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Photographer of the tattooed to open exhibit at the Butler

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Published: Thu, May 2, 2019 @ 12:05 a.m.

Staff report


“Mark Perrott: Ancient Ink” will open Sunday at the Butler Institute of American Art and run through Sept. 1.

A meet-the-artist reception will take place from 1 to 3 p.m., and the public is welcome. Admission and parking are free.

The exhibition is part of the museum’s centennial celebration. In it, Pittsburgh-based photographer Perrott shares stories and photos of aging Americans with tattoos.

The exhibit is “remarkable, both technically and conceptually,” said Louis A. Zona, executive director of the Butler.

“Mark Perrott is one of America’s great artistic talents whose photography always seems to break new ground,” said Zona. “The work is truly spellbinding and makes us realize that the photographic image, in the hands of a great artist, takes its place among the most significant of art forms.”

Perrott has documented the ever-expanding tribe of tattooed Americans since first capturing the subjects at Island Avenue Tattoo in Pittsburgh in 1979.

He spent the ensuing four decades exploring tattoo parlors across the country.

In Perrot’s current series, “Ancient Ink,” he turns his camera to the now diminishing population of highly decorated and graying Americans.

Through photographs and accompanying interviews, Perrott introduces the viewer to dozens of people, including Marge, a 74 year-old former Cleveland police officer; Jim, a retired city planner; and Henry, an 87-year-old World War II-era Navy veteran.

“These subjects speak to me of resilience, loss, mystery and the emancipation that sometimes comes with growing old,” said Perrott.

A professional photographer for the past 50 years, Perrott’s work includes portraiture and photography for annual corporate reports. He has made photographs that document Pittsburgh’s citizens and its industrial landscape. In the early 1980s, he gave special attention to the life and death struggle of the steel industry in the Monongahela Valley, with a special focus on Pittsburgh’s Jones and Laughlin steel mill and its blast furnaces.

Photographs from this project were used to create the book “Eliza” published in 1989 by Howell Press. He went on in 1999 to publish “Hope Abandoned,” a four-year investigation of Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia.

In 2013, he published his third book, “E Block,” an extended photo essay of Pittsburgh’s former Western Penitentiary.

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