Elvia Iannaccone Gezlev Turns Lens on NYC Female Tattooers for New Book
If you are looking for tattoo inspiration or tattoo artists to follow, you likely do what everyone else does—you flip through Instagram and search hashtags to find new artists. But for her new photography project, Elvia Iannaccone Gezlev wanted to take tattoo portraiture offline and create something physical.
“I love books and magazines—printed stuff in general. I love to look at them, hold them, collect them,” she says. “I wanted to create something tangible, that wouldn’t just disappear in a scroll.”
Her new book “Ladies of Tattooing NYC” beautifully documents female tattooers who work and
The photos are accompanied by tattooer artwork and personal interviews conducted by Gezlev, who also writes and provides photography for tattoo publications including Tattoo Life.
Getting the Perfect Shot
Nothing that Gezlev does is forced, posed, or over-the-top. She strives to capture female tattoo artists in their own spaces.
“I try to document the artist in their natural environment, just trying to make them feel comfortable in their skin,” she says. “I want to give them a voice with my interviews, know their stories, their personalities, where they come from, and give them an honest and respectful portrait with my photos.”
Gezlev says that she tries to stay out of the way and wait for the right moments to click and capture magic with her camera. “I hang around a little and wait for the perfect moment to shoot them while tattooing or when they take a break,” she says. “I don’t want to invade too much.”
A Career in Tattoo Photography
Gezlev, who is now 50 years old, got her start in photographing tattoo artists and tattoos in the early 1990s in Italy, where she was born. She worked as a staff writer and photographer for a magazine called “Tattoo Revue” and traveled to conventions to document the work of tattooers.
“I photographed and interviewed many tattooers, musicians, and tattoo collectors,” she says. “It was something totally new and exciting, especially for Italy. We opened up many doors to the tattoo world.”
But Gezlev moved to New York City in 2002 and now focuses her time on parenting three boys and capturing the constantly buzzing world outside her door. “Nowadays I can’t travel much anymore (mom duty!) so I contact the artists directly and go to their shops in NYC,” she says.
Highlighting the Work of Female Tattoo Artists
Documenting the careers and stories of female tattoo artists and supporting their careers is something Gezlev is passionate about. As a tattoo artist herself, she knows how difficult it can be to break into the industry.
“I experienced working and growing as a tattooer in street shops between Manhattan, Brooklyn. and Staten Island,” she says. “It takes a great deal of determination to make it. You can experience long hours, sometimes shady situations, and you feel like you have to fight everybody to get a little bit of respect.”
In 2010, with tattooer Emma Griffiths, Gezlev launched Ladies Ladies! Art Show, a visual display of art from top female tattooers. The yearly event has attracted participation from icons in the tattoo industry including Debra Yarian, Kate Hellenbrand, Juli Moon, Pat Sinatra, Michelle Myles, Vyvyn Lazonga, Sofia Estrella, and Annette Larue. The show also prompted Gezlev to launch an Instagram account that regularly shares the work of women artists.
“The diversity of styles, the different identities, and the passion of all these lady tattooers is really intriguing to me,” she says. “So many talented women took over a trade that used to be male dominated. I consider it a real sociocultural revolution. I think it’s exciting, liberating, and worth celebrating.”
All images are the property of Elvia Iannaccone Gezlev.