Tribute Ink Exhibition
Tattoos in the Military
Have you ever thought about the stories behind someone’s tattoos? Tribute Ink is a photography exhibition I created with the Royal British Legion to tell to the personal stories of tattoos in the military featuring both serving personnel and veterans from from the British Army, the Royal Navy, and the Royal Air Force. Curated in partnership with the National Memorial Arboretum and The Ministry of Defence, Tribute Ink opens to the public on Friday 13th of September on site at the Arboretum in Staffordshire.
It wasn’t always easy hearing the stories behind the tattoos. Some have chosen to have the names of friends who died whilst serving inked into their skin, like Paul Glazebrook who has six large dog tags tattooed across his back, or Matt Tomlinson who has the ten names of those who died along side him during his time in Afghanistan and Iraq permanently in his skin. “Trying to understand the loss of those guys, why it was them, and what it was for, was hard to work through,” says Matt. But I discovered that tattoos have helped many get through their grief and that they are a living form of remembrance always with them.
For others their tattoos are badges of belonging, marks to show their pride in their service, like Tash Kenny who has a beautiful Spitfire plane on her arm, or Michael Bell who is covered neck to toe in tattoos that pay tribute to the Nelson era naval crews.
To create the project we traveled around the UK documenting tattoos in six bases and also photographing at the National Memorial Arboretum. From wading in the waters of Portsmouth Harbour to running through forests and scrambling over helicopters I wanted to capture our forces members in their environments – showing the many varied lives they lead. I hope my pictures can help honour those who serve and encourage others to remember in new ways.
The project has certainly changed my perception of remembrance completely – it doesn’t have to be done in silence on a sombre Sunday, people can remember in a million different ways. Some of the people I photographed have run ultra marathons to commemorate their friends, some have set up charities, many continue serving their country with pride. They all remember those they’ve lost nearly every day, and think back with pride about their time serving.
Massive thanks to Alex Owen and Meredith Sneddon from the Royal British Legion for working with me on this project, it’s been wonderful collaborating with you guys. Huge thanks also to Morgan Evans and the rest of the team at Germaine Walker for their incredible production bringing this project together – I couldn’t have done it without you.
To discover more of the stories from the project visit it’s website: rbl.org.uk/tributeink
To visit the exhibition head to the National Memorial Arboretum from the 13th of September to the 1st of December 2019, or catch it on it’s national tour in 2020.
To find out more about where it’s on show click HERE.