Preface by Shotsie Gorman
During a gallery exhibition of The Illustrated Woman photographs, Bill DeMichele was confronted by an incensed young woman, "Did you deliberately intend to offend people with these photos?" What becomes clear with this question, beyond her indignation, is the lack of indifference responding to photos of tattooed bodies. In the arts, tattooing and photography have few equals in their power to emotionally move the viewer. In this case, despite the clear visual beauty and sincere approach to the subject, the combination of Bill DeMichele's photography and the art of tattooing produces shocking images. What we have here, in a sense, is the classical female nude, with its long history of moral, social and political ramifications and the "bizarre" (by conventional standards), the tattooed and pierced body image. This blending carries with it enormous baggage. It is necessary to try to delineate the surrounding issues concerning these images in a clear manner. Once relieved of the misunderstandings, one can better appreciate the effort on the part of the tattooed woman and the artist, Bill DeMichele.
There is a resonance that must be noted in the response to photography that is often voiced by viewers of the tattooed person. Generally, the accepted notion is that all great photographic art validates itself both by the audience reaction and its "point of view." The photographer is inescapably tied to his or her viewpoint both literally, by the limits of the camera as a tool, and metaphorically, by the choice of image and the camera technique he or she chooses to use. The underlying excitement of these particular photos is the coming together of two potent art forms that stir immediate powerful reactions.
What follows in this book is photography and tattooing synchronizing on aesthetic, social, psychological and political spheres. The social perceptions of photography sets it apart from other traditional forms of expression, which links it on many levels to tattooing by virtue of the intense emotional response they both elicit. While many forms of expression are accepted as ephemeral, fantasy, inner visions, the photograph (regardless of its content) is perceived to "be" reality.
In that perspective, photography steps out of the realm of art and begins to be seen as a true empirical experience. Perhaps that is why there has long been a period of rejection to photography as art by the cognoscenti, and more recently, a recognized shock to its content in the general public's eye (i.e. the Mapplethorpe fiasco). In effect, what occurs is based on this understanding: the photograph is forcibly prying open the psyche by a "perceived" literal translation of the world. The photograph then becomes a visceral experience in the shadow world of our belief systems. As a result, the photograph (unlike its counterparts in the arts) must carry with it the burden of visual standards contained in the current cultural memory in a literal way. It would follow that in many cases, when one responds negatively to a photograph, one reacts on a subconscious level in fear. This fear I will call "paradigm vertigo." The image that we see before us becomes, by virtue of its confluence to the modern information media stream, a direct threat to our "comfort zone." In this, our set of psychic rules, we create blocks to certain types of expression. Dr. Peck in The Road Less Traveled would have called these rules our "map of reality." Albeit, mediocrity is the standard psychological "comfort zone" in our culture, as evidenced by our current lack of appreciation of the arts and our perverse loathing of diversity.
By establishing these perspectives, I am pointing out the fact that in our culture "Gross Consciousness" in a pejorative sense, rather than cultural memory, comprises our aesthetic judgment. The conventional wisdom then is being dictated via electronic media images rather than by oral traditions or written ones. These technological images tend to distort our humanity. It is this pervasive, bland and often violent influence on our minds that helps to place photography in the odd position of being caught somewhere between mass media images and the inner world of the artist. Similarly, tattooing elicits from the same uninitiated public a response of fear. It invades that "comfort zone" by forcing people to confront their own inner lives. Our society has mastered ignoring this inner world of primal emotional motivations. This is the very essence of the tattoo image. As such, we are angered by any reminders that we are just a short step from our primal past. When people see extensive tattooing on a human body for the first time, they are drawn into a nether world of swirling archetypal symbols in the strictest Jungian sense. This is disconcerting, to put it mildly, but that is the beauty and the power of tattooing as an art form-- that it moves us to question. It is an enigma.
Although photography has reached the level of acceptance it deserves as an art form, tattooing is seemingly doomed to the awkward position of stepchild to the more serious arts, and in most cases a rejected family member of the folk art community. You would think the dichotomies present in tattooing and photography would ostensibly give both art forms the power to affect the modern consciousness in a positive way. But this would require stepping out of dogmatic thinking and tossing out the "map." While I have felt this power within tattooing myself, I have not witnessed evidence of that recognition in the public view, or for that matter in the tattoo world itself, and only a glimmer of it in the academic community. Given this static state, The Illustrated Woman photographs must be recognized for the ground-breaking blend that they are. Paintings with light, lighting the way of acceptance both for a woman's choice to step out of the conventional role cast for her in our society and the recognition of Tattooing as a qualified means of personal self-expression. Look with an open mind. In the end it is your decision.