Every once in a while, a project comes along that digs up, dusts off, examines, then tosses away some deeply entrenched idea in society. This time it comes in the form of a collaboration between two women in London, Christina Theisen and Eleni Stefanou. Their work is entitled “Women with Tattoos” and it is exactly that: a photo collection of real women set against the backdrop of their everyday lives. Every image portrays a quiet vitality and beauty without endeavor.
While you may think you’re simply looking at pictures of women with tattoos, the compilation as a whole does a spectacular job challenging certain archetypes about gender and the art of body ink. Keeping that in mind while browsing the album by Theisen and Stefanou makes “Women with Tattoos” all the more stunning, profound, and enlightening.
According to the “Women with Tattoos” project statement:
“We get tattoos to express creativity, to evoke a memory, to pay tribute to the deceased, or to change what we feel nature has imposed on us – to take back control.
As with other aspects of human appearance, tattoos come with a social context and a personal story. For women – who have had a different and shorter relationship with inked skin – tattoos can and are used to challenge the limitations of ideals such as beauty, femininity and gender norms.
Our project seeks to capture the personal and the individual, embracing each woman and her tattoos as one, rather than isolating or magnifying the inked parts of her body. At the same time, by using
natural environments and the context of urban Western culture, we intentionally move away from the sexualised glamour model aesthetic that dominates tattoo magazines and popular culture.
The women who shared their stories with us acquired their tattoos through different paths – from setting sea with the merchant navy in the 1950s to overcoming drug abuse, from emerging from the ruins of a long-term relationship to showing the world that there is more depth and edge to a woman than her looks may reveal.
Tattoos are often described as banal and common; some people are even predisposed to the idea that tattoos are giveaways of class or promiscuity (we hear the term ‘tramp stamp’ still used today). In fact, we believe that their endurance through time and across cultures affirms their value as a means of expression and communication.”