In April 2013 Christopher Padgett, a Salem-based photographer, sat waiting his turn in the lobby of a friend’s tattoo shop, Good Mojo Tattoos of Beverly. It was just weeks after the 117th Boston Marathon and Chris was among many others getting tattoos “to memorialize the lives and innocence lost due to the bombings.” Good Mojo would be donating their proceeds of the Boston-themed tattoos to The One Fund, and Chris was struck by the magnitude of it all—of the events of the Marathon, the aftermath, and the hundreds of people moved to commemorate the city and people they loved in such a unique, personal way.“Too often we see a persons tattoo, but don’t have the time or courage to learn the story behind it,” he says. He decided to help tell these stories by photographing the people and their tattoos and calls the project Bled for Boston. I spoke with Chris about this project and his current Indiegogo campaign to publish a book of the portraits with proceeds benefiting the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital.
Crystal Germond: It seems like this project has grown in a big way, from your original idea to photographing over a hundred people and their tattoos to the Indiegogo campaign to publish this all as a book. Tell me about that goal—how does this campaign fit into the project?
Chris Padgett: It started innocently enough! This little project grew from me photographing a few tattoos to reaching out to Facebook friends to friends of Facebook friends and suddenly I had a gallery showing before I’d taken a single picture! It was terrifying. I’ve been figuring it out as I go along—for example, I just contacted Spaulding (Rehabilitation Hospital) through the contact form on their website, not knowing any better, and luckily they were really excited about the idea of supporting the book. Selling prints for this project isn’t likely and I don’t think I’d want to—I don’t think people want pictures of their tattoos to hang in someone else’s house. So a book was a logical next step—a book of pictures of these tattoos but also portraits of the people and stories about why they got those tattoos. When I started looking into it I found it was really difficult to publish on a small scale. I knew it wasn’t something I could do out of pocket so I turned to crowd-funding.
CG: Why is it important to tell these stories, and what has surprised you?
CP: I’ve seen a lot of variations of “Boston Strong,” and quite a few people were getting tattoos of their bib numbers or what mile they were stopped at. I was expecting a lot of cops, actually, but I got one! I did, however, get a lot of nurses. There were so many nurses and medical professionals at the finish line and at the medical tent. They are all volunteers. That took me by surprise—I didn’t know that. They were there to treat people who are dehydrated and ended up treating people with serious wounds. All this awful stuff. And they’ve banded together and gone out in groups of four or five and gotten matching tattoos. I really like those stories, they are so cool, and they took me by surprise. That and the people who have had little individual pieces of experience—not cops, not EMTs, just normal people who happened to be in the wrong place at the right time who have tattoos that you would never guess the meaning of. The whole point became to tell the stories of those tattoos.
CG: It’s striking that as a photographer, in taking the photo of a man’s tattoo you’re turning your professional lens on this individual act to tell the story of not just a tattoo but a person, and a person’s experience in the context of this really difficult event. What does this act of portraiture mean?
CP: There was a point halfway through this that I started focusing on the portraits. I don’t like taking photos of people—if you had told me a year ago that I was going to spend eleven months taking pictures of people I’d have told you that you were out of your mind and I hate that. I like taking pictures of buildings and abstract-y stuff, and my initial plan was to do abstract, detailed photos of tattoos. But then I realized these portraits are pretty good. Most of the people I’ve photographed hate having their portraits taken, which speaks volumes of how generous people have been about this. I tell them to just sit, breathe, and don’t worry about it and they stare straight into the camera. One of the nurses, Maureen, started talking about everything that happened and got pretty emotional. You can see it on her face. The portraits have become much more important than I anticipated and I ended up really enjoying it.
CG: The marathon bombings affected so many people in so many different ways, and its striking that your project is really documenting what happened on a really individual level.
CP: Yeah, it’s been so interesting to hear why people got their tattoo, and the importance of what they got and where. It feels like something I have to do.
CG: So you’re asking for $5,000 in the Indigogo campaign. How did you come up with that number?
CP: I tried not to overshoot and do what I thought could actually be accomplished. This whole thing has gone so completely beyond what I thought it could be that I tried to keep it reasonable. I’m holding my breath - every time someone makes a donation I get an email and think “Wow, they didn’t have to do that.” They don’t need to spend this money, but its been really cool and reaffirms my faith in friends. It’s been so cool to get help from complete strangers. I hope it goes well, I wanna put out a good product, obviously, but I want it to live up to people’s expectations. It’s just me, but I really hoping I can fulfill them. It’s exciting and nerve wracking at the same time.
CG: So what’s next for this project?
CP: There will be a gallery show at the Boston Center for Adult Education (BCAE). Every month they hang artwork throughout the building, so not a gallery per say but they put art up and will be showing the photos all through the month of April (2014). I’m doing everything at the same time, so poor planning on my part, and I’m still editing but everything will be ready. The Indiegogo campaign wraps up February 17th and I hope to have the books produced and in hand by the gallery opening. It will be fun. I’m totally making this up as I go along and flying by the seat of my pants, and I’m very transparent in that and asking people to tell me any ideas that they have because, hey, I don’t know! I’m relying on the goodwill of the people of Boston.
Support Chris and the Bled for Boston Indiegogo campaign today! Check out some of the photos on Tumblr and say “hey,” or share your ideas, beautiful people of Opus Affair, on the project’s Facebook page or over on Twitter.