Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopedia

Published January 22, 2010 by Molly

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Four of the most alluring words in the English language combine to make up the title of this volume: Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopedia. If that isn’t a recipe for a vast treasury of arcana, we don’t know what is.

The book is made up of photographs, drawings and text compiled over the course of 33 years in an infamous St. Petersberg prison by one of the prison guards, Danzig Baldayev. As the publisher puts it, “The tattoos were his passport into a secret world where he became something of an ethnographer, recording the secrets of a closed society. The tattoos are artful, distasteful, sexually explicit and sometimes simply strange, reflecting the lives and mores of the convicts.”

You can say that again. Skulls, daggers, medieval knights, babies, a horned Lenin and a grinning Al Capone are some of the images that populate the world of Kresty prisoners. Nihilistic and weird and occasionally beautiful, the tattoos form a private language that Baldayev, by virtue of his collection, has given us a glimpse of.

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One comment so far

  1. mary says:

    just the gift i was looking for! it’ll be perfect for my teacher’s husband!