Tattoos are a way to show personal expression. (Shannon Patrick)
Around the time when disgruntled Bostonians were heaving cases of overtaxed tea into the harbor, Captain James Cook returned to England with several of his crew-members bearing the unusual markings of Southern Pacific natives. It was at this point that the tattoo was introduced into Western culture, as well as becoming the brand of a seasoned sailor.
Flesh markings have been discovered as far back as 3300 B.C.E., however, the practice of modern tattooing, as well as the word itself, stems directly from the Polynesian traditions that Cook and his crew stumbled upon. There, the art is passed from father to son, utilizing the same tools and methods for more than two millennia.
“Orange County has kind of become a tattoo mecca,” said Keith Carroll, tattoo artist at Laguna Tattoo in Laguna Beach. “You get people that just want one done, and then they’re back in for a sleeve.”
Laguna Tattoo has been dishing out tattoos since 1982, and has been privy to celebrity clientele such as Billy Idol and Jimmy Buffett. While dependant on repeat customers, the store sees a surge during the tourist season.
“In the summer,” said Carroll, “I’ll show up around 11 a.m. and won’t leave until six the next morning.”
Laguna Tattoo enjoys a wide variety of local patrons, including several from Saddleback College.
“I got my first tattoo when I was 18,” said Alissa Johnson, 20, film, while waiting for an appointment with Carroll. “Whatever [the tattoo] is, it should be meaningful.”
Some find inspiration in their ink; many view it as artwork.
“I dig the art and the expression,” said Cale Verga, 27, philosophy. “I have a lot of respect for the artists and usually just go in with a loose idea.”
Tattoo styles vary from person to person and from artist to artist. Lately, there has been a trend towards American traditional influences.
“A lot of people go for the look like the stuff done in the 50s,” said Carroll. “I’m into artists like Sailor Jerry, Perry Williams, and Cap Coleman.”
Evolving from tribal rituals to watermarks of the counterculture and on to pop-culture icons, tattoos face a variety of stigma. Traditional Jewish and Muslim faiths ban any sort of mutilation to the body and many Japanese establishments forbid the exposure of many tattoos due to their association with organized crime. Even in the United States, visible ink can hinder one’s ability to land employment in certain circles.
Whether a tattoo represents a rite of passage, a personal inspiration or is simply designed to irritate one’s parentals, carefully selected inkwork will culminate in a display of one’s own life story. Whatever the reasoning, tattoos are a much more individual method of self-expression than an expensive pair of jeans. See Keith Carroll’s tips on tattoo shop etiquette in the opinion section.