"Ink & Steel: The Body Modification Photography of Efrain John Gonzalez" Book Review

Written by Gabino Iglesias

Published by Schiffer Publishing

Introduction written by Judson Rosebush
Photography by Efrain John Gonzalez
2012, 128 pages, Art/Photography
Released on June 28th, 2012


Imagine a bus-stop bench. Two people are sitting on it. One is an elderly lady and the other is a young woman. The younger woman has tattoos covering her arms and a large piece on her chest. Her eyebrow, nose, tongue, and lips are pierced. Above the ink on her chest, there is a scar in the shape of a heart. The elderly lady is what folks would generally refer to as "normal." Do you know what makes these two women different? If you mentioned body modification, you're wrong: the old lady has two ear rings dangling from her earlobes. What sets them apart is that one of them decided to use her body as a medium to express herself.

The world of body modification is very large, and photographer Efrain John Gonzalez is a chronicler that has been turning his lens on tattooed, pierced, and scarified folks for about four decades. Ink & Steel: The Body Modification Photography of Efrain John Gonzalez is a collection of more than 200 body-modified people that illustrates the uniqueness of this art form and stands as proof of what Gonzalez's work is and stands for: truth.

In the introduction, Judson Rosebush tells the story of how Gonzalez became involved in photography, how he moved around the darkest and most interesting corners of New York City's nightlife, and the work ethic that lead him to become one of America's most prolific fetish documentarians. After the intro, things get rolling fast. The pictures are mostly from the past ten years. The individuals were photographed by Gonzalez during various editions of the New York City Tattoo Convention at the Roseland Ballroom. The convention atmosphere is almost palpable and instantly recognizable to anyone who has been a part of it even once. While most tattoo books and magazines are full of pictures of the best art photographed under optimum conditions, the natural lighting, diversity, and raw nature of a tattoo convention is what makes the artist's work feel so true. Every body type and modification style is present in the book, along with flawed, discolored tattoos. The result is a collection of images that offer a real glimpse of what's out there.

Gonzalez knows his stuff. From basic piercings to the world's most decorated man and from simple black and grey tattoos to extremely detailed bodysuits, there is something for everyone here. Even the small flaws (i.e. a dragon being called a serpent or a repeated photo) contribute to making Ink & Steel feel like an accurate representation of the body modification subculture.

Humans have been trying to alter the way they look since the beginning of time, so studying what this tendency looks like today is an interesting concept. Ink & Steel: The Body Modification Photography of Efrain John Gonzalez offers a solid overview of contemporary body art and reflects the vision of Efrain John Gonzalez, a photographer and documentarian who knows that the best art in the world is often as ephemeral as the walking canvases that display it.



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