Tainted shoulders and knees

CCCP prison tattoos, photo’s from The Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopaedia trilogy. They were taken between 1989 and 1993 in prisons and reform settlements across Chelyabinsk, Nizhny Tagil, Perm and St Petersburg. Prints of these photo’s are for sale at FUEL.

1992. Strict Regime Corrective Labour Colony No.4. Obukhovo Settlement, St Petersburg Region. The epaulette tattooed on the shoulder, the thieves’ stars and religious tattoos on the chest all denote this thief’s high rank. The skull in the centre of the epaulette can be deciphered as: ‘I am not and will never be a slave, no one can force me to work’. ‘YK’ indicates the bearer has been through the ‘Intensive Colony’.
1992. Strict Regime Corrective Labour Colony No.12. San-Donato Station, Nizhny Tagil, Sverdlovsk Region. Prison is this thief’s home, he is of the highest rank in the thieves’ social hierarchy. His ring tattoos show that he was the only underage detainee in his circle of thieves, and that he is an ‘anti-social’: an inveterate transgressor of the prison regime, who completely refuses to work. The text on the arm reads ‘Communism only produces victims’.

1990. General Regime Corrective Labour Colony No.5. Chelyabinsk Region. The tattoos across the eyelids read ‘Do not / Wake me’. The genie on the forearm is a common symbol of drug addiction. If an addict is imprisoned for drug offences, he or she will have to go through withdrawal in the ‘zone’ (prison). Epaulette tattoos (on the shoulders) display the criminal’s rank in a system that mirrors that of the army (major, colonel, general etc).
The Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopaedia trilogy, contains drawings and photographs from the collections of Danzig Baldaev and Sergei Vasiliev.(via FUEL) The photographs, drawings and texts published in these books are part of a collection of more than 3000 tattoos accumulated over a lifetime by Danzig Baldaev. Baldaev documented over three thousand tattoos during a lifetime working as a prison guard. His recording of this esoteric world was reported to the KGB who unexpectedly supported him, realising the importance of being able to establish facts about convicts by reading the images on their bodies.  “A rare and astonishing book, a glimpse of a deeply secretive world that has taken the author a lifetime to penetrate. It reveals more graphically than any Gulag history the unreformed horror of Russia: the lack of law, the rule of violence, the brutality, anti-Semitism and xenophobia. And yet it is filled with a poignance and a sense of personal tragedy that brought tears to my eyes.” The Telegraph.

Left: Prison-knees photographed by Sergei Vasiliev. The painted knees on the right are Free-knees and represent nothing (to our knowledge)

They are the painted knees of a Moulin Rouge dancer, 1926.

As my grandmother used to say: Always end a blogpost in a happy frame.

Let's make some conversation! xoxo Mimi Berlin

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