The Tattoo Writer
The Tattoo Writer
Publisher: Pascal Bagot
“The tattoo has an attraction comparable to that of opium: once under its control, all resistance becomes futile. For those who fall prey to it, nothing else matters.”
― Akimitsu Takagi
“The Tattoo Writer” is a collection of 134 black and white photographs taken by Japanese writer Akimitsu Takagi of the tattoo milieu in Tokyo in the 1950s.
Forgotten in the family library, unknown until their discovery in 2017, his photographs establish him as one of the most important witnesses to the history of tattooing in 20th century Japan. They are published for the first time.
When I met Akiko Takagi at her Tokyo home in 2016 in the family house her father, the famous crime novelist Akimitsu Takagi (1920-1995) had purchased, I could never have imagined the discovery I was about to make.
I made contact with her on the occasion of the translation of her father’s first book, Irezumi, into French, which first appeared in 1948. Within the context of my research on traditional Japanese tattooing, I wished to learn more about the author’s relationship with the art. Tattoos are at the heart of the book’s storyline and the credibility of his descriptions attests to Takagi’s knowledge of the subject. Our meeting took place in the writer’s library. Surrounded by books and trinkets, beneath a black and white portrait of Akimitsu, Akiko confirmed the passion her father had for tattoos. Pointing to a pile of albums, she added, “He also very much liked photography.” Surprised, I picked up the yellowed collections and discovered, between all the photographs of the family, gatherings between writers and various trips, images taken by Takagi himself of tattooed individuals and tattoo artists; all the important players of the Tokyo tattoo milieu of his era.
I was stunned. In my 15 years of working on the subject, I’d never come across such images. Taken between 1955 and 1965, they show some of the most famous tattoo artists as well as their clients’ impressive tattoos, motifs unchanged since ancient times, back when Tokyo was named Edo, where the art form gained in popularity during the 19th century. These pictures gave an insight into much of the discipline’s story over the following century – an obscurantism due to its being forced underground after having been officially banned at the end of the 19th century.
Given the length of this prohibition, which would last over 80 years, accounts and photographs of the underground practice of tattooing during this period are rare. Akimitsu Takagi’s images represent a unique treasure, a goldmine of information for sociologists, historians and lovers of traditional tattoos. Not only do these photographs have a considerable historic value, but they are also of exceptional quality and are interesting from a photographic point of view, revealing the photographer behind the writer.
Despite the distance separating Japan from France, Madam Takagi allowed me to conduct my research. For three years I travelled back and forth between Lyon and Tokyo, sometimes spending all day in the library studying the albums and eventually making my way through the muddled collection of images. The exercise proved to be a real headache at times with no notes left by the writer allowing me to place or date any of the pictures. Although complicated, the investigation was fascinating. I analysed, cropped, hypothesised, hunted down the smallest details – here, a wallpaper motif gives a clue as to the location; there, the progression of a tattoo hints at the chronology of events. I also interviewed Akiko as well as a specialist editor, Shimada Kunihiro. Once back in Lyon, I was totally absorbed by the project, borderline obsessed. Locked away in an obscurity resembling that of a darkroom , I was attempting to understand the man behind the name.
― excerpt from Pascal Bagot's foreword
Ship on Jul 1, 2023
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- Book Size
- 245 × 195 mm
- 200 pages
- Publication Year
- English, French