthetically pleasing on our own bodies is personal, and when others critique it, is can be both hurtful and inappropriate. The same goes for tattoos–including face ones. For example, if I want to cut my hair super short, I would feel irritated if people on the subway started whispering about how masculine I look as a result; sure, I would have known that to be a possibility when I did the chop, but it would still be upsetting.
Leaver’s project is necessary in our society because while we have come to accept tattoos, for the most part, there are still so many negative reactions towards specific types of tattoos. When many folks spot neck, face and hand tattoos, their first thoughts are “criminal,” “creep” or “weirdo,” rather than “person who happens to have artwork permanently on their body.” Of course, all bets are off if the tattoo is misogynistic, racist, or Mitt Romney‘s logo–then I think we can all feel relatively free to judge.
Just as with any body modification, one should think long and hard about whether you want a tattoo on your face. Even though the stigmas and stereotypes are inaccurate, they still exist, and it’s integral to the decision to determine if potentially being turned down for jobs or services is something you can emotionally deal with. I am still admittedly horrified by “56 stars” artist Rouslan Toumaniantz tattooing his name on the face of his 18-year-old girlfriend Lesya within 24 hours after they met, but other than that story, I have met few–if any–people whose facial tattoo stories weren’t far more fascinating than terrifying.
Hopefully, Leaver’s series will not only showcase individuals with face tattoos as being beautiful, but also reduce the amount of stigma many of them face on a daily basis despite being productive members of society.