In the punk rock culture I grew up in tattoos were also a sign of the outcast at the time. I grew up in the late eighties as punk rocker who in our way were outcasts. Now that was before the time of the Mall Tattoo sleeve. In fact the only person I knew who had full body tattoos other than tattoo artists was my friend Dreamerz from LA. Now Dreamerz was an older guy cholo, who was originally from Chicago Suburbs but moved to LA. He became a Tattoo artist, he definitely a was a Cholo from 18th st. I remember he showed me a headshot of Danny Trejo’s. He was tatted up good, his work was all black and grey single needle stuff the style he went on to master as an artist. He like myself and my friends were outlaws in a sense. We weren’t criminals , per se, other than under age drinking and fighting we were pretty solid people. A lot of us came out of gang backgrounds to have some form of salvation in our scene punk rock/ skinhead friends.
When I got my first tattoo it was in honor of my son, I was in the army, I had money and access to tattoo shops. Having tattoos definitely marked you at that time, either you were a gangbanger or a soldier that was it. They were definately a sign of being low-class at that time. It felt good to me to put myself apart from peers, as I had always felt separate from “society.” I always looked for that subculture, that non adjusted crew. I went on to get a lot of ink, when I got my first ink I wanted to follow the Yakuza tradition of not getting ink on a spot that people could see your skin in. For example they may have their torso and chest completely tatted up, with a clear path down the middle, so they can have their shirts open and still hide their true identity. I maintained that space but then I eventually gave in and I got tattoos anywhere regardless of the clean paths.
I currently have to cover my ink up at the job. I think of the Yakuza and their traditions of covering their ink. I have also made the point that I only get tattoos I can cover.
Anton Kusters is photographer Journo who traveled to Japan and took pictures of Yakuza in Japan. He also has a great blog you should check out. I am attaching a link to his blog where he discusses the banning of Yakuza from the bath houses.