Syx Langemann Interview
Do you remember the first time you saw a tattoo, and what your reaction was?
I don’t know if I am remembering it totally right, but my Uncle Paul had a few tattoos on his forearms, snakes and anchors and stuff. He would have been the first one that I would think of being exposed to early on in my life. In fact I remember he and my Grandfather sitting me down to have a conversation about how tattoos aren’t gonna get me anywhere in life and that this nose piercing thing that I had just done was very stupid and a phase that I would grow out of.
Do you have any tattoos yourself?
Yes I do. I’m not as covered as I’d like to be… give it time.
As a photographer, do you approach shooting a model with body art any differently than a model without tattoos?
Yes, I think you have to. Initially you may not think that you are approaching your subject matter differently, but I think when you reflect on the shoot or when you are editing I think you’ll find that you handle nude flesh differently than tattooed flesh. Ultimately lighting may have to be different to capture the tattoos or location and backgrounds will have to be considered.
How did you approach the Tattoo Project weekend? Did you have a concept in mind? After the fact, do you think your concept was successfully? Did you get what you wanted from the weekend?
I was very open and relaxed with my approach to the project. I had an idea of what I wanted to do – a series on hands, it didn’t work out the best – but mainly I was interested in shooting this diverse group in a unified way to illustrate the similarities and differences. I ended up using a 24mm f/3.5 tilt-shift lens on the Nikon D3 to capture a very shallow and unique depth of field. I focused on the eyes of the models, blurring the details of the tattoos. It was a bit opposite of what other photographers were shooting that weekend.
Did you get what you wanted from the weekend?
I think that my images from the weekend were pretty successful. It was nice to meet new people and see some old friends. I am always surprised when you don’t necessarily know the person standing in front of you, but you know their work or their tattooist. I used to work as a piercer and scarification artist, it’s been a few years since I’ve had a weekend immersed in the community like that. It was nice!
Any tips for other photographers, for working with models who have tattoos?
I did a small video with Vince Hemingson about this. There are a few good pointers in there, check it out at: link to come.
Are tattoos and body modifications a problem in other work that you do?
I don’t think that they are a problem, but I do avoid them when I am doing certain work. In some of my more recent work I’ve been concentrating on the lighting and the figure in the landscape, and I find that sometimes they can be distracting. I like to consider how a viewer would read the work with and without a tattooed or modified person, and I find models that suit the project.
Do you ever have to shoot around tattoos or use cover-up make-up?
Yes I have had to ‘shoot around’ tattoos, I don’t really think I’ve ever had them covered up. No no, that’s not true we’ve painted right over top of them for some body painting shoots and I have had some tattoos ‘removed’ for a few fashion shoots.
Do you ever Photo Shop out tattoos?
Yup, I have. It’s easier than makeup sometimes.
What is it about a particular tattoo or an individual with tattoos that you find interesting?
Generally the model themselves is what I find interesting. I like to be drawn to shoot the model not just the tattoo. Maybe it’s just that tattooed people are usually pretty interesting, they have a lot of stories to tell.
Have you ever seen a tattoo, or a person with tattoos and said, "I have to shoot that!"?
Like I said it’s mostly the person, however in a situation like this weekend when you get to walk into a room full of willing models that are all tattooed certain ones jump out at you a need to be shot. After this weekend of shooting I may be more inclined to stop people that I see and want to add to this collection.
Was there a particular tattoo or tattooed person who stands out in your memory from the Tattoo Project weekend?
Ken Lum and Kris. Both had some really interesting facial tattooes. They were both great people, soft spoken, and had a lot of culture and personal history in their tattoos. I really enjoyed Kris telling me about the piece on his nose that was his Grandmother’s design. He was able to leave New Zealand with one of the tattoos from his family lineage and this was the one that he chose.
Ken was just a super nice guy. His work, although a lot of coverage, seemed like it fit him.
As a photographer and visual artist, what defines a good tattoo in your eyes?
I would probably have to say the story behind it. I really like to hear the travel stories, the life changing decisions and the reasons for the tattoos. With this being said, there are some tattoos that just make my jaw drop. I think the world of tattoos and tattooist is changing radically. There is more chance to encounter a very ‘artistic’ tattoo now than there was 20 years ago. The industry is being pushed by a new generation of artists that have a whole different perspective and a tone of new technology to help them out.
What design and aesthetic qualities are you looking for?
For this weekend I was looking for diversity. I wanted my photos to be about the person, the eyes, that connection with the viewer not necessarily any particular design aesthetic.
What would be your advice to someone who wants a great photo that shows their body art to its best advantage?
FIND A PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHER THAT HAS SHOT THIS SORT OF WORK BEFORE. Tattoo photos call for different lighting and a different approach than a simple portrait or a snapshot. Look for a photographer that is sympathetic to the subject matter.
What is the biggest difference between shooting editorial work - say for someone like Bob Baxter at Skin & Ink - and working in a studio?
Plain and simple, the interaction with your subjects. In a studio it tends to be more about the photographer’s idea in a controlled setting with strobes to help the shooting. When shooting editorial work the photographer is more at the mercy of the event or the project to create a story or a body of work.
Any tips for taking good photos at tattoo conventions?
Get a booth, bring lights & a backdrop. SHOOT SHOOT SHOOT. It’s probably good to be sure of what you want or bring samples of your work.
Any tips for taking good photos of tattoos period?
Soft light and a good tattoo, and one really fancy point and shoot camera. HAHA ha
What do you think of the growing numbers of celebrities and models who have tattoos?
I think a better question is what’s with all the tattooists becoming celebrities? I think that it’s great! Well it makes for great TV anyway!
What tips would you give to the home photographer, tattoo enthusiast or tattoo artist who wants to take a great photograph of a tattoo?
Soft light, good camera, and a good tattoo. It’s hard enough to take great photos of tattoos, they are drawings over a 3-D surface. Just let the tattoo and the body do what they normally do.
What would be your dream tattoo photography assignment?
That’s a good question, the one answer that pops into my head first is ‘one that pays’, but I guess that isn’t the only factor. I think I would really like to shoot the hands of tattooists, and their portraits. Hands have been a more and more interesting subject as a portrait for me. I think that the hands of tattooists would not only be colourful and have a tone of creative tattooing on them, but they are also the hands responsible for the visual.
Was there any one thing in particular about participating the the Tattoo Project weekend that surprised you or that stands out as a truly memorable moment?
I think one of the moments that stands out was meeting Kevin and talking with him. Kevin has been tattooed extensively by a very good long time friend of mine, Steve Cole (aka The Breadman). He was a really great guy and had some nice things to say about Steve. It’d be nice to have a beer with him. I think all in all, the surprising thing about the weekend is how quickly these ‘models’ became our friends… at least for a brief time.
1 2 3 >> NEXT