Decoding Russian criminal tattoos – in pictures

Decoding Russian criminal tattoos – in pictures

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Decoding Russian criminal tattoos – in pictures

From the 1960s to the 1980s, Arkady Bronnikov visited correctional facilities all over the Soviet Union and photographed thousands of tattooed inmates to decode their body art – and helped solve many crimes by identifying criminals based on their ink. Here, you can learn what roses, snakes and cowboys really mean … Russian Criminal Tattoo Police Files

Russian Criminal Tattoo Police Files This is a variation on the myth of Prometheus, who is chained to a rock in eternal punishment after tricking Zeus. The sailing ship means the bearer does not engage in normal work; he is a travelling thief who is prone to escape.

Russian Criminal Tattoo Police Files Monasteries, churches, cathedrals, the Virgin Mary, saints and angels on the chest or back display a devotion to thievery. Skulls indicate a conviction for murder. Coffins also represent murder; they are burying the victim.

Russian Criminal Tattoo Police Files Eight-pointed stars on the clavicles denote a high-ranking thief. A bow tie on the neck was often forcibly applied to pickpockets who had broken the thieves’ code and sided with the authorities. The dollar sign on the bow tie shows that this man is either a safe-cracker or money launderer.

Russian Criminal Tattoo Police Files A snake around the neck is a sign of drug addiction. These trousers are the uniform of the strictest type of prison regime in the Soviet Union. Criminals sent here are known as ‘osobo opasnim retsidivistom’ (especially dangerous recidivists), who have carried out grave offences such as murder or paedophilia. They are not subject to parole.

Russian Criminal Tattoo Police Files Epaulettes on the shoulders show a negative attitude to the system, and are worn by high-ranking criminals who often have a corresponding nickname such as ‘major’ or ‘colonel’. Epaulettes with three stars or skulls mean: ‘I am not a slave of the camps, no one can force me to work’; ‘The strong win – […]