Vintage Photographs of Russian Prisoners Showcase Their Coded Tattoos

russian prisoner Tattoos russian prisoner Tattoos russian prisoner Tattoos russian prisoner Tattoos A few weeks ago, we took a look at early stick and poke tattoos that adorned the bodies of prisoners. A new publication from Damon Murray and Stephen Sorrell (aka design studio and publishing imprint FUEL) sheds more light (and images) on this subject, specifically focusing on Russian prisoners. The black and white images feature police files of men who are stripped down and their full chest pieces, sleeves, backs, and legs exposed. Their tattoos are more involved that what we’ve seen previously, and are full of curious symbols that seems to include a lot of religious iconography.

For this particular series of images, FUEL looked through the personal archives of Arkady Bronnikov, one of the leading experts in Russian tattoo iconography. He spent several decades working for the USSR Ministry of Internal affairs and travelled throughout the country interviewing and photographing prisoners and later reporting back on the coded meanings. This gave authorities insight into this secret and fascinating language.

FUEL’s project is currently raising funds on Kickstarter to make this book a reality. At the time of writing, it’s more than half funded with two weeks left. (Via It’s Nice That)

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MICHAL CHELBIN’S PRISON PORTRAITS

Michal Chelbin’s photographs of prisoners in the Ukraine and Russia makes me think who is this person? Chelbin chose to not discuss the prisoners crimes until after the photo shoot was over. The result is a haunting series of images that make the viewer ask who is this person? Why is he dressed like this? What does it mean to be locked up? And can we guess what a person’s crime is just by looking at his portrait?

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