Two tattoo books came to my attention and they are interesting examples of the two extremes in which women are represented in tattooing.
The first is a full size, full color, hardbound coffee table book entitled, The Women of Ink: 16 International Tattoo Artists by Akos Banfalvi. The dust jacket reads, "Discover insights into their [artists] inspiration, artistic motifs, tattooing methods, and opinions on the state of tattoo culture today and the importance of social media and attending conventions worldwide."
Any time a book or article attempts to aggregate a list of "Best Tattoo Artists", there is always a bit of controversy. Inevitably deserving artists don't make that list and occasionally, someone is on the list because of their notoriety more than their talent. Plus with the variety of tattoo styles that are abound, how do you pick the "Ten Best" when the difference between watercolor, photo realism, and American heritage is so huge? With The Women of Ink, you don't. You select artists who work in a variety of styles and the list is held together by two factors: 1) you are a woman artist, and 2) you are excellent at what you do.
Many books that feature women tattoo artists fall prey to the cultural stereotype (and the ability to sell magazines and books) by presenting these professional women as super sexy chicks who happen to tattoo. Lame. The Women of Ink steers clear of this offensive pitfall and loads its pages with pictures of the artist's work, drawings, sketches, images of the artists tattooing, and thoughtful interviews that cover a range of tattoo-related topics. Okay, the cover and inset feature a couple of half-clad artists, but the rest of the book delivers on what it promises without resorting to cheesecake - an informative and visually rich book detailing the work of 16 very talented artists.
All the artists selected are well known in tattoo circles and some of them, like watercolor master Ivana, are Pinterest darlings. This is my favorite kind of tattoo book because it is informative, loaded with images, and introduces me to artists I may not have heard of before. The Women of Ink is a book about great tattoo artists first, and to a lesser extent - artists that happen to be women. Like any hardworking tattoo arrtist knows - male or female - being great at tattooing takes time, dedication, grit, and talent. No one is going to give you a leg up because you are a woman, and if you have mad talent and work hard, being a woman in tattooing will never hold you back - this book proves that.
On the exact flip side and released by the same publisher is the coffee table picture book Ink Nymphs of Los Angeles by Nelson Blanton. What can I say about this book that won't sound ungrateful? I was given a copy for free in order to review it. That was three months ago. I just couldn't bring myself to say something bad, because someone had gone through the trouble to give me this book for free. Must be my upbringing... or my fear that I won't get anymore free stuff. But integrity prevails and I have to say I think this book is fairly awful. It propagates the worst stereotype of tattooed women and does nothing to elevate the art of tattoos or tattooed models.
The book itself is well made and the photographs are well done to a certain degree, but the overall tone is cheap and voyeuristic. Salacious images of tattooed women have been around for a long, long time. Tattoo magazines and blogs rely on the seemingly endless supply of nubile young women wth ink eager to pose half-naked on motorcyles, low riders, playground equipment, etc. The best of these images show that tattooed women can be sexy as hell, come from many walks of life, and in all different shapes and sizes. Images of tattooed women can show that being tattooed does not mean we are automatically "trashy" or "cheap" or "easy". I personally think showing tattooed women as feminine and sexy is all well and good, so it's not the subject matter I object to - it's the manner in whch Ink Nymphs of Los Angeles portrays it.
The majority of the ink "featured" is neither exceptional nor interesting. Much of it is crudely done and tacky. The women do not look like professional models, but more like the "trashy girl next door" stripper stereotypes that so many tattooed women try to combat. They are posed and placed in a variety of settings and stages of undress with variations on the "come hither" stare from many men's magazines. I think the intention was to portay these "real" tattooed sexy women in a fresh and vivid way - unstaged and raw. Instead the book has a definite "Girls Gone Wild" amatuer feel that lacks dignity and focus. For me, the result feels more like a slap dash photo reel of the B-list girls who didn't book the adult film gig they were going for, rather than a celebration of the beauty and variety of the tattooed female form.
Honestly if you want to look at gorgeous naked tattooed women, check out Suicide Girls - where the women have a lot of control over how they portray themselves and consider themselves part of the Suicide family under founder Missy Suicide. And if you want a book of naked or semi-naked tattooed women (completely understandable), try Tattoo Super Models. The ink is cooler, the models more professional, and the photography is a sumptous blend of cheescake and feminine beauty that celebrates - not denigrates.