Portraits of Heavily Tattooed People Who Normally Cover Up

My dad used to joke that I’d get a larger share of his will than my sister because of her tattoo, a handwritten line on the back of her neck. Well, the subjects of Alan Powdrill’s COVERED exhibition would be his worst nightmare. Powdrill’s 2015 art exhibit featured people whose entire bodies were covered in tattoos.

The concept behind the show was simple. Powdrill shot two images per person, one where the person’s tattoos are covered by clothing, and one where they’re fully on display. Each of the pictures was accompanied by a quote from the person photographed, talking about the origin or meaning of their tattoo.

The name of the exhibit referred to the way that its subjects were covered in tattoos, the way they covered up those tattoos and the exhibit’s central question: how much of a person’s personality is really covered or uncovered in their everyday life. As Powdrill asked in his artist’s statement, “How do we judge people when we can’t see their skin beneath?”

“I was 17. I hid my first few from my parents for many years and by the time they found out, they knew this was going to be my life.” (Phillip, 27)

“My Kiss tattoos are my favourites, the pain was incredible but it feels good to show my ultimate dedication to the band,” (Kimmy, left, from Ruislip) “If I ever forget who I am I take my clothes off and look in the mirror and find out who I am again,” (Chris, 25, from Coventry)

“I was 51 when I started and my father was already dead and my mum didn’t say anything as she was in the early stages of dementia.” (Graham, 58)

“They have given me confidence in life since my Crohn’s illness. I will love them in the future like I do now.” (Peter, 38)

The exhibit was staged at Mother London, an art studio in East London, in November 2015. It made waves in the community for not only featuring tattooed models but having tattoo artists on hand to give free tattoos to gallery-goers. 

The tattoos, which their owners usually keep private, were mounted in bold color on the studio walls, with the quote next to each set for context. 

The quotes covered similar territory: the reasons behind the tattoos, whether or not they were going to continue adding to their ink collection, and whether or not their parents approved of the process. 

As for my own family? Well, two years after my sister, I went and got a big blackwork tattoo right on my bicep. Sorry, Dad.

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