Body Type 2

Ina Saltz

Like so many tales of true love, it started with a chance encounter; this one took place aboard a Manhattan crosstown bus on a summer day. One glimpse of the word Hello tattooed in Helvetica on a fellow passenger’s arm and Ina Saltz—art director, author, typographer, calligrapher, and professor/director of the Electronic Design Department at New York’s City College—was a goner, hopelessly hooked on typographic tattoos.

Saltz asked permission to snap a quick digital picture, thanked the young graphic designer whose arm sported the tattoo, and hopped off the bus. She had no idea that this single word (all lowercase, tightly kerned) would lead her on a multiyear quest to seek out and document more examples of typographic tattoos, culminating in the publication of Body Type: Intimate Messages Etched in Flesh in 2006, and its sequel Body Type 2, published this spring by Abrams Image. Along the way Saltz would learn more than she ever dreamed possible about the ways ink and needles interact with living skin, be treated to viewings of various tattooed body parts no matter how inappropriate the time or place, and hear hundreds of stories behind the words occupying permanent place of pride on people’s bodies.

Saltz grew hyperaware of these text-only tattoos, like a birdwatcher ever on the alert for a rare specimen. Soon she began spotting them at the unlikeliest venues and on the unlikeliest candidates. “Wherever I went (to a party, to the beach, to an opening or some other professional event) I discovered a typographic tattoo or someone who knew someone who had one. Most of the people I photographed were young, had gotten their tattoos recently, were educated in or already practicing in the creative arts, and were quite well-informed about their choice of typestyle.These affluent, culturally aware, sophisticated, and highly educated young people were choosing to adorn themselves with tattoos consisting of typographic messages rather than imagery. The texts of the tattoos were not at all what I expected; there were literary passages, poetry—even Shakespeare and Dante.”

Body Type 2 picks up where the first volume left off, displaying a dizzying array of typefaces and messages along with explanations by the wearer of the tattoo’s significance. Lorem Ipsum Dolor Est appears on more than one person, the ultimate graphic design geek’s insider joke. Forgiven is found next to an obliterated but still legible Hatred. A young opera singer has Pony tattooed inside her lower lip where it won’t be visible when she’s onstage; it’s her nickname, the name of her former band, and a tribute to her horse-trainer father.

Unique fonts designed by the tattoo subjects take their place in line next to Times Roman, Univers 65, and Franklin Gothic No.2. Of course there’s Helvetica, along with ornate swashes and ornaments from antique type specimen books, assorted punctuation marks, Gothic blackletters, and LCD digital fonts. Whether it’s type strictly for type’s sake or a text that has particular significance for the wearer, one thing all the tattoos share is the deeply felt passion behind the messages. As Saltz puts it, “The motivation for typographic tattoos represents the full panoply of human emotion and desire. From the mundane to the spiritual, from love to hate, from celebration to catharsis, the tattoos serve to inform and proclaim the wearer’s intentions. I decided the stories behind the tattoos needed to be told, to understand why people chose to put themselves through the pain and suffering of the process.”