Dwight Magee with one of his favourite pictures in his collection of Nude Tattoo photographs at the Smithers Art Gallery. Tom Best photo

A story written with a different ink

“Each one has a story and each one is important to the individual who shows it.”

By Tom Best

An exhibition of photographs at the Smithers Art Gallery featuring amateur models displaying their tattoos raised some eyebrows.

The models posed in the nude. It brings up all kinds of possibilities, some of which should maybe not be on show in a public art gallery.

These photos, however, are very tasteful and they are certainly not anything close to the pornography that some people immediately conjure up when they hear the term nude.

When Kitimat photographer Dwight Magee began his project, he advertised for people who would be interested in showing their tattoos in order to try to tell the story of how they use their bodies as canvases. Magee said that he was overwhelmed with the number of people who come forward in interest. He was expecting around 20 but ended up having to cut it off when over 70 contacted him.

The tattoos are not merely decorations.

“Each one has a story and each one is important to the individual who shows it. And in some cases they are very empowering,” he said.

One of his favourites is of a mature woman who has undergone a full life and has endured the aches and pains that such a life brings. Along with other pictures, one can easily see that life in the facial expressions that Magee has captured in the studious sittings he and those models underwent.

In my own background, a tattoo was something that you might see on a released prisoner or someone who has returned from a lifetime on the sea. A lot of the time it was an anchor and maybe it was dedicated to a special woman like Mom.

The whole experience of tattoos has changed and while for some it might still be merely decoration, for many it has a special meaning. A pair of wings might recall someone special who has gone on to a higher place. There might be a likeness, or even a photographic image, of a loved one or a pet.

The pictures are tasteful with strategically placed covers of various forms such as a guitar in one case, and there is no more nudity that one might see in many movies or on TV.

For many, there is a spiritual connection in the display and this is what Magee has tried so hard to capture.

His only disappointment in his recent display at the Smithers Art Gallery was that due to the size of the gallery, he could not show the complete collection.

Looking at the photos, one can see the beauty of the actual artwork on their skin and marvel at the time and patience that they must have taken. Modern technology has made the process much easier and quicker but a steady hand must still be used and a still canvas must be presented.

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