Artist photoshops away the tattoos of ex-gang members

Steven Burton embarked on an amazing project — taking photos of ex-gang members in LA and then meticulously photoshopping away their extensive tattoos. It took about 400 hours of 'shopping.

When Burton showed the results to the photograph subjects, they were mesmerized by the spectacle of themselves looking so different — a sort of parallel universe of possibility, a digitally-revealed road-not-taken. Some laughed; some wept.

There's a good story about Burton's project here at DIY Photography, with several examples of the pics, and Burton has released Skin Deep, a book of all the before-and-after images. As the publisher describes it …

For these men and women, the aftermath of gang life is not only carried within–it is also scrawled across their faces and bodies. Skin Deep uniquely highlights the impact tattoos have on the way a person is perceived by showing what each participant might look like without them.

Utilizing before and, thanks to the advantages of Photoshop, after photographs, these men and women got a chance to see what they'd look like without the inked visual armor. After the bare images were presented to each, they were asked to talk about themselves and their families, what tattoos represent to them, and their aspirations for the future.

Seeing themselves without tattoos–many for the first time in decades–naturally brought about a wide range of emotions, recollections, hopes, and dreams, with responses such as: "I am shocked. I don't know what to say about this. I am going to give this to my mom, she is going to be so happy." "I think this guy in the pictures would judge the one with tattoos right off the top." "That's crazy, that looks real crazy. Those came out cool man! I think I like it better without the tattoos."

(Pictures used with permission of Steven Burton)