I have a new project in the works, I intend to archive through photographic portraits, the ancient and creative practice of Sak Yant Tattoo design before yet another ancient cultural tradition is lost to the modern world.
If you spend even a little time in Thailand you will notice that a lot of people are adorned with tattoos, some may have only a single small tattoo, while others seem to be virtually covered in them. Contrary to the West, these traditional Thai tattoos, or “sak yant” (‘magic tattoo’), are not applied for cosmetic reasons. They are to protect him/her with special powers.
They are often applied in a temple, although this is not specifically required, by a man, called a “khruu” (teacher) or “aajaan sak”, who uses a long (roughly 2 foot) metal stick. The tattoo is made by tapping the top of the metal stick, which causes the pointed tip to break the skin and insert the ink. During the process the tattoo artist chants incantations to weave the magic into the tattoo.
Today’s modern world is ever shunning ancient rituals such as these. They are time consuming, painful and fewer people believe in the spiritual powers of the tattoo in the first place. In addition, infiltration of “western” culture into Thailand’s young people, is pushing out the old ways and replacing them with tattoo guns and secular designs for the purpose of ornamentation and “looking cool”.
I wish to document this fast disappearing art into a beautiful photo book melding spellbinding photographic portraits with true life stories and history. The book is predominantly a book of photography, but will include about a page of personal background and history on each portrait.
Photograph the traditional artwork of Thai “sak yan” (‘magic tattoo’), before it is no longer practiced and it’s believers are no longer with us.
Create portraits of the people who still believe in the practice (from the monks who apply them to the farmers, business men and prostitutes who wear them).
Each portrait will be uniquely photographed on location so as to portray to readers the meaning of the tattoo. The images will composed to match the personality of the tattoo itself and that of it’s wearer.
Each portrait will be accompanied by the historical background of the specific design and the personal stories told by those in the photographs.
I hope to archive the ancient and creative practice of Sak Yant Tattoo design before yet another ancient cultural tradition is wiped from history.
The Finished Product:
- Photo Book: a hardcover photo book which will consist of approx 100 page of meaningful portraits taken on location in Thailand. Each portrait will feature a person or group of people who wear traditional Asian tattoos done in the ancient way. Stories from the persons and history of the designs will accompany each photograph. The first run limited edition will be used for the enjoyment of project contributors (of course). Any remaining volumes will be used as demonstration of product as I attempt to bring the book to the masses at Art Shows, Galleries and of course Tattoo Conventions.
- E-book: an e-book will be published in full color allowing the images and stories to be easily obtained. These images are going to look amazing on the latest editions of tablets like the iPad.
- Gallery Display: The final images will be displayed long term in the Sante Fe Art District, Denver Colorado.
What do I bring to the Table? Why can I be trusted to pull this off?
- I have extensive experience with backpack travel in exotic countries including five trips to SE Asia.
- I have many local contacts in Thailand who have considerable resources to help me make the contacts I need including a documentary film maker, a “fixer”, a government worker who has done reports in Sak Yant communities and a professional translator.
- I am a professional photographer with a solid portfolio of cultural documentary style photography. Photography by ?Gene Tewksbury and Denver Photographer Blog
Your Money: What am I doing with your donations?
Please note that I am an experience “shoestring” traveler and will be traveling by the cheapest means possible. I will be using already established contacts within the country to save money at all opportunities. Your investment in my project (along with a heavy investment from my own savings) will help me to cover the following expenses:
Travel expenses (transport, food, lodging, etc.) Leaving in September for Thailand (estimated three months, but it’s really contingent on how much donations roll in for the project).
Fees for access to people places and things relevant to the research.
Payment to guides and translators needed for interviewing locals and reaching locations in remote areas.
Payment to local tattoo artists and participants in my portraits. (good portraits take time and I feel they should be compensated for that time).
Development of E-book (compatible with color hand held e-readers, and personal tablets like the iPad) for distribution online.
Costs for a limited, first printing of hardback full color photo books.
You can get a copy of this exciting project in either
e-book format or hard cover with just a small
donation toward it’s development.
Tags: ancient rituals, Asia, coffee table book, culture, magic tattoo, photographic portraits, photography book, sak yant, tattoo artist, tattoo design, Thailand, time in thailand, traditional artwork, western culture
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