Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Indie Ink Runs Deep: Chris Moraff

I'd been tossing around the idea of blogging a tattoo series for nearly a year. I know there are websites and books out there that have been-there-done-that already, but I hadn't seen one with a specific focus on the authors and publishers of the small press community. 

After hoarding the photos and essays I've been collecting from these guys since July of 2012, and with the promise of spring peeking its deliciously sunny head out through all of this winter gloom, I decided there was no better time than now to finally unveil THE INDIE INK RUNS DEEP mini-series!

Today's indie ink comes from Christopher Moraff  – writer, photographer, commentator, blogger and unrepentant bibliophile. He lives in Philadelphia where he writes for a number of local and national media outlets. Chris served on the Board of Editors of In These Times  – the Chicago-based political magazine founded in 1976 by the leftist intellectual James Weinstein and now writes a weekly column on politics and culture for Philadelphia magazine. He is also a collector of books and several months ago began the unforgiving task of bloggingthrough his entire library. In his spare time he makes slow, meandering progress on a collection of short stories, as yet untitled, which he hopes to see in print while he is still of this world.  

These are his tattoos. This is their story.

I got my first tattoo when I was 19. It was a poorly chosen duo of Chinese characters on my upper arm that were supposed to represent my initials. I learned shortly thereafter that there is no literal translation of the Latin alphabet in Chinese hanzi characters and felt pretty stupid until I managed to find someone who could decipher the small permanent reminder of my youthful naivete on my left shoulder. Lucky for me it turned out that in translation my characters reads something akin to “good health” and not “asshole American who thinks he's Chinese.” In light of that I decided to keep it instead of getting it covered up. I'm glad I did. It's one of two tattoos (the other is on my leg) that I had done in Philadelphia by the legendary Sonny Tufts, a tattooer of the old school who died in 2010. He must have thought I was an idiot, which of course I was.

Since then I've been more careful about what I put on my body. Most of my ink is Asian traditional and reflects Buddhist spiritual themes. Both sleeves are works in progress. The left arm is Kuan Yin – the Bodhisattva of Compassion – in a field of water and cherry blossoms. Right arm (courtesy of Dave Resp at Art Machine Productions in Philly) is the wrathful deity Fudō Myō-ō – whose sword cuts through ignorance – surrounded by fire, smoke and peonies. To my mind, this juxtaposition of tenderness and ferocity -- and the search for reconciliation -- is characteristic not only of my own past struggles, but of the human condition as a whole. As a poor freelance writer sometimes I question the sensibility of spending thousands of dollars to decorate my body with colorful imagery, but as a lifelong tattoo enthusiast that usually goes out the window as soon as I find the time and money for another session. 

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