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March 9, 2010

Professor Ina Saltz’ ‘Body Type’ Sequel Released

 Professor Ina Saltz

Professor Ina Saltz

“My life is type,” says Ina Saltz, Associate Professor and Director of CCNY’s Electronic Design and Multimedia program.  That’s not surprising, given that she has been an art director for some of America’s best-known magazines, including “Time” and “Golf.”  Of late, her fascination with type has expanded beyond type on paper or the computer screen to type on skin.

Her 2006 book, “Body Type: Intimate Messages Etched in Flesh,” (Abrams) became a cult hit in typography and design circles.  Last month, a sequel, “Body Type: More Typographic Tattoos,” (Abrams) came off the press.

Both volumes are intellectual books about tattoos, she says.  Some of the nearly 300 persons she photographed for the second volume have tattoos with quotations from Shakespeare, Dante, e.e. cummings and James Joyce, among others.  Almost all of her subjects are college graduates.  Many have advanced degrees.

“Through the book people feel they have become legitimized,” she says.  “It’s debunked old stereotypes about who gets tattooed.”

Tattooing has been around for a long time: A well-preserved mummy dating to approximately 3300 B.C.E. and found in the Austrian Alps had 52 tattoos.  At one time, tattooing was the province of European royalty and aristocrats, but over time it became common among the lower classes, she explained.  “Now the pendulum is swinging back.”

Typographic tattoos are more prevalent among educated populaces, she noted.  It is not unusual to find quotations from literature and poetry etched into someone’s skin.  In the tattoo world, that is called a “commitment,” she added. “The longer your tattoo, the bigger a commitment you’ve made.”

However, that’s a kind of commitment Professor Saltz has not made herself.  She says she does not have any tattoos, partly due to religious beliefs and partly due to fear of needles.  “I don’t even have pierced ears,” she says.

In her new book, Professor Saltz describes how she first became intrigued with typographic tattoos.  She explains that she spotted a young man on a cross-town bus with a tattoo of the word “happy” in Helvetica, a popular typeface, and asked his permission to take a photo.  Shortly after, she attended a tattoo convention where she discovered how prevalent a trend it had become.  

“It’s a phenomenon I tapped into,” she says.  “What began as a simple act snowballed into a book, the first to exclusively document the phenomenon of typographic tattoos.”  With her second “Body Type” volume in print, she is working on a third.  In 2009, she published a book for the trade, “Typography Essentials: 100 Design Principles for Working with Type” (Rockport Press).

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