We tell our tales and hold our secrets. Our stories come out on paper, in spoken words, even in the things we choose not to say. And then, with little fanfare, some stories are told in ink on skin, walking with us as we share both secrets and dares indelibly marked onto our bodies.

Over the past few years more and more people, particularly but not necessarily, young, are finding or creating images to be sewn into their skin with needles and ink.

Once the province of sailors and gangs, these images now proudly shout out from the arms, backs, torsos and every other body part of rich kids, poor kids, their mothers and fathers and millions more.

Walking through some neighborhoods is to be strolling through an art gallery of humanity, a visual cornucopia of color, design and emotion calling out for attention.

“This is me! Don’t look away!” Each individual blending with the next to be noticed individually as unique, even as the uniqueness is repeated by each passer by. What once was exotic now is normal and we scarcely notice the images flying past.

And yet, taking the time for a closer look, each truly is unique, each story individually told as the paths of lives are traced through the line of ink surrounding skin.

Or do you judge them, clinging to stereotypes that comfort us from change? Be careful, there are many hidden tattoos, perhaps on your friends, or family, beneath business suits and bathing suits.

As a photographer, the visual pull is magnetic, so I stop, listen to the stories and photograph the talismans of individual spirits, sharing their world for all to see.

Images from top: Jake, a tattoo artist with Jesus tattooed onto his head; Sarah, who makes her own clothes; Jennifer has been working on her back for over a year; Donald, praising Allah and love. Below: John, a retired high school biology teacher with tattoos strategically placed to be covered by his clothes; and Kristen, preparing for her wedding: Phil and his son; Katie, who designed her tattoos after breaking up with a boyfriend; and Elizabeth, a gifted artist who has chronicled her life experiences in body ink.

Billy Howard

Billy Howard

Billy Howard is a commercial and documentary photographer with an emphasis on education and global health.