A Once-Dying Art, Now Alive More Than Ever

Tattooing in the United States essentially began in New York City in 1846 when Martin Hildebrant, a German immigrant, opened the first American tattoo shop on Oak Street. In 1875 Samuel O’ Reilly opened up the second tattoo shop in New York City in Chatham Square in the Bowery, and it was in the 1890’s when modern tattooing was invented.

By the 1920’s the center for the New York tattoo world moved from the Bowery to Coney Island. During the 1961-1997 New York City tattoo ban, the New York tattoo world moved entirely underground. According to Mike Bakaty, 74, tattooist and owner of Fineline Tattoo in Manhattan, there were probably 500 tattoo artists in the entire country during the years of the ban.

The tattoo ban was enacted due to health reasons, however there was still a stigma involved in the general public’s perception on people who inked their skin. Tattooing was primarily associated with “drunken-sailors,” convicts, and bikers, but today that has all changed.

According to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, there are currently approximately 1,700 licensed tattoo artists in New York City.

Many male and female New York City residents patiently await their 18th birthdays because that is the legal age one can get tattooed at in New York City. Women and men of all professions get tattooed for all different kinds of reasons. My showcase is going to feature these diverse people who all share one specific thing in common – the need to ink their skin.

The art of tattooing has worked itself so deeply into America’s mainstream culture and people have a vast array of reasons as to why they ink their skin. Some people get tattooed to mark a turning point in their lives, to exemplify their individuality, to give “meaning” to their aesthetic, to express themselves visually, to be hip and keep up with the trends, or just because they simply like the way a tattoo looks. Whatever the reason may be, tattooing in New York City has exploded from the prohibition days into such a highly regarded widespread art form.

My showcase is going to feature all different kinds of New York City residents who have tattoos and the reasons why they get they ink their skin. It would be ideal to actually sit in on someone getting a tattoo with that person’s permission, of course, to film. I want to capture the piercing sound of the needle as it hits the skin and I want to capture a person’s reaction while getting tattooed. Getting tattooed is an extremely painful process, but for people who love getting inked it’s worth it.

The exclusive book “New York City Tattoo: An Oral History of an Urban Art,” by Michael McCabe has a vast array of old school pictures of the prohibition days of tattooing that I could possibly scan and use in my slideshow.


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