Skin Stories

There’s a story behind every tattoo. Some are reminders of significant life events. Others are simply just for fun. Dr. Christine Braunberger is documenting those stories on campus and putting together a book with the help of critically claimed photographer Chuck Wainwright. Braunberger is an English Professor and Chair of Interdisciplinary Studies at OCC.

Dr. Christine Braunberger speaks with student Gabriel Vecchio about tattoos.
Dr. Christine Braunberger speaks with student Gabriel Vecchio about tattoos.

“This book is designed to share and celebrate and hear the stories about all of the tattoos on campus. We have such wonderful diversity and this gives us a great way to share it,” she said.

Braunberger is passionate about tattoos. Her Ph.D. dissertation was on the cultural narratives of tattoos in America. She’s a proponent of tattoo art and has several of her own. “I encourage people to think of themselves as art collectors when they are getting tattoos and to appreciate how long you carry them around.”

Braunberger has held gatherings on-campus at which students were invited to come show their tattoos and explain their significance. Her most recent was April 28 in the SRC Arena and Events Center. The artwork and the stories behind them were powerful.

Kaela Teitelbaum has song lyrics tattooed near her wrist.
Kaela Teitelbaum has song lyrics tattooed near her wrist.

Kaela Teitelbaum’s tattoo consists of lyrics from the song “Second and Sebring” by the band Of Mice and Men. The lyrics read:

“This is not what it is, only baby scars. I need your love like a boy needs his mother’s side.”

The lyrics give Teitelbaum strength. “I knew since I was 14 I wanted these words on my wrist because I’ve dealt with anxiety and depression and self-harm. I found comfort in the song and having the words there.”

A tattoo sleeve covers Gabriel Vecchio's left arm.
A tattoo sleeve covers Gabriel Vecchio’s left arm.

Gabriel Vecchio’s left arm has a tattoo “sleeve” which covers his entire arm like a long sleeve shirt. “It started with a coy fish on the upper arm. I’m a huge fan of the Japanese art. It symbolizes good luck for me and my battle against depression and anxiety. He’s swimming against the waves. In the same way I have to fight my battle every day. It will never go away.” The sleeve also includes skulls, a trout for his cousin whose favorite past-time was trout fishing before he died, gladiolas which were his cousin’s birth flower, a dragon which symbolizes Vecchio’s transformation from shy to outgoing and his dream to join the military and then law enforcement, a chrysanthemum which is his birth flower and is part of the Japanese tradition, Japanese maple leafs, and another coy fish. “Having a tattoo is a way of expressing who you are,” he said.

Matthew Timian
Matthew Timian

Matthew Timian has turntables on his right shoulder symbolizing his love of music, the word “fearless” inside his right forearm because it is his nickname, a cross on his right hand in honor of a friend who recently committed suicide, and his favorite cartoon character, Popeye, on his left arm.

Photographer Chuck Wainwright and student Birgitta Olivieri.
Photographer Chuck Wainwright and student Birgitta Olivieri.

The tattoo on Birgitta Olivieri’s right shoulder bears her son’s name, Eric, in Ancient Ruin Alphabet encircling his zodiac sign, Virgo. “My son had to go through cancer treatments last fall. I made the decision when he was done with his treatments I would honor him in this way.”

Andre Chambers has multiple tattoos across his chest and arms.

Andre Chambers
Andre Chambers

“They all have special meaning to me. Each expresses how I felt at certain points in his life.” His favorite is inside his left forearm. It’s the name “Austin” in honor of his son. The design includes a crown on the letter “A” and a baby bottle in place of the letter “I.”

Throughout her years of studying tattoos and her recent experience putting together this book Braunberger continues to see the same things in people’s artwork. “Frequently when people get tattoos they are marking an event in their life. To capture those moments is art and an opportunity to see and hear a story.” She hopes to have her book of stories and pictures out in late 2015 or early 2016.

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