Masters Degree in Photography

Faith, Doubt and Tattoos

Exploring the faith of Christians through the artwork on their skin

On the 11thSeptember 1987, I was 15 years old. On this date I became a Christian. At roughly the same time, I took up photography. Through the next thirty years, while I have journeyed with Jesus, I have also had a camera of some type hanging from my shoulder, capturing moments in my and other’s lives in the context of the Christian society.

My Spiritual journey

Unfortunately, I have one problem with that introduction, doubt! 

The aforementioned thirty years of my life has been filled with what my current church (Thriving Life Church, also known as TLC) would call a ‘tension’. Defined simply, a tension is the time between a problem occurring until the problem is overcome with a solution. In my case, the ‘tension’ I have had for my entire Christian life is having doubt that there is a God, and all the bible says about Him.

Having journeyed with this doubt for thirty years, I started off thinking that there was something wrong with me, that I didn’t have enough faith, and to my mind, doubt wasn’t talked about in the Christian world that I frequented, I therefore compartmentalised it into a taboo subject, something not to be discussed or mentioned as it would nullify my Christian testimony. But as I have matured, I have come to accept that doubt is ok, and it is ok for me to challenge the God story. I can investigate the Bible’s claims with as much scepticism as I can muster, until I find the solution.

TLC has a non-traditional in its way of presenting the story of Jesus, and welcomes anyone and everyone no matter what, with one of the tag lines of the church being, ‘Come as you are’.

This has allowed a wide diversity of people to feel welcomed and loved. 

Being the main photographer in the church for many years, I have gained the opportunity to meet these new believers, some of which have become close personal friends. Each and every person’s faith story is as individual as their fingerprint, but over time I have made two observations about a good number of my friends. 1, Many of these new believers have tattoos of varying types. 2, There are a growing number of Christians getting new tattoos that have a faith-based theme. I am fascinated with the meanings behind why people donn the tattoos, and along with my doubt driven desire to find God’s work in the world, I am curious how these people came to believe in Jesus and what effect he has had in their lives. My personal relationships with these same people has given me the opportunity to investigate their faith journey, and I have purposely used the topic of their tattoos as a comfortable starting point for them to use. I started with three simple questions, 1, why did they originally get the tattoos, 2, what did the tattoos meant to them when they got them, 3, what do the tattoos mean to them now.

I didn’t have any expectations from any of my sitters, other than just getting photographs of their tattoos and an explanation on why they donned the artwork they have, but some were so keen to tell their story that I ended up creating videos to give them space to testify what Jesus has done in their lives.

Joe

Joe

Neil

Neil

Louise

Louise

Sam

Sam

Aaron

Aaron

Craig

Amber

Amber

Andy

Andy

Jade

Jade

Anna

Anna