For some, a tattoo is worn like a badge, brazenly announcing a message or image in the brightest of colors to all it encounters. Yet oftentimes the bold lines and ferocious colors that comprise one's permanent ink rest hidden beneath one's clothing, a permanent secret for only the wearer and her intimate circles to realize.
Photographer Spencer Kovats recruited hundreds of such individuals, providing them an opportunity to show off their undercover ink for all to see. In a photo endeavor called "Uncovered," Kovats invited strangers to pose before his camera, exposed.
For the first shot, subjects appear dressed as usual, their clothing covering up the intricate designs that dwell on the skin beneath. For the second shot, you guessed it, the clothes come off, unveiling a previously unseen aspect of each stranger's identity and existence. Intricate constellations of color and shape adorn the flesh, revealing anything from an aesthetic sensibility to a decisive message or memory.
The Vancouver-based photographer juxtaposes the two aspects of each subject, covered and exposed, in a side-by-side series of portraits. For most of the models, their expression changes as their clothing is removed, as if a protective shell has been shed. Their faces and body language changing from stoic to animated, the pictured persons display the various aspects of themselves.
At the same time, Kovats' series challenges his viewers, alerting our attention to the way we read, process and judge others based on their appearance. As we see each two-part image, our interpretation of the stranger shifts as well, illuminating the many details that are missed upon first encounter.
Kovats is one of 11 photographers participating in "The Tattoo Project," an endeavor that began on a long weekend in 2010, when hundreds of tattooed individuals journeyed to a shared studio space to pose before the cameras. Thousands of portraits were captured that weekend, each exploring a different aspect of body art.
A book documenting the process was published in 2012, and a team will soon begin fundraising on Kickstarter to create a documentary of the events as well. See Kovats' colorful journey below and let us know your thoughts in the comments.