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Trudy. “They’ve become such a part of me that I’m not even aware of them any more.”

by Maria Sofou

Tattoos are transitioning: from being on society’s “margins”, they are now claiming a fine art status. With more and more people getting inked everyday, the standards are higher. Of course there will be always someone getting little hearts and stars on their wrists,  current tattoo trends, however, are far more complex and artistic, making it much harder to guess the stories behind them.

Photographer Ralf Mitsch in his book Why I Love Tattoos, explores heavy tattooed people, not by just portraying them but going even further and unraveling the motivation behind their body art. To these individuals, the body is just another canvas for artistic expression and their stories are unique. A truly captivating work.

See some of Mitsch’s photographs, along with the models’ commentary:


Drian, 28. “I got my first tattoo at home. Just like that, on the sofa. I keep on going because there are so many good tattooists out there. It’s like collecting art. It’s an honor to wear their work.”


Sylvie, 29. “I think it’s cool that you can change your body. Traditional beauty just isn’t that attractive to me.”


Desanka, 30. “On the beach I still turn heads, but not as much as I used to. More and more people have tattoos now. I like the current tattoo trend because I don’t really like standing out. I feel more comfortable now.”


Holger, 39. “Tattoos are a life-book. Sorry, I’m German, how do you say that? I mean a life story. Every tattoo reminds me of who I was with, where, and why. When I look in the mirror I think: that’s when I was in Jordan, and this one was Morocco. It’s a lifestyle. The youngest of my three kids already wants a tattoo. He chews that gum that comes with a free stick-on transfer.”


Michel, 45. “I started living in the red light district, where I’d walk past all the tattoo shops. When I was fifteen, I had my first tattoo done. After that I had nothing done for three years. Then when I was eighteen, I got a tattoo of my girlfriend’s name next to a little heart. A few years later, I had my son’s portrait done…and then the flood gates opened.”

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Rene, 44. “Once you start, you won’t want to stop. I’ll be finished next year, I hope. I’m a bit worried now it’s so trendy. Just look at all the footballers. On the other hand, making tattoos more popular helps to improve their shady image. I’m a happily married man with two beautiful daughters. In my spare time I go out and about with the kids a lot.”


Roberto, 23. “When I was sixteen my dad died and I had these tears done. That’s pretty much how it all started. I’ll keep on going. I have no regrets.”


Maika, 37. “My Chinese grandfather’s name—that was my first tattoo. I had it put on as soon as it was legal, when I was sixteen. When I was about twenty, I quit art school, and the tattoos began to come more quickly. I just think tattoos are very beautiful. Your face is more important than your tattoos. Your eyes say a lot more about you than your skin does.”


All images © Ralf Mitsch