Currently reading : Prison Tattoos by Douglas Kent Hall
One of my favorite activities when visiting a city is spending time meandering through stacks of books at used book stores. The feeling of reward one gets whens stumbling upon a book you have been looking for, or perhaps one you never knew of, makes the time spent well worth it. The latter was the case when I came upon Douglas Kent Hall’s 1997 book of black and white photographs entitled Prison Tattoos at a small book shop in Toronto. The book features an introduction by Richard Stratton, Editor of Prison Life magazine, who suggests that the tattoos depicted in Hall’s photographs are “visual declarations of emotional pain and sentiment.” Hall also provides a short essay contextualizing his relationship to prison tattoos and the men (and in some cases, women) who wear them, saying “If on one level prison tattoos serve as a simple surface tableau, an exhibitionist’s display calculated to shock and disgust, on a deeper level they revel something more significant, a key to the psyche of the individual who owns them.” The book offers an intimate depiction of American prison life while simultaneously depicting the aesthetic and iconography of prison tattoos. Although not taken by an institutional authority, many of the photos in Prison Tattoos are strikingly similar to photos of tattooed criminals taken by French authorities in the 19th century, depicted in books such as Mauvais Garcon: Portaits de tatoues. For those wishing to acquire their own prison tattoo (without spending time in prison), the book also includes five temporary transfer tattoos to satisfy your suppressed criminal tendencies should you find a copy with the “tattoos” still attached.