For two decades, Chris Rainier has traveled around the world photographing body art -- from tattoos to piercings to scarification -- in a variety of cultural contexts. He's visited LA gangs, hill tribes in New Guinea, the Mentawa of the Indonesian island of Siberut, and countless other locales to understand how and why they modify their flesh, and document the processes and results. The new film Tattoo Odyssey documents Rainier's visit to Indonesia, and the bulk of his work is included in the 2006 monograph Ancient Marks: The Sacred Origins of Tattoos and Body Marking. Above is a Boni tribesman with ritual scarification, from West Africa's Burkina Faso. Below, a woman in Morocco with Henna-stained hands. Smithsonian profiles the work of Rainier, who it turns out was Ansel Adams's last assistant. He first became interested in body art while photographing disappearing indigenous cultures. From Smithsonian:
Rainier’s images “lifted a veil on something that wasn’t accessible to us in Western culture,” says Deborah Klochko, director of San Diego’s Museum of Photographic Arts, which has displayed Rainier’s portraits. His work, much of it presented in the 2006 book Ancient Marks: The Sacred Origins of Tattoos and Body Marking, may be the most comprehensive collection of its kind, Klochko says. Yet, she points out, “he’s not an anthropologist. A scientist would take another kind of picture of the same markings. He brings a different sensibility, an emotional connection.”..."Looking at the World's Tattoos" (Smithsonian)
The modern West’s first recorded encounter with the Polynesian practice of tattowing dates from 1769, when Joseph Banks–a naturalist aboard the British ship Endeavour–watched a 12-year-old girl (the “patient,” he called her, though modern aficionados might prefer the term “collector”) being extensively adorned. Banks’ description is brief but harrowing: “It was done with a large instrument about 2 inches long containing about 30 teeth,” he wrote in his journal. “Every stroke...drew blood.” The girl wailed and writhed but two women held her down, occasionally beating her. The agony lasted more than an hour.