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.
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.
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.
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.
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.