Brian Switek’s allosaurus tattoo. Photograph: Tracey Switek The needle never hurts any less. Five previous sessions taught me that much, but I tried to push the fact out of my mind as Austin the tattoo artist gave his instrument a few experimental pulses before setting into the afternoon’s work. The tattoo gun sounded like an angry hornet communicating in morse code. Laid out on my back, I took a deep breath as I felt Austin start filling in the ink outline he had started on a couple of sittings before. Two hours later, the pain was gone and the art remained.
When I first walked into that shop three years ago, artwork of an allosaurus skeleton in hand, I was a little shocked at myself. I had always been “meek and mild”, as a college friend once described me, and getting inked felt like something reserved for people tougher or wilder than my nerdy self. I just didn’t feel like I was the sort of person who got tattooed.
Three years and four pieces later, I realise how stupid that thought was. Who’s the sort of person who gets tattooed? Almost everyone. Ink has never been the sole domain of prisoners, sailors or soldiers. During the 11 hours or so I’ve spent having art beautifully and painfully jabbed into my arm, I’ve seen people of all different backgrounds who have felt the same sting as they commit what they love to their skin. So far, none of them have jumped on to a Harley and throttled off into the desert sunset after walking out the door.
Yet, no matter how intricate the work or how skilled the artist, it’s still normal to look at tattoos as the brand of everything philistine and immature. Without any curiosity about why people get tattooed and what those intimate illustrations mean, the judgmental still hold on to the stereotype that tattoos are juvenile sketches drunkenly picked off a tattoo parlour wall […]