Thursday, August 11, 2011

The body as an open book on life (Part 2)

Tattoos are sometimes perceived as fashion accessories. Many teenagers have sneaked out to make their first ink mark to look cool and try to prove something or belong to something. And of course there is also the drunk tattoo… But they are indelible marks on skin. And the fact that they are indestructible (mostly at least) makes them a true part of the body. Loved or hated, most of the time they say a lot about who we are. And beyond the aesthetic what’s fascinating about them is the strength, the power, the violence or even the sadness they can convey.
Christian Poveda
It was of course impossible to talk about tattoos without mentioning Christian Poveda and his incredible project about the Maras in Salvador. He did an exceptional investigation and spent many years in the heart of the "Mara 18", one of Latin America's most violent gangs. He paid with his life. He was murdered on September 2nd 2009 in the suburbs of San Salvador.
Tattoos are the strongest sign of recognition and differentiation in the Gang wars that prevail from Los Angeles to Central America. There is no word strong enough to describe Christian Poveda’s stunning series of photographs and his moving documentary ‘La Vida Loca’. Just watch this documentary if you haven’t seen it yet and let these portraits speak for themselves… (Maybe one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen…)
Christian Poveda- Portraits
Christian Poveda - El Salvador, Quezaltepeque jail (Mara Salvatrucha) - 2009
Christian Poveda - El Salvador, Chalatenego jail (mara 18) - 2009
Christian Poveda -
El Salvador, La Vida Loca - 2010
Christian Poveda - El Salvador, La Vida Loca - 2010
Christian Poveda - El Salvador, La Vida Loca - 2010
 More on Christian Poveda:
La Vida Loca, the movie:

Aramita de Clermont
Not an easy task to follow after Christian Poveda’s disturbing images, but I think Aramita de Clermont’s portraits of former South African prisoners and gang members is the perfect subject. Her project ‘Life After’ is an exploration of the lives and tattoos of these men after they come out of jail. She raises many questions about the signification of tattoos especially when life, past stories, violence become embedded in the skin, when the status of gang member or prisoner stays written on your face for life.
‘Was it about a need to belong, or does it simply reflect an absolute immersion in “The Number”? Do the tattoos create an armour, or do they instead offer a voice, a potent form of self-expression, where the prisoners’ skin is perhaps their only remaining possession and form of self-expression?’
 ‘I also found myself wondering how it would be if we all had our past mistakes permanently emblazoned across our faces.’
What strikes me the most about her portraits is the vulnerability of these men who were ‘Kings’ in jail, this undeniable feeling that they are totally lost and uprooted from reality. You feel the sensibility and compassion of the photographer in the eyes of her subjects, you sense her emphatic curiosity and her desire to understand the minds of these men and read the stories of their lives… on their body.

Aramita de Clermont
Aramita de Clermont
Aramita de Clermont
Aramita de Clermont
Aramita de Clermont

More on Araminta de
An interview for the BBC and testimonies of some of the prisoners:

Max de Esteban
Max de Esteban’s project ‘Vertige’ has nothing to do with the previous ones and I hesitated to include it in this theme. But what I find interesting about it is that it also questions our personality and our relationship with our bodies and our environment. His project is not just about tattoos, and it’s not even really about the persons that are photographed. The subjects become objects to be photographed. There is a certain detachment and conceptualization of the subject photographed. The association of strong individual sometimes disturbing imageries with intriguing statements creates doubts and interrogations. The theories and concepts might be the essence of the project but what I like about it is the striking aesthetic of the photography.
“It is in the context of the secular struggle between civilization and barbarism that we should consider current events. The civilized is insecure and skeptic, contradictions being both his greatness and weakness. In contrast the barbarian is slave to a belief felt with integral and exclusive passion and driven by totalitarian ambitions.”

Undue importance
Most of our pleasures and pains are the result of the undue importance we grant to our experiences.
Intimacy with Doubt
After a long intimacy with doubt, one reaches a peculiar pride: A significant drunkenness and lack of reflection is necessary to create a god. It requires only some attention to kill it.
Frightened by life
Existence is only palatable if we keep ourselves in a state of drunkenness. Life offers nothing positive without inebriation.
What will become of you?
Fallen into time by knowledge, we were granted a destiny, because only outside Paradise there is destiny.

More on Max de Esteban:

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