The Tattoo Project Captures Extraordinary Body Art in Photos

Collaborative art project asks 'Who am I?' through  portraiture of Vancouver's tattoo subculture. Exhibit runs through Sunday, November 28.

The Tattoo Project – Vince Hemingson photo

The Tattoo Project – Vince Hemingson photo

Photography exhibit and film documentary take spectacular look at Vancouver tattoo sub-culture


Vancouver filmmaker, photographer and tattoo culture expert Vince Hemingson had a vision to shed new light on the world of portraiture. So, he herded 11 other prominent local photographers and nearly 100 tattooed models into a studio for three days of shooting. The result? The Tattoo Project—a collaborative exploration by local photographers and inked-up folks into the eternal question of “Who am I?”


The Tattoo Project

November 26–28, 2010

Performance Works, Granville Island

1218 Cartwright St, Vancouver

Free admission


Opening exhibition gala

Friday, November 26, 7–11 p.m.


The Tattoo Project is not only a photography exhibit, but also a documentary-in-progress. Calling on his film background, Vince orchestrated the filming of a documentary that follows the photographers and models around the studio, capturing their interactions and their conversations about their tattoos, their lives and who they are as individuals.


While currently in the last stages of production, the film component of the project has already received widespread interest from the BBC, NHK in Japan and broadcasting services across North America.



The Tattoo Project photograph by Johnathon Vaughn.


The Tattoo Project and the evolving cultural phenomenon of tattoos

Vince’s affair with tattoos began in 1996 when he got his first piece done by local artist Thomas Lockhart from West Coast Tattoo. Vince immediately saw the “tattoo shop” as a potential setting for a film. Over the years, as he and Thomas became close friends, the latter would share tattoo stories and history, specifically on indigenous tattooing in places like Borneo and Malaysia.


Local photographers for the Tattoo Project

Wayne A. Höecherl

Melanie Jane

Vince Hemingson

Marc Koegel

Dan Kozma

Spencer Kovats

Syx Langemann

Aura McKay

Pooya Nabei

Rosamond Norbury

Johnathon Vaughn

Jeff Weddell

Their conversations led to a film project called The Vanishing Tattoo, a “compelling journey into the world of traditional Iban tattoo artists to investigate the critical importance of tattooing in Iban culture and discover why the art is rapidly disappearing,” that aired on National Geographic.


From there, Vince began a website under the same name, where he featured tidbits on the cultural anthropology of tattoos; information he came across while researching for the film. Attempting to alter the social stigma that linked tattoo art to the working class, armed services, ex-prisoners and easy-virtue types, Vince dedicated a page on his site to tattooed notable celebrities and historical figures, such as Winston Churchill, Churchill’s mother, Kaiser Wilhelm and former US Secretary of State George Schultz. Interest in the site was huge, growing from half a million hits per year to over 20 million, making it one of the largest tattoo sites on the Internet.


Throughout his research and work on The Vanishing Tattoo, Vince began to notice an absence of tattoo-related photos, in particular “spectacular photos by fine art photographers.” Struck by the images of tattooed prisoners in a maximum security prison in Albert Watson’s book Cyclops, Vince was moved to focus his attention to taking artful photographs of tattoos.



 The Tattoo Project photograph by Marc Koegel.


Local Vancouver models and photographers converge for the love of tattoo art

Finding nearly a dozen photographers to participate in the Tattoo Project wasn’t all that difficult, says Vince,


“Vancouver is extraordinary in that it has a pool of really gifted photographers.”


In addition to himself, the 11 other photographers that signed up for the project were known to Vince through his own previous photography studies at Langara and Vancouver Photography Workshops.    


The tattooed models were made up of a mix of people known to the photographers and those who responded to posters and a casting call advertised in the Georgia Straight. More than 100 tattooed “models” expressed interest, but when it came right down to the three-day May Long Weekend photo shoot, 88 showed up (an extraordinary number considering the time commitment and typical no-shows that occur with any casting situation).


Models were paid $25, fed and provided with a professional print from the shoot. Vince says at any given time there were about 2030 people (including makeup and hair stylists) just hanging around waiting for their turn.



 The Tattoo Project photograph by Jeff Weddell.


Vancouver subculture featured in the Tattoo Project exhibit on Granville Island

A selection of stunning images from the three-day shoot are on display at Performance Works on Granville Island from Friday, November 26 to Sunday, November 28, 2010. Vince points out that what has been most fascinating about the project is that 12 different photographers all shooting the same pool of models have each come up with their intensely unique vision reflected in the photographs.


All photos and instillations at the exhibit will be available for purchase ranging in size (from 7.5×9 inches to 3×6 feet) and price (from $225 to $4,500). 2011 calendars will also be available for $20. Proceeds from sales support DTES Vancouver’s Ray-Cam Community Centre.


The opening exhibition gala, which takes place on Friday, November 26, 7–11 p.m. is free to the public (cash bar) and promises to bring out the city’s most outspoken members of the outsider art community. Confirmed for the event are long-time editor of Skin&Ink Magazine Bob Baxter; the godfather of modern American tattooing, Lyle Tuttle; and performances by Melody Mangler and the Screaming Chicken Burlesque Revue.


Vince will also be showing 30 minutes of footage that has been shot for the documentary. Check out the trailer here


The Tattoo Project photograph by Rosamund Norbury.


The Tattoo Project photograph by Spencer Kovats.


The Tattoo Project photograph by Aura McKay.


The Tattoo Project photograph by Dan Kozma.


The Tattoo Project photograph by Melanie Jane.


The Tattoo Project photograph by Pooya Nabei.


The Tattoo Project photograph by Syx Langemann.