The Art of Tattoos on Display at Chicago Photography Center

By Patty Wetli | Wednesday, February 1, 2012

"I (Heart) Ink" exhibit opens at Chicago Photography Center. Credit: Simon Wolak

Great Britain is named after the tattoo; Britons are literally “people of the design.” Tattooed Barbie sported coiling dragons. Mitt Romney ought to have a dollar sign inked on his forehead, but the Mormon religion frowns on the practice.

As public as tattoos are and as prominent a role as they play in societies from Samoa to Serbia, they’re also very personal expressions of individuality. “There are always stories about each tattoo,” says Susan Aurinko, co-curator of the upcoming gallery exhibit, I (Heart) Ink, which opens Saturday, Feb. 4, 7-9 p.m. at the Chicago Photography Center, 3301 N. Lincoln Ave.

Featuring nearly 40 intimate photos of body art by 14 photographers, I (Heart) Ink is the brainchild of Aurinko and Warren Perlstein, both CPC board members. “It’s a really incredible art form, people are very proud of it,” says Aurinko, who’s been curating most of CPC’s shows for the past year and a half. The exhibit aims to show the range of tattoo styles, including the tattoo culture of New Zealand’s Maori people.

“It’s more global,” she says. “It’s not just the hip culture on Belmont.”

Capturing tattoos on film, or memory card as the case may be, poses unique challenges for photographers; tattoos are wildly different from other works of art in that they move and breathe. “It’s a form of portraiture,” says Perlstein. “You have to think about the skin and skin tones, and everything from lighting to camera setting through post-processing.”

Furthering the portrait analogy, Aurinko says: “People are their tattoos. What you have on your arm may define you more than your face.”

If I (Heart) Ink‘s often provocative images lure curiosity seekers, Aurinko and Perlstein will have accomplished their mission of opening up the art form, and CPC, to a wider audience.

“The goal is to bring more people into exhibits. It’s not been easy,”  Aurinko admits. Formerly the owner of the dearly-departed Flatfile Gallery, she’s broadened the center’s exhibits beyond hangings of student work, but the fact remains that CPC’s gallery, which mounts 11 shows a year, remains something of a secret. “We’re not where other galleries are,” Aurinko states. “We don’t get any overflow here.”

“I (Heart) Ink” at Chicago Photography Center. Credit: K. Martin

“We’re trying to make this accessible to everybody,” adds Perlstein. “We want this to be more than just a photography school. We want to be a community center. After 40 years in the business, I’ve learned as much as I’ve taught here. It’s just so much fun to share.”


See it first: I (Heart) Ink opens to the public, for free, on Feb. 4 and runs through Feb. 24, Monday – Thursday, 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. The exhibit will be on display for a sneak preview, Friday, Feb. 3, during CPC’s annual fundraiser, 7-10 p.m.

Shoot it: In conjunction with the photo exhibit, CPC is offering a one-day hands-on tattoo photography workshop, Feb. 4, 3-6 p.m. Instructor Sabina Cosick will talk students through the various techniques required to expertly photograph body art.

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