Interview: Portraits of Heavily Tattooed People With and Without Clothes On

Covered by Alan Powdrill - Tattoo Photography

“I love them, they are beautiful and I’ll always feel the same.” – Simon Carruth, 62, London

Photographed over the course of three years, Alan Powdrill‘s COVERED is an interesting look at tattoo culture and our perceptions of people with body art. As tattoos have become increasingly commonplace and mainstream, the old adage “don't judge a book by its cover” is proven to the fullest by Powdrill's images of heavily tattooed people covered up—and stripped down.

By photographing and interviewing 40 people across England, Powdrill challenges us to reconsider our preconceived notions of what tattoos mean. While, there's a long history of tattoos in Britain, introduced into Victorian culture by sailors and members of the military, there can also be stigmas associated with tattoo art. But certainly, over time, what it means to have a tattoo—and who has them—has evolved.

Powdrill, who met COVERED‘s participants through social media, tattoo conventions, and word of mouth, asks each to pose in front of their homes. One image shows the participants fully clothed, while the other depicts them stipped down and proudly showing off their body art. The side by side look at each subject can't help but push viewers to focus on their reactions to the photographs, and reflect internally on why they have such feelings.

Having seen COVERED‘s growth since our initial coverage in 2015, we wanted to catch up with Powdrill and see how the work has evolved. Currently raising funds on Kickstarter for a COVERED photo book, there was no better time to sit down for a chat.

Covered by Alan Powdrill - Tattoo Photography

“I was 15 and got kicked out of home because of my tattoos and piercings.” – Mo Shahari, 43, London


You've been working on the project over the course of three years. What’s the biggest takeaway you’ve gotten from your subjects?

Passion, a way of life while still being outsiders.

What’s the reaction been from the people who participated as COVERED becomes more well-known?

Generally, they love it. There’s a certain element of vanity in getting naked in front of a camera when your skin is full of amazing artwork.


Photo of Woman with Tattoos by Alan Powdrill

“I love being different and every day I'm asked about them at least once always getting a positive reaction. Good tattoos aren't cheap, cheap tattoos are not good.” – Izzy Nash, 48, Maidstone


Are there any particular tattoos that have stuck out to you?

Izzy Nash always stands out for her Tiger on her back and bum.

Interestingly, you yourself don't have any tattoos. So what spurred this interest in exploring people and their tattoos?

I grew up in a very conservative background and people who had tattoos always seemed rebellious, rock and roll, and a bit left field. Then becoming a photographer I became addicted to all things visual so it’s a perfect combination. If this labor of love project makes it as a book I will get a tattoo, of what I’m not sure yet.

Covered by Alan Powdrill - Tattoo Photography

“They have given me confidence in life since my Crohn's illness, I will love them in the future like I do now.” – Peter Ramsey, 38, Colchester

People stripping off in front of their houses isn't something you see every day. How do you work to develop trust with the participants?

If you’ve spent the amount of hours, pain, and money on your body art, you want to show it off at some point, why not outside in front of your home?

You're currently running a Kickstarter to get a book about the project off the ground. What can you share with readers about the book?

The book will be a stunning, beautifully designed object that will be something to treasure, whether you like tattoos or not.

Photo of Man with Tattoos by Alan Powdrill

“I’ll be the cool old guy one day that everyone points at and wants to be.” – Dan Carter, 30, Chingford

Was the project always envisioned with an eventual book or is that something that developed later?

Always an ambition for the project, I think it will be even more popular if it succeeds.

Why do you feel now is the right time for a COVERED book?

Tattooing and the art of it have never been more popular. COVERED seems very apt to document this explosion right now.

Where do you see the project going in the future?

I’d love to shoot the project all over the world.

Photo of Man with Tattoos by Alan Powdrill

“I like the fact I'm middle aged, have a professional job and am surrounded by un-tattooed people, that I confound that image and not with pretty safe tattoos. No Fucking Way, as it says on my chest.” – Bill Baker, 59, London

Photo of Man with Tattoos by Alan Powdrill

“I was 13 when I got my first one, my mum and dad didn’t find out till I was 18.” – Jamal Khan, 24, Birmingham

Covered by Alan Powdrill - Tattoo Photography

“I was 17. I hid the first few from my parents for many years and by the time they found out they knew this was going to be my life.” – Philip Yarnell, 27, Southend-on-Sea

Photo of Man with Tattoos by Alan Powdrill

“I was 51 when I started and my father was already dead and my mum didn't say anything as she was in the early stages of dementia.” – Graham Platts, 58, Cleethorpes

Covered by Alan Powdrill - Tattoo Photography

“Can't say what age I'll stop. While there's still space to fill, I will get it filled. I don't think my attitude will ever change.” – Michelle Lait, 53, Cleethorpes

Alan Powdrill: Website | Facebook | Instagram | Kickstarter

My Modern Met granted permission to use photos by Alan Powdrill.

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Staff Editor and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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