A look inside photog Jon Blacker’s Musical Ink
“I knew none of the people in the book except for my friend Christian, who was somewhat of a guinea pig for the project,” says photographer Jon Blacker of the artists featured in his first portrait book.
A Toronto freelancer, Blacker is two years into a project that has seen him search out the managers, agents and publicists of some the biggest names in music.
Less a book of portraits than a work of photo and print journalism, Musical Ink features the stories of artists like Chad Smith, Sammy Hagar, Deryck Whibley, Jully Black and Care Failure – to name but a handful – alongside pictures captured in a unique light of the musicians and their tattoos.
Shot entirely in infrared, Musical Ink was inspired in part by a series shot in 2006 by Minnesota-based photographer Tom Dahlin. As with Dahlin’s infrared portraits of the Timberwolves, the images captured in Musical Ink reveal the personal sides of the musicians involved.
“Infrared treats the light spectrums differently,” says Blacker explaining the process, following with his motivation for shooting the tattoos using infrared: “Skin reflects it, but tattoos absorb it, making them stand out.”
Over the phone from his Toronto home, Blacker admits he didn’t know how people were going to respond at first, but says he’s happy with how it’s panned out in the two years since he first started his research.
“I’ve had a big mix of reactions but once I had some names involved, people started showing more interest and were more inclined to give up their friends or suggest another musician,” he says. “It’s definitely rolling now.”
In addition to the 18 rockers from bands like Sum 41, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Die Mannequin, Blacker is looking to add 80, or so, more musicians to the book. Some of his many prospects include names like Dave Grohl and Everlast.
So far, everyone who’s been included in the book has good things to say about Musical Ink and its creator. Charming, intelligent and professional are words that come up often when Blacker’s subjects speak of him.
I Mother Earth’s Brian Byrne was pitched by a friend via Facebook and, after checking out Blacker’s work, agreed to participate. In retrospect, he’s glad he did.
“I liked his whole attitude and where he was coming from with the book. Jon was a total pro,” says Byrne. “[He was]a great guy who knew exactly what he was after and didn’t second guess himself at all.”
Anthony Bleed and Care Failure of Die Mannequin couldn’t agree more. “What blew me away was not only his talent, but [the] content of his character. He is such a sweetheart, with integrity to boot,” says Failure, adding: “I had the pleasure of seeing some of the photos Jon has done and it’s supersonic; mouths will drop. If you appreciate artistry in the photo realm, or if you like great photos with an edge, or even if you just love great rock n’ roll, you’ll love Jon Blacker’s work.”
With two years remaining before the book is fully completed, Blacker, who hopes to include a round number of 100 artists in Musical Ink, says it’s his love of both music and the art of tattooing that keeps him motivated to keep producing.
“I’ve always been into music. I’ve never pretended to be a musician, but I’m told that I listen to music like a musician,” he explains. “The creativity and talent behind the art form of tattoos has always been something I’ve respected. I’ve always liked the idea of tattoos, but didn’t get my first one until 95,” Blacker jokes.
“I thought it would be cool if I could do a series that tied the two together, but I didn’t want it to be the same tattoo portraits that everyone else does.”
Not only do the genres of music featured in Musical Ink vary, but so too do the stories, which range from tragic to ridiculous.
From a funny memory with friends to memorial tattoos for those who have passed on, the tattoos in Blacker’s book tell the unique stories of creative artists, as well as the meaning of the tats to those photographed. And that’s exactly what Blacker wanted to achieve.
“Something I’ve found with musicians is that they’re really just people. I’m letting them be who they are, letting their personality come through,” he says. “Something I stress to the artists is that they pick the tattoo. I don’t want to dictate the story, I want to hear [it].I want them to tell the story they want to tell.”Story by Remi L. Roy; all photos courtesy of Jon Blacker