Sophy Holland’s “The Illustrated Man”

Illustrated_Man_PhotosGone are the days when tattoos were an indication of a seedy lifestyle, criminal background or a lack of sophistication. Nowadays, tattoos are seen on a wide group of folks that expands across the depth and wide of global populations. And that evolution and expansion now even includes women. Unfortunately, a highly illustrated, cornucopia of tattooed symbols and images are not as accepted on women as it is on the male population. Still, women are forging ahead, decorating their bodies with tattoo art in numbers unheard of in previous decades and generations.

In celebration of tattoo illustration, tattoo connoisseur, advocate, photographer/film documentarian Sophy Holland presented a collection of photographs of heavily tattooed, well-known men, “The Illustrated Man,” in and out of the fashion industry at the Agora Gallery in New York City. From  fashion director Nick Wooster to fencer Miles Watson and a slew of male models—Don Benjamin, Josh Mario John, Ricki Hall, Ian Elkins, and Kevin Creekman—Holland demonstrates that tattoos in a bounty of color, size, and variation can have a distinctive kind of beauty and power on the male physique.

Collages1262“The male subjects that I chose straddle the world of tattoo culture and fashion. They were either influencers, fashion models or icons in fashion. Over a six-month period I reached out to all the heavily tattooed male models, some had as many as 2 million followers on social media and a lot of them wanted to shoot with me. In turn their enthusiasm turned into the documentary that we shot with Dave Navarro. The documentary is a social commentary on how reality television—”Miami Ink” and “Black Ink”—has played a part in the rise of the tattoo culture. And also how advertising, entertainment and fashion in general has helped normalize tattoos,” detailed Holland.

This photographic series captures the reinvigorated tattoo culture that goes beyond, sailors, criminals and underground characters to the current mainstream tattoo culture that has been embraced by mainstream pop culture, fashion trends, and product branding. This exhibition also demonstrates that the cross-pollination of tattoo culture and fashion is being heavily fueled by Generation Y.

Sophy Holland. All images courtesy of Mao PR

Sophy Holland. All images courtesy of Mao PR

“I was very interested in the rise of the tattooed male and the rise of that aesthetic in advertising and fashion. I was also interested in the change of perception of tattoos from being seedy and something that was a part of the underworld to the dream boyfriend and the male pinup of today. Millenials and Generation Y are really looking to tattooed men as a dream guy and the tattooed male model is really hot and which is a big shift in advertising. I wanted to document on the tattooed man is being used in advertising to sell things,” explained Sophy Holland.

Holland also documents in her documentary of tattoo culture has become normalized, not only in the US, but globally. “When Zombie Boy was discovered by Nicola Formichetti of Mugler brand, he was the trailblazer for paving the way for men who are heavily tattooed. He blazed a trail to having tattoo culture to been as normalized, sexy and palatable for advertisers. Forty percent of people in the US are now tattooed, so we are just a five to ten years away from tattooed people being the majority in the US.”

Though this large-scale collection of photographs showed only one day at a special exhibit in NYC, the collection will continue to tour throughout the US.

—William S. Gooch


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