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meet kyung-jin, a japanese-trained korean tattoo artist operating out of a studio in his home and the subject of my ever-upcoming piece on fat buddha tattoo in busan haps. i went to interview and photograph him on saturday.

it was a bit of a surreal experience. we were conducting an interview over tea — kyung-jin, his client, matt and i — and kyung jin offered to let us see his work. he does irezumi tattoos, mostly, which often covers a person’s body from the shoulders down to the thighs. so we say, yeah, we’d love to see what he was working on with this client. he said something to guy (gong-pyeong gu, i think his name was) in korean, and the next thing i knew, gong-pyeong had taken off his shirt and dropped trough in the kitchen with his back to us as kyung-jin indicated different features of the tattoo while running his finger over his client’s naked back and tush. i did my best to not act like this seemed unusual, but i really wonder how gong-pyeong gu felt about the whole thing. though i have no doubts about how he felt about the day’s tattoo session:

the weirdness wasn’t over. kyung-jin asked matt if he had any tattoos, so matt commenced to showing them off. he’s got a big piece on his ribs of the billy goats gruff dancing around like pagans, and as he lifted up his shirt so kyung-jin could see, our host started shouting and smacking his hands together loudly, pointing at matt and shouting over and over again, “HEY!!”

“oh my god,” i was thinking. “this is bad. matt must have done something to seriously piss off this guy. is he going to kick us out? is this going to fuck up my story?” well, as it turns out, kyung-jin was just mega-excited because apparently he and matt had some kind of mystical bonding experience of hippie bro-dom about a year ago at a now-defunct festival called Love Camp. he’d forgotten matt’s face but remembered him when he saw the tattoo. so now they’re best buds forever, and kyung-jin is planning to give matt a traditional (hand-tapped) tattoo gratis because he likes him so much. talk about a (delightfully) strange night.

it was so lovely to take pictures again in an environment where i felt like it was okay and everyone involved was in some sort of unspoken agreement about what it meant and why it was important. aside from that, it was beautiful to simply be invited into the home of someone outside the foreigner bubble and treated so kindly as kyung-jin treated us after seven months of awkward or suspicious interactions with most of the koreans i meet. not to mention gong-pyeong letting me photograph his luscious booty. it was a funny and heartwarming night, and i’m grateful to kyung-jin for allowing us to have it.

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