Mauvais Garçons : tattooed underworld
Mauvais Garçons : Portaits de tatoués is the incredibly exciting new book of photographs taken by the French authorities from 1890- 1930.
Tattoos have become ubiquitous in our society. However, for decades in France they were almost exclusively associated with the underworld, and often documented time spent in prisons overseas and/or at home.
Whether from Paris, Lyon or Marseille, bad boys of the day exhibited on their very skins proof of hoodlum identity: the stigmata of a marginal existence. To be part of the mafia in the beginning of the 20th century meant to have syphilis — and tattoos…
From 1831 a brief was sent to French prison directors ordering them to record descriptions of the tattoos in order to simplify the task of identifying the prisoners behaviour, the authors describe this process as one of the most important impacts on tattooing and criminality being inextricably linked.
These photographs, taken during arrests, are a unique portrait gallery of criminals the naked skins of whom reveal sadness, a thirst for revenge, obscene drawings, remembrances of Africa… the many “poetic expressions of hoodlum sadness,” as Albert Londres eloquently put it.
The photographs were discovered through a retired policeman who had had an interest in tattoos by the authors.
This hard cover coffee table book and its 175 photographs — many of which appear here for the first time anywhere — tell the story of the underworld tattoo, with interpretations of the various designs and drawings that reveal much about the daily life of French social outcasts of the time. The book is currently French and English.
Jerome Pierrat is a journalist. He is also chief editor of the magazine, Tatouage. He has previously published Mafias, Gangs et cartels (Denoel), Caids Story, un siècle de grand banditisme (la manufacture de livres), and, in collaboration with Eric Guillon, Les hommes illustres, le tatouage des origines à nos jours (Lariviere).
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