Gang members often get tattoos showing affiliations to a particular gang. Tattoos are for life as we all know, and gang members sometimes try to escape gangs and start normal lives. That is very difficult in general, but once they manage to leave they are stuck with a constant reminder on their skin of their previous life. They get judged instantly, they have difficulties in getting a job and there are more obstacles in front of them put by society.
Photographer Steven Burton noticed this problem ex-gang members have and wanted to help these men and women in some way. He did a photo series of their portraits showing tattooed skin and then parallel portraits of same persons with the tattoos digitally removed. In his book Skin Deep, Burton wanted even for a moment to free ex-gang members of their past and make people think what’s beyond a tattooed skin.
“By showing them without their gang tattoos, I hope it will help humanise a culture that is so easily and often demonised by society by taking away the initial fear that the tattoos create, allowing you to get to know the subjects through their interviews,” Burton tells A Plus.
“After watching the documentary, I felt I had to do something to help spread awareness of the work done at Homeboy Industries. The concept came to me when I watched the homeboys (and homegirls) going through the tattoo removal process.”
“The idea was to digitally remove the tattoos, present the before-and-after photos to the subjects, and see how they would react. The subjects in the book are fighting to escape gang life or in some cases have managed to achieve that, but their tattoos still tell people that they are gang members.”
“Walking down the street they are targeted not only by other gang members but also the police. Finding employment is very difficult, which makes the challenge of leaving the gang even more difficult.”
“Normally fear and judgement come from a lack of knowledge. I believe if you fear something you should take the time to understand it,” Burton concluded.