Many people aren’t aware of the fact that tattooing in New York City was banned for 36 years through 1961 up until 1997. The fact that just 14 years ago tattooing in New York City was illegal is pretty bizarre considering how deeply tattooing is rooted into the City’s culture and even American culture as a whole – especially now with mainstream kitschy television programs like LA Ink and Miami Ink.
Many tattoo enthusiasts like Mike Bakaty of Fineline Tattoo and Wes Wood of Unimax Supply Company are certain that the City Health Department’s justification for banning tattooing was not true at all. Tattooing was made illegal because the Health Department found a series of blood-borne hepatitis B cases coming from tattoo parlors in the early 1960’s.
Wes Wood, one of the people who fought to get tattooing re-legalized, admits that maybe there was one or two hepatitis cases involved with tattooing, but that was definitely not the real reason for the Health Department to pull the plug on tattooing.
“The Health Department’s position was that they were against legalization because they didn’t want to spend the money – they thought it was a waste of taxpayer’s money. They even knew that no one was getting hepatitis or aids. When tattooing became popular people got concerned with that and people got the perception that because there is blood involved people are getting diseases – it’s that perception that drove all this hysteria,” said Wood.
During the 1960’s tattooing was still a stigma, it wasn’t like it is today. A November 2010 New York Times article reported that the Food and Drug Administration estimated that as many as 45 million Americans currently have tattoos.
Ever since the 1890’s when tattooing was born in America is was a popular thing to do, but just different kinds of people who were presented in a bad light were making it popular. The artwork has infinitely changed since the prohibition years and even before that. The reasons people get tattoos have also changed and it would be interesting to explore the tattoos of the old and young and the differences between techniques and style.
Some people like Jon Clue, a tattoo artist in the Bushwick area of Brooklyn, have strong feelings that people getting tattooed nowadays make poor selections in choosing a tattoo in order to make a fashion statement or keep up with the trendiness of getting a tattoo. That may even be true, but I think it is just too general of a statement. So many people have such intricately, thought out tattoos that leads me to believe they aren’t so vapid. A tattoo is probably one of the most blatant forms of expression a person can display. Many people have real, strong reasons behind why they ink their skin and others just simply like the way it looks.
According to a 2006 survey conducted by Pew Research, 40 percent of Americans between the ages of 26 and 40 have at least one tattoo. A certain kind of person will cover their arms or legs in tattoos. And a certain kind of person will ink their actual face, but regardless of one tattoo or 10 tattoos, a tattoo’s permanence makes it a very powerful form of expression, which is worth being explored.