For his ongoing series Knuckles, Brighton-based photographer Edward Bishop has spent the past six years documenting the fascinating world of knuckle tattoos – known as one of the last areas of the body a diehard tattoo aficionado will consider for tattooing.
Hard to hide, these tattoos are nicknamed 'Career Killers' or 'Job Stoppers'. But in recent years, they have grown in popularity as an ideal medium for self-expression. With word combinations being relatively limited and 10 knuckles at most, it's the skilful use of font and colour by the tattoo artist that creates a unique knuckle tattoo.
The archetypal Yin and Yang of knuckle tattoos, Love / Hate, was first seen in 1955 in the thriller The Night Of The Hunter. Featured on the hands of the sociopathic preacher Reverend Harry Powell, the actor Robert Mitchum used his fists to illustrate the battle between good and evil.
Since then, people use knuckle tattoos to tell a story about themselves or indeed to project a persona. Self Made, Lone Wolf, Know More are a few examples of these. Hold Fast was frequently used among sailors in the belief that it would help them grip the rigging more securely in a storm. Stay Gold comes from the last line of the Robert Frost poem Nothing Gold Can Stay – a reference to staying true to oneself and holding on to the innocence of youth. This is most famously expressed by Johnny in the novel and later in the film The Outsiders, with his dying line: "Stay gold, Ponyboy. Stay gold."
Launched in 2009, the Knuckles project sprung out of Bishop's fascination with the spectrum of expression attainable on a small, yet conspicuous canvas. He said: "As a professional photographer and filmmaker specialising in documentaries, I always have an eye out for the unusual."
If you love this series, then you'll be glad to hear that Bishop has published a book containing photographs of knuckle tattoos, shot in the UK on the streets of London and Brighton, and at tattoo conventions nationwide. Even better, all the photos featured in his online gallery are available as limited edition Gold Fibre Silk Archival prints.
When Bishop isn't fascinated by knuckles, he's a portrait, documentary and editorial photographer, available for work. Check out his website at www.edwardbishop.me.