Photograph and Words by John Partipilo
It was a cool busy morning in Sky Blue, a quaint all-day breakfast spot in the heart of East Nashville that I frequent. It seems like every time I eat there something unusual or magical happens.
Today was no different.
I had been chatting with a couple that were visiting from Canada when a man completely covered in tattoos walked in and sat down across from me. I told the Canadians to have a wonderful day.
I was completely mesmerized by this man’s image. All I could think about was how I was going to get this photograph. I completely forgot about breakfast. Passion took over hunger.
I continued glancing over at him, waiting for him to finish his breakfast, and started thinking about Ray Bradbury’s 1951 novel The Illustrated Man.
I casually walked over and introduced myself as a photographer. I asked if I would be able to photograph him. In a kind voice he said, “Give me a half hour; we can meet at my house in East Nashville.”
When he met me at the door with his shirt off, he asked, “Do you want me to put my shirt on?” I said no, I want to shoot a portrait of you just like you are.
I learned that his name is Christopher M. Mansfield, 35, founder, lead singer, and guitar player in the band Fences, an American indie rock band originally from Seattle.
I positioned him up against the wall in his living room and noticed natural light flowing in through the window. I had my Fuji camera, amazing quality of light, and decided to shoot it in black and white, cropping the image in the camera. That’s how I make pictures.
I posed him with his arms crossed like an Egyptian hieroglyphic ideogram symbolizing life. To me, he appeared to have lived a lot of life.
About a week later, I sent him the image and then he called to thank me. We started talking about the tattoos. What I found out next was fascinating.
Chris welcomes tattoo artists to use his body as a canvas for their art. Many of the artists are from around the world, representing different cultures. His tattoos symbolize his romance with cultures.
I recognized many of the symbols on his body, because I studied them in college in an archaeology class. I also read Carl Yung’s book Man and His Symbols. The more I looked at his tattoos, the more incredible his visual story became.
I took at closer look and saw powerful American Indian symbols such as a bear paw, coyote, a feather, and the four directions. I noticed many symbols written in Hebrew. There were Polynesian and Tibetan symbols. There were names of former girlfriends, some even crossed out. There were lyrics from Bonnie Prince Billy. “Sober” tattooed across his forehand is reminiscent of his choice to stop drinking. For Chris, the process of receiving the tattoos is a form of meditation in pain and silence.
I was amazed by his knowledge of the symbols. He told me, “I want to use the world’s symbols on my body. I’m hyper passionate about cultural pictograms.”
And like the tattooed man in The Illustrated Man, his tattoos told me about his story, the places he’s been, and the people he’s met.
I love how this story and image all came together; it’s all very serendipitous, which is in alignment with my process. I call it Zen Photography. I see something and I want to make a picture. That’s how it works, and I don’t stop until I get the photograph.
To see more of John Partipilo’s work, visit www.johnpartipilo.com.