Tattoo you: Auckland Writers and Readers Festival 2013

New Zealand tattoo: in the home of the tattoist’s art by Chris Hoult and Steve Forbes is a beautiful book: “a snapshot of the tattoo scene in 2011 and 2012”. Photojournalist Chris and writer Steve have made something rather special. Their session managed to convey the richness of the tattooing culture even though as they said “We’re photojournalists, we’re not noted for our oratory”. They showed a series of striking images as part of their presentation.

The book’s genesis was in an observation of Europe’s keen interest in ta moko. A sample chapter was created for the Frankfurt Book Fair, and it proceeded from there. Just after the book was given the go-ahead, the biennial tattoo convention in Auckland took place – so they had the potential for new material for their book.  After the convention, they decided focusing on a dozen artists wasn’t enough.

Steve Forbes then explained more about the history of ta moko and tattooing in New Zealand. Tattoo chisels have been found in our oldest archaeological dig sites. Mokomokai (preserved tattooed heads) once became a macabre commerce. Some chiefs who signed The Treaty of Waitangi drew their distinctive moko patterns as their signature. But as time moved on and ta moko declined, the last bastion was the kuia who wore the chin moko.

He delved more into the history including the Samoan influence, and the controversy around non-Maori like Robbie Williams sporting traditional designs.

So how many Kiwis are tattooed? Apparently we are the most tattooed people on earth – in 5 Kiwis are inked. 22% of women, 17% of men. Interestingly, only five of us in the crowd ‘fessed up to being inked – and neither of the two writers are.

The more recent tattooists and their business was explored with lots of great examples. Many of the current crop of tattooists are art school graduates and young, keen and smart business people.

Chris had some top tips if you are thinking of getting inked:

  1. Choose your design carefully.
  2. Don’t get tattooed under the influence of drink, drugs, or strong emotions.
  3. Get inked after New Year’s. Lots of people book in November, but then spend their holiday pay so often tattooists have free time early in the new year.
  4. “Beware because they are artists and they are looking for fresh, blank canvas – you”
  5. Cheap tattoos aren’t good, good tattoos aren’t cheap.

Tattoo Aotearoa sessionWriter Steve Forbes and photographer Chris HoultDonna and photographer Chris Hoult