Back in February I travelled to Birmingham to be part of Niall Patterson‘s original photography idea, Beauty Is Not Only Ink Deep. I can now reveal my full interview with Niall, that was originally published in Skin Deep Magazine in March 2015…
“At first, I wanted to start this venture because of something I’d experienced myself,” Niall says. “When I decided to get my first tattoo, I was met with a lot of negative criticism. I wasn’t immersed in the tattoo industry so I didn’t know too much about opinions on tattoos today. I was shocked to see there still seemed to be a lot of prejudice around tattoos and I wanted to meet some of the people who had experienced that.”
The main aim of Beauty Is Not Only Ink Deep is to change the perception of tattoos and give a voice to the people behind the ink. So many different characters have been part of Niall’s idea so far, all with a variety of experiences. “Over the last few years I have heard love stories, drunken memories, future dreams and tales of discrimination and hurt. It’s been extraordinary seeing how tattoos mean such different things to different people.”
Those involved are also interviewed as part of the process and a selection of quotes are added alongside their final images on Niall’s Facebook page. As you read through the quotes, there’s a sense of that deep connection between person and ink, what it truly means to hold a tattoo on your body forever.
That’s been the biggest challenge for him so far, a photographer’s need to capture that beautiful, artistic quality of different tattoos whilst wanting the individual to be the most important aspect of the photo. “I wanted to try something different. I wanted to focus on the tattoos but more importantly the emotion and experience behind each pair of eyes.”
I was nervous at first, being photographed to be part of the project. If you’re not familiar with a camera lens, it can be quite awkward, but Niall’s chilled-out personality makes you feel comfortable.
He’s surprised at how quickly people ease into it. “I thought they would be more shy actually, most of them have never done anything like this before. But they were all completely relaxed.” It seems the one place tattooed people are comfortable, is within their own ink.
“They are passionate about telling their own tattoo stories,” says Niall. “I want them to really feel that they are central to this project and it truly is about them.”
One of the main aims of Beauty Is Not Only Ink Deep and indeed Niall’s next step is to investigate book publishing opportunities. “The images do look great online but I think a book gives the chance for these big, bold, beautiful stories to really breathe. It gives them the space they deserve.”
I couldn’t grasp how on earth Niall had found time to do this creative endeavour, free-of- charge, alongside a full-time job and various other photography projects. “When it’s something you’re passionate about, you find a way,” he fights back. “I pull a lot of all-nighters to get things done!”
Just a day after my shoot with Niall, he’s been editing photos in his lunch breaks and sends a selection over to me by 2am the next morning. I’m asked to choose my favourite snaps. Niall encourages all of his tattooed clients to do this. “It makes sense that they should have that decision. They are the most important thing about this project, and I want them to take a real lead in it and have an input as much as possible.”
It’s the same with tattoo artists I suppose. They have an art, a vision, an idea, but there is always a client on the other side of it. An important individual guiding the process, who plays a big part in what the artist creates. They both leave having formed a relationship, having worked together to create a final product that will sit permanently in time.
And indeed, Niall’s reaction to this sounds similar to what I have heard many tattoo artists say: “the most rewarding part is seeing someone happy with the final result. That’s all that matters.”
A few days after our interview, I sit down to write up my notes. A few times I have written down the same thing – a sentence that popped out of Niall’s mouth more than once. Each time that I tried to ask about his photography business, what he hoped the future would bring him, his history as an artist… he had the same response…
“This project really isn’t about me, it’s about the people in it.”
A picture speaks a thousand words, right?
Photography: Niall Patterson. Pictured (top to bottom): Beccy Rimmer, Charlie Holmes, Charlotte Hill, James Deakin, Mike Williams, Kayleigh Peach, Josh Hinton, Lee Merrick, Sam Groves, Charlotte Hill, Charlie Holmes.
“A person makes the tattoos, tattoos don’t make the person.”
“I have had no cover ups, as I always think hard about what I want on me for life.”
“Being covered in art makes me feel more confident. I got diagnosed with a life threatening illness a few years ago that blew my confidence. Since I’ve started getting tattoos, I feel so much more confident and happy.”
“There wouldn’t be such thing as beauty if we were all the same. Having tattoos is one way to make yourself unique in an artistic way.”
“There aren’t many things you can take to the grave, but tattoos are one!”
“Most of my tattoos have memories connected to my life and growing up.”
“Tattoos have helped me live in the here and now, not think too much about the destination. Just enjoy the ride.”