“After studying documentary photography at the Academy of Arts in the Netherlands, I was really lost in this big world where anything could happen.”
With an academical degree from a reputed university in her pocket, Mirthe van der Berk was eager to find a project starting off her career as a professional photographer. When you turn away from high and untouchable art, it can be a real pain to find a topic for a kick-off series. But the first step is always the worst: Basically a trial to outbalance your own passion and still meet public interest. Luckily, the solution for Mirthe was at hand:
“As a girlfriend of a tattoo artist I found myself visiting a lot of tattoo shops and tattoo conventions all over the world. I spent the days talking to all kind of artists and just sitting around a bit. It was very interesting to meet so many different people with a shared love for ink.”
While photographing tattooists during work and on conventions is not a very exceptional idea in a high-degree visually represented scene, whose participants and outcome continuously get captured and posted publicly, Mirthe was interested in another, more personal approach.
With WE TATTOO, I try to show the faces of all the different people I meet. Photographing them away from their booth or shop in a neutral place just to show the person and nothing more. I visited a lot of conventions before I started WE TATTOO, trying to find something I could do. There were always a lot of photographers taking pictures of the artists at work and of the different tattoos they make. But I find it way more interesting to photograph the person without the work.”
For Mirthe, her project was a great opportunity to meet and connect in a more intimate getaway from the hustle and bustle of the conventions. These interactions might not last very long, but they are pausing the surrounding for a moment. In this moment, tattooists are not viewed through a lens judging their works and styles. The personal connection to Mirthe’s photographed counterpart was the most important part in this project. Only with this focus she was able to capture a glimpse of the tattooing-detached personality, and the intimacy between photographer and photographed. The choice of the technical device in between is therefore not only meaningful, but also crucial:
“I started WE TATTOO at the Frankfurt Tattoo Convention, but after that event, I wanted to quit the project. Back then I was photographing with my big DSLR. The convention was really big and I felt lost with my evenly big camera. I noticed it made people feel very uncomfortable. After this first, rocky start, I found my Yashica T4 at home and I thought let me give it one more try! It is a really small camera and with only 36 shots it works good for me. Also I can develop the film by myself and for a control freak like me that is really important.”
After finalizing the concept for a promising and enjoyable project, faith struck again and bonded Mirthe even more to her idea and the community: Equipped with her Yashica T4, she took one of her first real shots for WE TATTOO on the Nepal Tattoo Convention in April 2015 of Mohan Gurung – only 20 minutes before the earthquake struck.
Until this day, Mirthe keeps continuing the project wherever she gets to travel and meet tattooists around the world. It became much more than simply the execution of a project. WE TATTOO has had a much greater impact on Mirthe:
“I really enjoy photographing but since I am really shy talking to strangers it never worked for me. With WE TATTOO, I force myself to push my own boundaries, talking to strangers, listening to their stories, and then I lose the feeling of it being scary. It has been a great adventure where I got to know so many incredible people. All with their own stories, their own battles, just trying to do what they love – just like me.“
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