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Hansen: The changing world of tattoos

October 04, 2012|By David Hansen

Tattoos, Harleys, skydiving, vintage cars, smoking, Johnny Cash — there are some things that still have an edge.

But tattoos say it in blood. It's permanence by definition. Once done, there's no waffling; there's no mealy-mouthed justification; there's no whining. It just is.

And you better like it.

"The days of walking into a tattoo place and picking something off the wall is long gone," said tattoo veteran Stephen Crome, 58, owner of Laguna Tattoo. "A lot of times they'll bring in their own designs or ideas. It's more symbolic now."

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Words or phrases are trendy, Crome said.

Song lyrics, bible quotes, poetry.

"The trends in tattooing have changed over the years," he said. "In the '90s, it was tribal and Japanese characters. Before that, dragons and koi fish. Now, the popularity is with writing."

So we are forced to read tattoos now. Standing in line at the grocery store, we read someone's neckline.

We read about those who have departed or the loved ones: wives, children, mistresses. There may be a little picture that makes you wonder how it will distort with age.

A lot of times there are single words that presumably evoke the essence of the person. Trust. Respect. Dignity.

I've seen "Suffer," which stuck with me for a while, actually. It made me empathize with a person I didn't even know.

Forgive me.

Punishment.

Sinner.

Thousands of words, millions of emotions, made to order by one determined individual.

"It's a way to express how you feel," said Crome, who is heavily tattooed and sometimes finds himself in the awkward position of having to advise young people.

"We would never say, 'that's a terrible idea,'" he said. "It's such a personal decision. We will advise them about what will work best for their ideas."

He does draw the line at racism or anything grossly inappropriate. He doesn't do faces, particularly on young people. He gives more leeway to older guys who have been around the block, are already tattooed and know what they're doing.

"We try to be responsible with the type of tattoos," he said.

If an 18-year-old comes in wanting the name of his girlfriend across his hand, Crome will suggest he rethink it.

But as long as there has been skin and love, people have wanted to proclaim their desires. The known tattoo history goes back to the 5th century. And it's a history as rich and varied as there are cultures.

The common thread has always been self expression mixed with cultural values, rites of passage or myths of magic.

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