Alberta-based piping designer and Lomographer Chris Mercado, a.k.a. murkado has a special enthusiasm for the inked arts. Right after he started taking up film photography, he's been passionately documenting every moment, person, and tattoo that he encounters. The photographs now make up his ongoing series, Tattoo. The series also serves as Chris' personal journey on learning and understanding more about tattoo culture and people's relationship with their designs -- for every tattoo is a story ready to be unraveled.
Hi Chris, how are things for you as a photographer?
Things have been going very well! I think that within the last year, I’ve learned a lot about some of the more technical aspects of film photography, like how to properly shoot with an SLR camera, how to use a flatbed scanner, and how to use programs such as Lightroom and Indesign. One personal achievement I’d like to mention here is that I also released my very first physical photo book titled “HOME/HERE” this past February. It featured images that were taken in my hometown over a period of three years and I’m quite proud of it!
Please share with us how you got into film photography.
About ten years ago or so, my friend Rob used to take film photographs using disposable cameras whenever a handful of us would hang out. I remember that he’d send over any images that I was part of through e-mail and I loved how the photographs turned out. There was a particular image of me and a friend which he had taken, using a disposable camera. It was shot in our city’s river valley and the photo had a very strong, nostalgic quality to it. It’s still one of my favorite film photographs that I’ve seen and I’ve been shooting on film ever since then, in the pursuit of capturing images that could evoke certain moods or aesthetics that I find pleasing.
Tell us more about your relationship with tattoos in general.
The idea of getting tattooed hadn’t crossed my mind until my early 20’s when a few of my friends started to get pieces done on themselves, which coincidentally was around the same time I began to dabble in film photography. The style of tattoos that I’d been exposed to at that time was mostly American traditional. I love the bold lines and colorful imagery that American traditional tattoos are known for and appreciate how those types of tattoos hold up in appearance quite well over time.
These days, many of my friends and acquaintances have tattoos. It’s sort of becoming a thing where each time we see one another, one of the first questions we’ll ask is “Did you get any new pieces lately?” or “When are you getting your next piece?” It’s always fun to look at and compare tattoos with other people.
Do you have tattoos as well? May you share with us a few interesting things about your ink?
Yes, I do have tattoos! At the time of writing this, I have 24 pieces. Both of my arms are practically covered and I have a few scattered on both of my legs as well. My right arm is mostly covered in American traditional tattoos. The very first piece that I got was a lady head with a rose in 2015, which was done by Heath Smith (who has gone on to do the majority of tattoos on my body since then).
That first tattoo serves as a dedication to my Mom, which is a pretty classic first tattoo to get I think. I knew that if I were to get tattooed one day, the first one would have to be meaningful to me in some way. The fact that my Mom was cool with it sort of opened the floodgates for me to get more tattoos after that.
In contrast, my left arm is completely covered in Japanese-inspired imagery. I have an admiration for Japanese artwork and tattoos, so it was only natural for me to get Japanese-inspired tattoos done at some point. I recall one tattoo-related incident during a trip to Japan, while I was purchasing some film stock from a little shop in Tokyo. For the majority of the trip up until then, I’d made it a point to hide my tattoos in public, for fear of being denied entry to certain places where tattoos may be frowned upon (such as restaurants or bathhouses for example). But since I only had a few days remaining on my trip, I decided to have my tattoos out for the rest of my visit. The woman who was ringing me up at the register noticed one of my Japanese tattoos, looked up at me, and said that it was beautiful. I thanked her and felt a lot better having my tattoos out in public from then on.
Your series "Tattoo" is such an amazingly comprehensive and detailed project. May you tell us what prompted you to begin this series?
I think the pandemic offered me a lot of time to try and think of photography-related projects that I could produce, that would be both interesting and meaningful to me in some way and that I could share with other people.
After getting many tattoos over the last few years, I’ve always been curious about the origins of other people’s tattoos and their motivations behind getting inked. “Where did they get that piece done? What inspired them to get that tattoo?” are just a couple of example questions that I’ve had floating around in my head whenever I’d see someone else with tattoos.
I have a photo book called “The Japanese Tattoo” by Sandi Fellman that examines the meaning behind varying types of Japanese iconography represented on tattoos, like what a phoenix or a peony represents. Each page showcases detailed photographs of a particular type of tattoo, along with text that describes the meaning of the subject tattoos. It’s a fascinating read and was an inspiration for me to pursue my own “TATTOO” series, along with my own general curiosity about tattoos on other people.
You also interview your subjects. Can you share with us some of your favorite stories from your work?
My favorite stories from the “TATTOO” series often involve the reasons or motivations behind people getting their first tattoo and what that first tattoo ended up being. I think that it’s fascinating that no two stories are ever the same, just like tattoos are in general. Funnily enough, there are a lot of people who have since had their first tattoos covered up with another one, for varying reasons.
Outside of the "Tattoo" series, what's your favorite subject to take pictures of?
I’m not sure I have a favorite subject that I enjoy taking photographs of! I do go on walks and bike rides around my area from time to time and bring my film camera around with me whenever I step out of the house. If something catches my eye that I think would look great on film, whether it be a vintage car or the exterior of a house, I’ll take a couple of photographs and continue on my way. I don’t actively pursue subjects to photograph, I prefer to take images at my own pace.
What inspires you to be creative?
Photo books have been a big inspiration for me most recently. I’ve purchased a few photo books online in the past few months, especially after watching Youtube videos about past photographers whose work I really admire, like Vivian Maier and Fan Ho. I love how their images feel so “in the moment” and are composed so beautifully. I love sitting down with a photo book and going over all the little details in an image. In my opinion, I think that photographs are meant to be printed and enjoyed in tangible formats like zines or photo books. The tactility of a photo book makes looking at photographs much more enjoyable than scrolling through images online.
What's next for Chris Mercado?
My partner and I are actually getting a puppy next month, so we’re getting ready to bring her home, doing research, and whatnot. She’s a Pembroke Welsh Corgi and you can be sure I’ll be taking a lot of film photographs of her in the near future!