Freakshow

Written by Jim Knipfel on . Posted in Books, Posts.


The term
"modern primitive" seems awfully passe now, especially in New York, where bankers
and stock brokers and lawyers and housewives are getting tattoos and piercings.
There was a time, remember—and a time not that long ago—when none
of us had ever heard the term before, and tattoos were the territory of merchant
seamen and junk-addled rock stars, not the giggling, 20-year-old cutesy-pie
who just took your order.

Back in
1995, much of Western Europe was in the same position culturally that the States
were, say, 10 years earlier, right before the whole "modern primitive" thing
broke here. Instead of a RE/Search book to kick things off, however, the Europeans
got something a bit more lively.

"Wildstyle"
was the name given to a trans-European rock ’n’ roll-style tour featuring
tattooists, body piercers, musicians, artists, custom trucks and motorcycles,
hairstylists, head shops, contortionists, fire eaters, exotic dancers, human
pincushions, sword swallowers and body painters from around the world. It was
like a state fair aimed at disaffected teenagers. But it was also designed in
such a way that it would attract not only freaks and hipsters, but a wider cross-section
of people. At heart, it was just good clean fun. With exotic dancers and piercings.

Those heady
days are now frozen in a new coffee-table book put together by Clayton Patterson
and Jochen Auer. Featuring hundreds of photographs taken by Patterson and a
handful of essays (in both English and German) written by tour participants,
Wildstyle illustrates exactly how, given the focus and enough manpower,
a ready-made subculture can be inflicted upon an unsuspecting continent. In
a way, the tour accomplished the same thing the Pistols’ Anarchy tour had
two decades earlier. Wildstyle had that same sense of revolutionary adventure.

The photographs
are the centerpiece of the book, and they capture the good-spirited mayhem that
comes when you mix bikers, contortionists, tattoo artists and fire-breathers
in one room. If sometimes they look like simple snapshots from a (very strange)
family reunion, well, in a way that’s what they were. And if some of them
lack the slickness of things you’ve seen in other tattoo books, keep in
mind that things were moving and changing very quickly and the photos were essentially
taken on the run.

If, nowadays,
we snort derisively at some kid with a mohawk and a leather jacket, or someone
whose arms are covered with one of those "tribal" or "Celtic" tattoos, remember—there
were times when these things were shocking, and a time when they meant
something. Even if it only lasted for a moment, those moments are rare. Wildstyle
captures one of them—and that’s even more rare.

Wildstyle: The History
of a New Idea
By Clayton Patterson and Jochen Auer
Unique Publications, 176 pages, $35.00

..