Portrait n°2: Joseph Stambach

Can you introduce yourself?

I’m Joseph, 30 years old, and designer and owner of Marché Noir, a lingerie brand dedicated to tailor made corsets. It’s definitely a brand, not a local service, despite the out of the box concept and identity.

Overall I enjoy making things, I like modifying old objects. I’ve done a lot of work on old cars and bikes, tweaking their style and mechanics to suit my needs and taste.

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How did you discover tattooing?

I was about five, I was still living in the UK at the time. My dad took me to the pictures for the first time, we went to see “Who framed Roger Rabbit ?”. Outside the cinema there were some punks with neon mohawks and studded jackets, their styling and bare arms covered with ink really made me freak out but still, the tattoos caught my attention. I wasn’t raised in a family where tattoos were considered normal, but I figured out around the age of 12 or 13 that I’d get one at some point. I like the visual effect of « bodysuit » tattoos. There is something to it, it certainly stands out. A heavily tattooed body is quite impressive, shocking. I don’t get tattooed in order to shock, but it speaks to the collective imagination. I also appreciate the artisanal aspect, it’s done by hand and that gives it added value.

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What was your first experience like?

I got my first when I was about 22. It was an “old school” pin up girl by Laura Satana, quite minimalistic, on the right shoulder blade, that has been covered since. She wanted to do it in two goes, outlines then colour. When I see what I’ve endured since I can’t see myself putting up with that kind of stuff now. It was a time in my life where I didn’t think I’d have more done. But in 2007, I started getting tattooed by Uncle Allan, and, seeing that we enjoyed working on projects together, I started to want more stuff from him. The backpiece idea came up and he was super eager to do it. We both agreed that the piece I had already needed to go in order to have a perfect job from him. Old school would be the safest way to describe it, although that term covers several styles these days. I like thick lines, with heavy contrasts and bright colours. They stay cleaner, longer, anyway.

Can you tell me about the stories behind them?

The first ones I had done by Allan: two letterings in roses : « Warte nur, bald… ruhest du auch ». The two last lines from a poem by Goethe. “Just wait ! soon… You too shall rest » a tribute to deceased loved ones. On my forearms I also have two complementary pieces by Uncle Allan. More roses and leaves. On one side I have a pair of tailor scissors lying upon the petals, and on the other a tracing wheel. They are my everyday tools, tattooed on my arms, the vectors of our actions.

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My back is the biggest tattoo I have. With the will to get more tattoos done, came the idea of the integral backpiece, it seemed logical. I tried not to give too many ideas to Allan: a young lady in a corset, with bobbins in her right hand and the other stretched out to a magpie clutching a ring. I wanted daffodils for their delicate indented edges. And he came up with the rest. The layout, the carved frame, the colours, the old pair of scissors, the gigantic hairstyle and jewelry… it took around 55 hours of work, done over 18 months, about 10 sessions and almost as many trips between France and Denmark. Alongside he did a tattoo on the top of my right arm, and we delved into the chest piece right away. It’s not what I wanted initially, well, it wasn’t supposed to be as big. Allan could see it being better if bigger, and I felt he wanted to use more space to really make it work. The result is superb, I wanted something really straightforward, unlike the backpiece that is heavily detailed, this is basic, old school, heavy lines and bright colours.

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The eye on my wrist is by my friend Eddie Czaicki, currently an apprentice at 23 keller. I paid him a visit on my 30th birthday, in order to do a small commemorative tattoo. We went for an eye whose pupil contains a stylized number 30, hidden in the glint. It was his way of wishing me a happy birthday. On my right arm I also have a portrait done by Alix. I wanted a melancholic looking lady, one of her trademarks. I suggested adding the measuring tape circling around her, she had the idea of the hand with the lace glove, and sprinkled the flowers around it to dress the piece up.

Adam Hays did the work on my leg. He’s an American tattoo artist who grew up in Texas, watching Star Wars and Star Trek. A geek stuck in the countryside, whose upbringing was accompanied by these references. He told me that due to the enormous crowd of tattoo artists in the US compared to Europe, it’s as hard as it is mandatory to stand out. He started drawing flash posters, inspired by Star Wars, but with an old school twist. He would put them up at conventions to attract people, not really thinking he’d be asked to do any of them, but it really worked. It’s clearly innovative, he is the original that many have followed.

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We did very classical old school themes. A skull and rose on the back of my leg, and a shipwreck on the front. What makes them so novel is that the skull is merged with Darth Vader’s helmet, a skeletal hand holding his flickering light saber. The shipwreck is Vader’s TIE Fighter with masts and ripped sails, with a TIE pilot helmet/kraken pulling the ship down in the waves. He likes playing around with this sort of associations, it works really well if you have a sense of humour.

I’m not quite sure how the armpit ideas came up. “Evil tattoos in nasty places”, to quote the artist, sums it up pretty well. Two skulls with dislocated jaws, merged into clouds, and spewing lightning through their eye sockets. Chriss Dettmer did them, I couldn’t imagine anyone else capable of taking on the project. He really liked the idea, he’s a really modest guy, so dedicated to what he does, and for whom the artisanal aspect of tattooing is very important.

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How do you select the tattoo artists you want to collaborate with?

I basically get tattooed by Uncle Allan and his mates. I found out about him in Tatouage Magazine, while looking for someone to do old school stuff. And it was through him that I met Chriss Dettmer, Matthew Gordon and Adam Hays while they where guests at his shop. A friend told me about Alix, and thanks to her I met Rafael Trovato from Fresh Ink Tattoos.

Can you talk about how you collaborate with your tattooists?  You seem to give them a lot of leeway. How do you go about it? 

I’d say you have to, if you want the best result. Getting tattooed is not like a trip to the cobbler, they are creative guys who need some liberties. A tattooist knows the human body, knows how a tattoo will move with it, and where the best placement will be. He draws in view of the tattoo, because you cannot just slap a picture on skin like an illustration. I’d say I always go home with what I wanted but never how I imagined it.

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What’s with such an extreme aesthetic endeavour ?

I believe the prime aim of a tattoo is to look good. It’s cool if it means something, but even if it does it needs to look good. It’s an everyday enhancement of your body. Few of us will admit it but we’re all seeking attention in some way or another. That said, mine are rarely seen, usually hidden by long sleeves.

It’s kind of deep down, it’s hard to explain. Like religion, there can come a time when you don’t quite know why you believe in it but still you dedicate yourself to it. I like the visual impact of heavily tattooed bodies. Nowadays it’s still not too common a sight, let’s face it. And that to me is what makes the difference. I’m not trying to be a snob and dismiss people who only have one or two, because it could be the case that their sole tattoo has more meaning, more visual power, and a better execution than all of mine. To be honest I don’t know why I like it so much but I’m earnest in my demeanor.

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We often talk about addiction but I personally see it as a commitment.

Yes! I plan to be covered, so as long as I have free space, I’ll feel the need to get tattooed. Of course, I guess even when I won’t have any left I’ll probably still want to get tattooed, but let’s hope I’ll be done with it the day that comes. Hands, neck and face, of course, because let’s be honest, you do still need to hide the tattoos when required. It’s good to come across as “normal” in front of your bank clerk, a judge or the police. I’ll probably do my hands and neck last, though, I guess when my life will be done and it won’t matter so much.

Is there a specific trigger that made you go from your first small pieces to the way you’ve now dedicated your body to this art?

It coincides with the moment the backpiece was mentioned with Allan. I waited almost a year and a half before I saw the first sketch and started getting it done. When you’ve realized it’s on the way, you feel ready to go through all the process, time, energy, effort, and the trips between Paris and Copenhagen, yep, that’s when you know that it’s serious business and you’re going to take it through.

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Do you think there is a sort of fascination with pain? Would it have the same appeal if pain wasn’t part of the creative process?

Don’t get tattooed, I discourage everyone I meet, it’s painful and tedious. Of course it wouldn’t have the same impact without pain, but that would also mean that it’s not happening. It puts things into perspective because once you’ve spent 6 hours getting your spine hammered, you see things differently. But I don’t give any ritualistic meaning to getting tattooed. Pain isn’t the aim, you just need to stay put. Compared to a lifetime it’s just like blinking once.

How would you explain the fact that you do not fear the permanency of tattooing?

I guess I’m really not bothered.  Some questions come around a lot, like “what are you going to do when you’re old ?”… well, I’ll be old and ugly, it can’t really make things worse, come 70, whether you’re tattooed or not I’m not sure what it can change for you. I’ll probably make kids freak out at the bakers, big deal… It’s really not something I’m bothered about.

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Being so tattooed, has that transformed the way you see your body?

I’d say it’s more a question of discovering new sensations that you haven’t yet experienced. I look at my body like a building site. I think about how things can fit together, a bit like Tetris (laughter).

What was the reaction of your relatives when you started to become heavily tattooed?

The first visible ones I had done were the upper arm pieces by Allan. At the time, I fixed an old wreck, bought a week earlier, that hadn’t seen the road for more than 15 years. I then did a France-Germany-Denmark road trip before taking it to the UK to see some relatives. First stop was to see my grandmother, I told her about the tattoos, she asked to see them, and said : “wow that looks good, and if people aren’t pleased, who cares, you’re old enough to know what you want, now, aren’t you”. She’s 82 now and finds them really cool, she even comments the photos of my tattoos on Facebook. My mum however, asked a few questions like whether it was permanent (laughter). She found the process and meaning quite touching. But she didn’t really support me when I got more. I think she accepts the fact that she doesn’t really have a choice. She’s only seen my arms, and, hasn’t really looked. I think she knows I haven’t got prison tatts and biker stuff… and she hasn’t stopped talking to me so I guess it’s pretty much ok.

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How do you think tattoos are perceived within French society? Are many stigmas remaining?

We’re 15 years behind for lots of things here, and tattoos are in there too. I’d say it’s still not so good to be tattooed here yet. It’s often badly perceived and people judge it a lot. I’m not too bothered so I don’t really feel too bad.

How do you feel about growing old with your tattoos?

Fat and bald.

What are your next projects and which artists would like to collaborate with in the future?

Chriss Dettmer will be doing my upper left arm. I think I should give a thigh to do to Eckel. I’ve seen him at work many times during his stay at Uncle Allan’s shop. He’s incredibly talented.

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Any regrets ?

None, and that was confirmed when Dan Sinnes tattooed me at the Mondial du Tatouage. He’s a good friend of Dettmer and Allan, and once we had finished, I thanked him for his work, but he wished to thank me for having let him tattoo me. He was pleased to add his contribution to my collection alongside his friends. When you get a compliment like that from such a recognized artist, it really confirms the quality of the tattoos you have.

Your biggest dream?

Ah, many things in life you want, you can reach all by yourself. But, when something you desire is no longer obtainable with your sole actions and will, that’s when it becomes uncertain and dream-like. In view of that, I can’t say whether I’ll get what I truly wish for.

Interview & Pictures by Céline Aieta – Video by BIIMPROD

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