Sunday, 8 March 2009

Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopedia

Description (via Amazon): The photographs, drawings and texts published here are part of a collection of 3.600 tattoos collected over thirty three years in St Petersburg's notorious Kresty prison by attendant Danzig Baldayev. He acknowledges the tattoos as his entrance into a secret world, where he became something as an ethnographer, setting down the ways of a closed society. The tattoos are artful, distasteful, sexually explicit and sometimes simply strange, reflecting as they do the lives and mores of convicts. There are skulls with swastikas, naked women, a smiling Al Capone, assorted demons, medieval knights in armor, daggers and blood, benign images of Christ, mosques and minarets, sweet-faced mothers and babies, tanks and a horned Lenin. Once the criminal language and tattoos were the code of a restricted world, then the world of the criminal became open and their language was diffused into society, but the tattoos remain the secret part.

My pictures from the London gallery exhibition Russian Criminal Tattoos (plus TO's review) - Unzipped Gay Armenia.

*source of pictures - Amazon


Ani said...

Wonder if you saw the film "Eastern Promises"--these tattoos play a big role in that film, which is underrated and worth seeing.

From IMDB:

To prepare for his role, Viggo Mortensen traveled alone to Moscow, St. Petersburg and the Ural Mountain region of Siberia, where he spent five days driving around without a translator. He read books on the gangs of the vory v zakone (thieves in law), Russian prison culture and the importance of prison tattoos as criminal résumés, and perfected his character's Siberian accent and learned lines in Russian, Ukrainian and English. During filming, he used worry beads made in prison from melted-down plastic cigarette lighters and decorated his trailer with copies of Russian icons.

That's method acting for you!

artmika said...

I saw that film, and actually thought of it when visiting that gallery in London. But I did not know that the actor went through such preparatory stages ("method acting"). Thanks for the info, Ani, very interesting.

artmika said...

Soviet prisoners: criminal tattoo as "secret code language"