Shelter; New Perspectives in Tattoos

By Dean Frankling

Tattoo conventions are great and all, but is there something that is more than just seeing tattoos, seeing tattoos being made, or getting one yourself? Coincidently and perhaps conveniently for this opening intro, there is!

An exhibition, DotsToLines: Individualised and Jilted Perspective, on tattoo works by internationally recognised Israeli tattoo artist and designer Chaim Machlev is now on display at NR Studios Bethnal Green, London, until the 30th of November 2018.

But there is a twist; Machlev has collaborated with photographer Ben Hopper, whose special technique with aluminium brushed boards printed on negatives give tattoos an X-ray appearance. Eric Weiss’ photography is also on display, approaching Chaim Machlev’s tattoos with an almost graphite like quality. You can then experience the tattoo as never before-through AR (Augmented Reality) technology!

The beautiful works in DotsToLines: Individualised and Jilted Perspective can also be seen at the London Tattoo Convention-Tobacco Dock (28 – 30th September).


The use of x-ray negatives as the tattoo’s appearance is an interesting way of resonating with the current climate in displaying tattoos. Historically, tattoos are associated with a group, tribe or subculture. Evolving from the Egyptians, through to use in prisons through to Sailors in the West, the tattoo’s form has shapeshifted throughout history.  Tattoos have a love-hate relationship with the public around the world. In Japan, tattoos (including tattoos visibly on display) are associated with the notorious Yakuza, a mafia organisation, and therefore has generated a negative image in the country due its association with crime. On the other hand, however, tattoos connote a sense of identity, style, and image to the people who bear them– although in many workplaces they discourage tattoos being publicly visible.

Indeed, the Tattoo is often seen as a public space for commentary (“What does it mean? Why did you get it!?”) because of its position on the body. On the surface of our skin it invites ideas of creativity, spirituality and identity. But is this expression of self a private or public affair? Inside or outside?

Chaim Machlev’s collaboration with Eric Weiss and Ben Hopper, in this 2-part exhibition, aims to blur any such lines or distinctions, destroying negative prejudices and preconceptions of the tattoo as lowbrow art. All three artists work together beautifully to develop and explore the tattoo as an art form that is spiritual, sensual and individual. Using photography and technology to instil new perspectives, we question the public and private nature of a tattoo and its position on the body.

Biffy Clyro (who you can experience in mixed reality!) and their connecting tattoo by Chaim Machlev.

Firstly, in an interview with Tattoo artist Chaim Machlev, known as DotsToLines, we gain a little insight into his meditative and spiritual experience of the tattooing process:

What was your first connection with tattooing? And what made you want to take this forward as a living?

I got my first tattoo 8 years ago, a process that changed my life completely. Before that, I was an IT guy living somehow comfortably in Israel, and tattoos were stored in a negative place inside my head.

During the process, I had a spiritual experience (as many people experience) that lead me to see the strong connection between tattoos, art, and self-healing through the process. A connection that led me, later on, to change my life completely, leave everything behind and to become a tattoo artist.

How did your trip to India in early life affect you as a person? How did that affect your creative process?

I learned a lot of things about myself by travelling to this country. But the most important is to be happy and appreciate what I have. We have everything we need in the western world, and we tend to take the simple things for granted.

I learned how to remind myself to think in a different way, trying not to be too comfortable and take things for granted. Be humble and understand that there is so much for me to learn and to understand in life. From every person I meet on the way.

I guess that it is the base for every creative process.

We understand you often prefer not to speak with the client during the tattooing process. Are you able to explain a little of the reason why you feel this is important?

I think that people experience something very private and intimate when getting tattooed and I like to see myself as someone that directs them during the process of designing, tattooing, and accepting the tattoo as a part of their life.

I find speaking randomly during tattooing, something that disturbs people in getting to those places. They have so much to deal with during the process, that speaking about random stuff, seems to be not appropriate.

What were your main objectives in this collaboration with photographer Ben Hopper? What is it you want to explore in the exhibition?

I love to show how tattoos have a strong artistic connection, how (when placed and done right) they can actually embellish the human body and look organic and natural.

I think that this project of Ben, and the method I chose to print the designs on (the aluminium boards) show that aspect perfectly.

Why have you chosen ink and skin as your mediums over other artistic mediums?

That’s what drove me to create actually. The permanency, the concentration needed, and the devotion both from the client’s side and the tattooer’s side.

In this exhibition, photographer Ben Hopper brings Chaim Machlev’s vision to life. He uses contradiction as a tool, creating a contrast in lighting from body to tattoo provoking the viewer to question its’ position on the body.


In this exhibition, photographer Ben Hopper brings Chaim Machlev’s vision to life. He uses contradiction as a tool, creating a contrast in lighting from body to tattoo provoking the viewer to question its’ position on the body.

Here we discover his methods:

How did you and Chaim Machlev meet? And why did you want to collaborate on this project?

I saw Chaim’s work online when I started on this project. I got in touch with him and went to Berlin specifically to work with him. I just loved his work and thought they work really well for this project. So I just got in touch with him and did some work with him at the studio.

Can you talk about the process you went through and what made you want to do this?

I experimented with the effect of the negative photos on other photographs I took in the past. I found it really interesting and fascinating. I played around with editing– what I do is turn them into negatives and then edit them in negative in order to enhance the details. I looked at photographs that I’ve taken of tattooed people and I applied this effect on them, and found the results extremely interesting.

You have a particular interest in the body but also in the tattooed body, as seen in one your previous photo series ‘In a Box’. What interests you about the tattoo as an art form in general? And what interests you in Chaim Machlev’s tattoos in particular?

I find the aesthetics of tattoos really beautiful. I am fascinated with the human body in general, and tattoos add another layer to that beauty. With Chaim specifically, he has a very unique style with his geometric lines that complement the body. For me it was interesting to work with his works because of this style.

You equally grew up in Israel, as did Chaim Machlev. Can you talk about any influences this has had on your photography and art?

We both left Israel, but everything I do is inspired and affected by my childhood and being a young man in Israel, anything from its politics, to the mentality of people, to the economy, to the relationship between the religious and non-religious Israelis. Even though my photography is not really about these things, I think about them when making my works. I like to think some of these penetrate my work in a non-direct way. One of the main things that inspired me was that Israelis have this crazy productivity, and they just work. They are crazy workaholics. That drive helped me to do quite a lot.

It seems you have always been interested in challenging the status quo, particularly when it surrounds beauty ideals and bodily norms. How do you think this exhibition and your photography challenge the status quo?

I don’t know if it’s challenging the status quo. The idea for this project specifically is two things: display the beauty of the tattoos in a way that you usually wouldn’t see, which is the negative effect. The other aspect, which is something I want to do later on, is conduct interviews with the people that are tattooed about the psychology of what it means to have a tattoo, to get insight into the mind of the person. It is quite surprising to a lot of people. Maybe that is the challenging. Personally, I didn’t know that many people with full body tattoo pieces have them because they want to overcome some kind of abuse that caused them to not feel okay with their body. Things like that, I think would be really interesting when i will talk to some people.

You are interested in exploring the human condition in your photography, what would you say this series says about the human condition?

You see how we modify our body. You see how we extend our given look, the form that we’re born with. We take that and change it. They call it body modification, which is exactly what it is; we take the condition and change it. There is something really beautiful about it because most people will take it for granted. This whole industry is insanely fascinating the way it questions our condition and modifies it.



Portraying the tattoo in a silvery, textured image that reads like an X-ray, Ben Hopper repositions it as something “inside” the body and as something inherently natural and organic. The celebration of the individual curves of each figure shows us that every tattoo, body and process is indeed truly unique and “individualised”.

The addition of incredible AR(Augmented reality) and MR (mixed reality) technology to the exhibition, allows the audience to explore the inner workings of each tattoo from start to finish, delving even more ‘inside’ the tattoo as private space. We are 2 layers deep. And any shelter or clothing removed.

Tattoos are an extension of someone’s identity – or more so, they represent their identity as a whole. A tattoo that is hidden from public view, suggests another world, one that is sheltered – thus an extension of their identity. Whilst a tattoo that is on public display may represent their identity as a whole. Wherever it is on your body, it is a permanent image. Chaim Machlev’s tattoos displayed as x-rays are a gesture towards the sheltered idea of a tattoo – going beyond the surface of the skin as to show a tattoo as if it is already part of your body – inside of you.

Machlev and his team are bringing about a tattoo revolution, disrupting the negative perception of tattoos, and showcasing their beauty in the world – not sheltering them away!



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