This unique archive documents Russian criminals' tattoos and their coded meanings. Included in the collection are more than three thousand tattoo drawings made by Danzig Baldaev during his time as a prison guard between 1948 and 1986. Tattoos were his gateway into a secret world in which he acted as ethnographer, recording the rituals of a closed society. The icons and tribal languages he documented are artful, distasteful, sexually explicit and provocative, reflecting as they do the lives and traditions of convicts.
The accompanying photographs by Sergei Vasiliev act as an important counterpart to Baldaev's drawings, providing photographic evidence of their authenticity, and allowing us a glimpse into this compelling and extraordinary world. The Arkady Bronnikov photographic collection is a vernacular survey confirming that the police recognised the importance of these symbols. In these incredible images the nameless bodies of criminals act as both a text and mirror, reflecting and preserving the ever-changing folklore of the Russian criminal underworld.
The drawings and photographs of the Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopaedia and Archive are protected under copyright.