Permanent Ink

Cade Martin's Tattoo Photos Leave a Mark

BY: Jes Zurell

You’ve never really seen the heavily-tattooed members of society until you’ve seen them through Cade Martin’s camera lens.

On the other hand, you definitely have seen Cade Martin’s recent commercial work for National Geographic and Star Wars for Target. Even advertisement pieces created for clients bear his signature style–intense darks so rich you can practically taste their decadence, crêpe-thin highlights that capture the way bulbs glow across human skin, a transfixing gaze.

Martin is a provocative D.C.-based photographer who has been recognized twice as one of the 200 Best Ad Photographers Worldwide by Lürzer’s Archive. Hunting for the aesthetic links between his globally-minded commercial work and his current photography project, “Character, Not Characters” is like observing the facets of a gem–they fit together even when they throw light in different directions.

“I don’t have any tattoos myself but I was intrigued [by the DC Tattoo Arts Expo],” Martin told Inked Magazine in August. “The thought of all those people with their stories essentially written on their bodies at one location was something I wanted to experience.”

In “Character, Not Characters,” Martin refracts details of his subjects’ tattoos onto custom backdrops. Seeing the resulting photographs is like viewing memories through a prism.

“I grew up in an artistic community surrounded by painters, sculptors and printmakers,” he told Lürzer’s Archive. “I guess without realizing it, I learned to appreciate the way things look and the way they are composed [when] I was young.”

Whether you are someone who thinks that facial tattoos are getting to be too mainstream, or you still hold your mother’s hand when you get a tetanus booster, something in this body of work resonates with the human spirit.

It’s impossible to go through life without acquiring a few memories that feel more like physical scars than shapeless thoughts. Some of you show those stories in your eyes or voice when you speak, and others–like Martin’s subjects–choose to make sure they show on their skin. Both are part of the matter that forms one’s character.

It’s so much more than one can represent with characters.

All images shot and edited by Cade Martin for his body of work, “Character. Not Characters.”

Cade Martin tattoo man

Cade Martin tatto man

Cade Martin tattoo man

Cade Martin tattoo man

Cade Martin full body tattoo man

Cade Martin tattoo man with hat