Part of the Problem
Words / Dave Lang
I was born in Juneau, Alaska. I lived my early years on a steady diet of KISS, Cheech and Chong, Conan the Barbarian, Beat Street, and Caddyshack. Bmx led to skateboarding and eventually skateboarding led to everything else.
Between documenting skateboarding, graffiti and tattoos, the act of taking pictures became second nature to me. Spots get knobbed, graffiti gets buffed and tattoos move away and someday die. Part of the Problem is my junk drawer photos on a Xerox, along with found objects and little kid drawings.
? / Cody Liska
A / Dave Lang
How long have you been a tattoo artist?
I’ve been tattooing professionally since 2001. After the new year it’ll be 14 years. So, it’s been a little bit.
When I started there wasn’t a lot of Internet forums, chat rooms, videos, or television shows geared around tattooing. Popular culture hadn’t really grabbed onto it yet. Like, when I was a kid, I would’ve killed for anything with a skull on it. Now you can’t throw a rock without hitting even like a little kid shirt with skulls and tattoo imagery and daggers and all that stuff.
Once my mom realized that [becoming a tattoo artist] was what I was going to do and it’s what I was passionate about, I could tell she was kind of panicked (laughs). Not super stoked. Eventually she was stoked. When she met people that were like, “oh, you’re son did my tattoo” and they told her what a good experience they had. That really gave her a different perspective. Then, after popular culture grabbed onto it, she was all, “well, my son is a tattoo artist” (laughs). Whereas before that she was like, “uh, he’s a graphic artist” (laughs). When I started, you didn’t have people coming into the shop saying things like, “I think my kid should be a tattooer.” You just didn’t hear that back then. You hear it all the time now though.
It's still sort of a pirate-ish industry in where we don’t have health benefits or stuff like that. Retirement plans are up to us. No one’s matching our 401k. It’s a tough industry to be in for the long haul. but I love it and I wouldn’t do anything else.
How does tattooing figure into this zine?
There's not too much obvious tattoo related stuff in there. There are some casual photos of tattooers in it though. I'm looking through the first one now and there's the most obscene tattoo I've ever covered up. It's a pretty graphic lesbian sex scene (laughs). That guy was going into the military and so he wanted to get it covered up with a big eagle because [the military] was like, "there's just no way." As I'm working on it, covering it up, and down in the very corner there's a signature. So I was like, "hey man, was this taken off a painting or a picture that had a signature?" And he's all, "no, that's just the tattoo artist's signature" (laughs). I guess the guy was especially pleased, he needed to brand his work.
How did you go about putting it together?
They’re just photos that I copied on the Xerox machine. Sometimes I copy them more than once, like if there was a photo that was especially glossy or something like that. I might make a copy of that, then make a Xerox copy of that copy. I do it all by hand – literally cut and paste. I don’t use a computer for any of it.
I lived in Olympia, Washington for a long time, during the punk rock hey day and graffiti stuff that was going on down there. There were always a lot of those cheap, Xerox zines around. In fact, Olympia has a zine library where you can just go in and check stuff out. So, there was always zines kickin’ around. I always just liked the way they were put together. It was always so personal and not adhering to or worrying about any advertisements or anything like that. If it was just focused on one thing, whether it was skateboarding or snowboarding or music or graffiti art or just art in general, you could tell it was a labor of love. I always appreciated that.
I always had a lot of pictures, always documented a lot of stuff. Always carried around a camera.
Which kind of speaks to your “WELCOME TO MY JUNK DRAWER” copy on the first page.
Exactly. That’s the only photo of me and the only thing I wrote in any of it. Just “WELCOME TO MY JUNK DRAWER,” because I’ve accumulated so much shit over the years. Especially here in Juneau. You can tell from my photos that I’m not an artistic photographer, by any means. Most of the time I feel like I’m just catching a silly moment or something that catches my eye.