1000 Tattoos - Taschen Publication Explores History of TattooingCredit: Taschen GmbH

1000 Tattoos is a Taschen Publication, published as part of their 25th anniversary celebrations. The book is designed and edited by Burkhard Riemschneider, art dealer and gallery owner.

1000 Tattoos – Layout of the Publication

1000 Tattoos is set out in six chapters. The introduction, On the History and Practice of Tattooing (also in French and German), is written by tattoo artist Henk Schiffmacher, author/co-author of a number of art books such as Art at the Turn of the Millennium and Twentieth-Century Erotic Art. Schiffmacher also runs the Amsterdam Tattoo Museum, from where most of the images in this publication have come.

The remainder of the volume is divided into five collections of photographs, the titles of which are self-explanatory.

  • Ethnographic Tattoos
  • Classical Tattoo Designs
  • From the Early Days to the 1980s
  • Japanese Tattoos
  • Contemporary Tattoo Art

Henk Schiffmacher presents the history of tattoos, looking at all aspects of their production, their cultural significance, who chooses to decorate their bodies in this way, and who performs the illustrations. Tattoos are an art form in their own right and the author reminds us that these works of art exist only as long as the bearer lives. Schiffmacher also summarizes the responses provoked by tattoos which range from interest to revulsion, from surprise to fascination. The author tells us that tattoos were common in ancient times and are still popular today. Indeed, there is an increasing demand for skilled tattoo artists.

Tattoo Techniques

Other than the introduction of electric tattoo equipment in about 1891, traditional tattooing methods have changed very little. Schiffmacher explains the wide variety of methods used in various parts of the world and the many reasons for tattoos. For example, he tells us that during the Holocaust the Nazi practice of tattooing a prisoner's identification number on his wrist was a particular insult to Jews, as tattoos are against Judaic law.

Electric Tattoo Equipment

Schiffmacher tells his audience that the advent of electric tattoo equipment changed the world of tattoo art forever. Today, only expert tattoo artists carry out tattoos manually. The author makes his readers laugh with descriptions of imaginative equipment made by amateur tattooers. Some power their tattooing devices with electric toothbrush or razor motors. Their equipment is made from all sorts of strange items such as straws, cement, glue, cartridge cases, bent tablespoons and sticky tape. The inks are made by binding organic materials, such as soot, resin,plants, the ashes of incinerated bodies, both animal and human, with blood, spit, urine, alcohol, fruit juice, semen, or just plain water.

The Cultural Importance of Tattoos

Tattoos can tell a person's history and many primitive tribes use tattoos to indicate kinship. Tattoos can also signify rebellion, or record an important event such as a birth, marriage or death. Some people believe a tattoo will encourage fertility or defend against illness while others believe a tattoo will offer protection against disasters. Many a naval officer bears a pig on one foot and a rooster on the other, for protection against drowning.

Famous Tattooed People and Tattoo Artists

There are many others reasons to adorn one's body in this way, and one is to make money from displaying the artwork.  Schiffmacher mentions the circus artist, known as 'Enigma', whose entire body was tattooed with a puzzle pattern. As a performer with the Rose Circus Side Show he earned considerable sums of money displaying in the USA. There have also been a number of famous tattooed women, including Cindy Ray (Real name Bev Robinson), the Australian tattoo artist, and Anni van den Burg, who had identical tattoos to her husband.

In some cultures tattoos are associated mainly with the lower social classes, but they are not solely their prerogative. Russian tsars and tsarinas, Emperor Wilhelm II, and Lady Randolph Churchill were the bearers of tattoos. Modern-day icons, including Dennis Hopper, Johnny Depp, Julia Roberts, David Beckham all have tattoos.

Schiffmacher acknowledges the world's well-known tattoo artists including Jack Rudy, Dave Shore, Bob Roberts, Mick Malone, and Ed Hardy who is regarded as one of the best tattoo artists of all time. The author also acknowledges some of the great Japanese artists, such as Horihide Kazuo Oguri.

1000 Tattoos features 1000 images on its 576 pages. Schiffmacher writes in scholarly, yet reader friendly language. This book will interest tattoo lovers and tattoo artists, as well as the merely curious. 1000 Tattoos is priced at £8.99, ISBN: 978-3822841075 Taschen GmbH 2005.