Tattoos have been seen as both a taboo in some cultures and as an honor in others. One Towson alum is using her photography as a way to take at look at Towson’s tattoo culture.
Amy Hefter, 2011 alum and former Towerlight staff photographer, began a project in 2008 photographing hundreds of tattoos from students, faculty and staff of Towson and presenting them in a set of volumes.
“The point of the project was to show the variety of tattoos on campus and people could see tattoos in a different light opposed to the ones that a stereotypical person has,” Hefter said. “I wanted to show that everybody has tattoos and also to shine a light on the stories behind them. People had so many different stories so I think it was very interesting to share.”
Hefter first started her project as an assignment for her alternative process class, but then it progressed throughout her studio lightning class. By the end of 2011, she had hundreds of photographs of tattoos taken from students and faculty.
In January 2013, she released the first volume of her photographs entitled “Tattooed Campus: Towson University Volume 1: A-F.” The next two volumes of her series were released in April and October.
“The fourth one that I’m working on right now is going to be couples’ photos and outtakes and kind of whatever didn’t fit in the main volumes. The main volumes focused on each person and their different tattoos. I did shoot couples at some time but I didn’t put it in the first volumes,” Hefter said. “During the fourth book, I’m going to show the photos of the couples and the fun things we did and people trying to get into the poses and things like that.”
In 2011, she presented two shows using print and digital photos from her tattoo project that resulted in having more people who wanted to participate in her project. Hefter said meeting and interacting with many different types of people opened her eyes, in terms of the culture of tattoos and who gets them.
“Interacting with so many different people was really interesting to me. It kind of opened up a different way of doing portraiture that helped me hone my skills a little bit more of photography as opposed to just doing straight portraits of people,” Hefter said. “There were definitely people who fell into, if you can say, certain categories because people who have tattoos are stereotypical like the ones who have the ear piercings, the gauges, the different color hair, all that stuff. But then you had other people that wanted to get artwork onto their bodies. You got moral tattoos for people who they lost and you have students who just got something just because.”
Hefter photographed people whose tattoos ranged from the meaningfulto the impulsive tattoos. She also photographed people who got hand-etched tattoos (also known as jailhouse tattoos).
“I did not eliminate anybody’s tattoo because of its quality. I didn’t eliminate anybody because they only had one tattoo. I learned that people get tattoos regardless of religion, body types and style. Anyone and everyone can get tattoos if they like,” Hefter said.
Hefter hopes to expand her project by photographing people from other universities. She wants to see how the campus tattoo culture is like in different universities, starting with Towson University.