Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopaedia.
Photography by Sergei Vasiliev, introduction by Alexander Sidorov.
Fuel Publishing, 2008. 400 pp., 350 black & white illustrations., 4¾x7¾".
This final volume of previously unpublished drawings and photographs
completes the Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopaedia
trilogy. Danzig Baldaev’s unparallelled ethnographic achievement,
documenting more than 3,000 tattoo drawings, was made during
a lifetime working as a prison guard. His recording of this esoteric
world was reported to the KGB, who unexpectedly supported
him, realizing the importance of being able to establish facts
about convicts by reading the images on their bodies. The motifs
depicted represent the uncensored lives of the criminal classes,
ranging from violence and pornography to politics and alcohol.
A medieval knight is surrounded by the severed heads of his
enemies, a naked woman simultaneously services a man and
two dwarfs, a crying President Gorbachev grips a human bone
between sabre-like fangs, a group of angels drink vodka with
God on a cloud—the meanings of these arresting images are
explained to the uninitiated eye. Sergei Vasiliev’s graphic photographs
show the grim reality of the Russian prison system and
some of the alarming characters that inhabit it, while the illustrated
criminals of Russia tell the tale of their closed society.
This last volume in the trilogy includes an introduction by
historian Alexander Sidorov exploring the origins of the Russian
criminal tattoo and their various meanings today.