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Unexpectedly, my posts on prison tattoo photography have been very popular – [1], [2], [3], and [4]. Continuing the theme, I’d like to feature the work of Herbert Hoffman.

From an early age, Herbert Hoffmann (1919-2010, b. Pommern, Germany) was drawn to people with tattoos. He was educated in Berlin. During the Third Reich, tattooed people were seen as criminals and consequently, the tattoo culture diminished. In 1940, Hoffman signed up for basic military service with the German army. From 1945-49, Hoffmann was held prisoner of war by the Russians. When he returned to Germany he worked as a travelling salesman, and encountered many persons who were tattooed despite the old Nazi ban. While working Hoffmann always took along his camera and photographed the people he met. In 1961, Hoffmann opened his own tattoo studio in Hamburg, Germany.


Hoffman distinguishes himself from photographers who look in at the tattoo culture from the outside. He defined the culture and then adopted the lion’s share of documenting it. Hoffman’s DIY method is like that of graffiti artists who return with a camera to make images of the surfaces which they have earlier decorated. (Notably, Hoffman’s tattooing preceded the rise of graffiti and its recognition as art/culture in the 1970s/80s.)

Aged 91, Hoffman passed away on June 30th of this year. Despite the indisputable novelty of his photographs, and his central position to German tattoo culture, Hoffman only received mainstream recognition very late in life. No surprise really; Hoffman was working with the maligned, ‘lowly vernacular’ medium of photography, to record the re-emerging tattoo subculture.


Hoffman’s images are on show at Ten Haaf Projects in Amsterdam until December 18th. Ten Haaf Projects, Laurierstraat 248, 1016 PT Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Tel: 020-4285885 And how good is this? At the Ten Haaf opening in October artist Henk Schiffmacher tattooed Hoffman’s designs on exhibition goers.


Hoffman’s books are here and a picture gallery of Hoffman’s life here.

Selected Solo Exhibitions: 2010 ‘Living Pictures’ Ten Haaf Projects Amsterdam; 2010 ‘St Pauli’s Souvenirs’ Galerie Lehmann Berlin. Publications: 2008 ‘Skinscapes, Die Kunst der Körperoberfläche’, text Herald Kimpel, Hrsg: H . Kimpel, Marburger Kunstverein Marburg; 2006 ‘Signs and Surfaces’ by Andreas Fux, Herbert Hoffmann, Ali Kepenek Hrsg Künstlerhaus Bethanien Berlin; ‘Mensch! Photographien aus Dresdner Sammlungen’, Hrsg: Wolfgang Hesse und Katja Schumann; ‘Kupferstichkabinett’, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden.



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