Continuing Fuel’s exploration of Soviet culture, unforgettable photographs of extraordinary tattoos
Russian Criminal Tattoo Police Files Volume I features more than 180 photographs of Russian criminal tattoos and official police papers from the collection of Arkady Bronnikov, regarded as Russia’s foremost authority on criminal tattoo iconography. From the mid-1960s to the late 1980s, Bronnikov worked as a senior expert in criminalistics at the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs, and part of his duties involved visiting the correctional institutions of the Ural and Siberia regions. It was there that he interviewed convicts, gathering information and taking photographs of their tattoos, amassing one of the most comprehensive archives of this phenomenon. Bronnikov regularly helped to solve criminal cases across Russia by using his collection of tattoos to identify culprits and corpses. Selections from Bronnikov’s collection, which includes more than 900 photographs, will be published by Fuel in two volumes. The Bronnikov collection was made exclusively for police use, to further the understanding of the language of these tattoos and to act as an aid in the identification and apprehension of criminals in the field. Unimpeded by artistic aspirations, these amazing vernacular photographs present a seemingly straightforward representation of criminal society. Every image discloses evidence of an inmate’s character: aggressive, vulnerable, melancholic, conceited. The prisoners’ bodies display an unofficial history waiting to be deciphered, told not just through tattoos, but also in scars and missing digits. Yet close inspection seems only to make the language of the tattoos more baffling and incredible, pointing to the unimaginable lives of this previously unacknowledged caste.