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Here, Kate Genever talks about how tattoos sparked conversations and stories about Hull's maritime past.

Tony Ward and I have been working with a small group of people, from the Hessle Road community with maritime backgrounds. We are using tattoos, or lack of them, as a route to explore their identity, stories and the visible and invisible marks that are made. Everyone involved has lived their lives a certain way, according to the rules of that way of life.

Lives that have, in part, been exciting, good and to some, even romantic. In other ways, lives have been hard, brutal and unforgiving. As human beings we carry the legacy of both with us, through our lifetime.

Although the individuals literally wear their histories on their sleeves, or other body parts, it has become clear that because of the world they inhabit, or because of the jobs they do, or have done they’ve no expectation that anyone would be interested.. instead they have just got on. This means that they are silent, even silenced, and their important contribution to the maritime heritage of Hull is never heard.

For the project each man had a photographic portrait taken alongside capturing their story about their lives and connections to Hull's maritime identity and the Hessle Road community.
George's portrait

Not being seen or heard is bad for anyone’s health, so this work pays them some long overdue attention and is letting their stories hit the light of day. We believe these stories…at the intersections of their industry, class, era and place…will resonate in the HU3 community and far beyond. Why? Because it celebrates hard won lives and shows others like them, that they are not alone, and that they and their lives matter.

Tony and I have temporarily re-opened his mothballed photography studio above the shop and working alongside the individuals have co-created portraits in a way of their choosing (exploring imagery to determine what they wish to include). We are also documenting each person’s life story and will share them alongside the images, in two exhibitions.

One in Tony’s shop and one in the famous fisherman’s pub Rayners, both on Hessle Road. I will also create a series of large ceramic platters featuring drawn portraits that will be used at the exhibition's opening.

Tony from Top Color on Hessle Road holding up Dougie's portrait and story
Dougie's story

Dougie lives in HU3 and now works hard for his family and community. Sent away at 15 to work as a galley boy on trawlers, he like many is shaped by a violent childhood which left deep scars. The marks on his skin however tell different stories of friends, loves and luck. Mostly drawn by the famous tattooist King Arthur he’s been happy to share them. What follows is a short part of his story.

Dougie says:

"I first went to sea three days after me 15th birthday. My stepdad was a bag of shite and me Mam’s brother filled in me papers and so I went. My stepdad previously had me sent to a Pru School up in Castle Howard when I was 13 because they said they couldn’t control me. But he’d been violent, really violent and this made me angry. I’m 5”2’ now so when I was 13 I was really little. When I was there they put me to work in the kitchens cooking for 300 boys. The cooks were ex Merchant Navy so I learnt lots. I was discharged on Nov 16th and got a train back to me grandmas in Hull.

"I was out about three weeks before I went on the first trawler in 1966. Cape Tarfia - an ex mine sweeper. I was a galley boy which meant I worked to help the cook and tidy the bunks. This first trip was perfect, good weather the second I was seasick for 18 days. It was so rough the sea. We would go up towards Norway. Sometime after that I burnt me arm on a water urn and it turned septic, on the stay trip an engineer broke his leg – it must have been rolling I guess -and they put him for port, but I didn’t get off. When I got back they signed me off for 2 months.

"I got me first tattoo, a small one after me first trip when I was 15. I wanted to see what it was like - it was painful. But not as painful as me stepdad taking a scrubbing brush to me arm to try and rub it off. It says MAM/DAD. But I said, “I can do what I want”. I was earning the money. I got to like em I guess. I reckon they used to do them with a six-inch nail and drag them through your skin, it’s not like now with the fine needles. I regret me hands, when I go out of town people would look at ya and I’d say, “There all mine!” People didn’t like tattoos then and at one interview for a job they said – we don’t have many crew with tattoos, but I told them they had accepted me on my experience they would have to accept me in person. It was a different mentality then, there was a bias, like I was anti-social. Having them you was a seen as a someone bad.

"I have all me mates on me and all the girlfriends before me wife and the horseshoe is for luck. I had to have the knuckles changed because when I got tangled up with the police they said I better off get them changed. So I had the 4 symbols from cards. I’ve got a small King cod, a Scotland forever, because me mate Stuart was from Aberdeen and he had Kingston on Hull on his chest. Funny though we also wanted to have our wives names on but Billy Rudd / King Arthur made a mistake and so I’ve got Joan and he’s got June – we’ve got each other’s wives on our chests!"