WHEN five people in her life died within the space of four years, Kirsty MacKinnon wanted to find a way to honour them.
After years of battling in silence, Kirsty decided the answer was to etch a “reminder” of each loved one on her skin – her upper left thigh to be precise – in the form of a memorial tattoo.
The phoenix bird, she says, is a “reminder every day, they are with me, I will rise up every time something ‘bad’ happens, and it’s time for me to live on for them.”
Kirsty is one of 12 Canberrans sharing the stories behind their tattoos through a photographic project by local photographer Daniel Spellman.
Often thought of as something done on a whim only to be regretted later, Daniel says stories like Kirsty’s show tattoos can, in fact, be treasured statements, memories or art.
“I’ve often heard words like ‘bogan’ and ‘disgusting’ thrown around when people look at tattoos, and many of my friends have them,” Daniel says.
“People think everyone just gets them to be cool. I wanted to show there’s more to it, that some people put consideration into their ink. The way our appearances alter how we are perceived to the outside world has always fascinated me, so it’s inevitable that I would eventually turn my lens on tattooed people.”
Daniel, 23, started the project as a third year photography student at the ANU two years ago, finding his subjects through social media or friends and shooting them in a studio at the university.
He says he was surprised at some of his subjects’ stories.
“Kirsty, in particular. At first glance some people might look at her and write her off as just a pretty blonde girl who didn’t care what tattoo she got, but she’s got this amazing, thoughtful story behind her ink,” he says.
Another subject is Dale, whose tattoo of a man with his head in his hands on his upper arm is “about overcoming psychological issues”.
Daniel says while most people who have seen the photos so far have been positive, there’s been a few grumbles.
“Some people said ‘why did you do that? Tattoos are so ugly!’ I think there’s a deep-rooted conservativeness that won’t shift in some people,” Daniel says.
“But I do hope as more people see the photos, and read the stories, it will change perceptions.”
Ironically, Daniel doesn’t have a tattoo – “I’d like to get one, but I’m just deciding on the right one,” he smiles.
Daniel’s photos will eventually be presented in an exhibition, with a date to be announced soon, and published in a book.
More information at danielspellman.com