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style notes: laura harper and eoghan barra
Laura Harper is DIY’s finest. Completely self-taught, she began working as a handpoke tattoo artist around a year ago. Starting out, she would practice her craft on whoever would let her. Now, she has her own studio in Limehouse where she threads ink onto skin every single day. Leaving her mark one tattoo at a time, she gives this digital world of our’s meaning, permanence and tangibility. She’s not too dissimilar from Eoghan Barra in that respect. Barra began shooting on Polaroid when assisting Christopher Makos, a contemporary of Andy Warhol’s who worked closely with the N.Y. pop artist. Keen to challenge the inherent sexualisation of the naked body, Barra needed a way of shooting his subjects nude without making them feel uncomfortable. Makos suggested PolaroId. There’s something distinctly honest about Polaroid portraits. Intimate and personal, they’re visual diary entries of fleeting moments, captured with adoring spirit. It’s with this nature, and the fact that each image is a one-off, that Barra achieves what he set out to do. His subjects not only become collaborators, but best friends – with confidence, trust and spirits anew.
Head with us to Laura Harper’s studio as the two creatives meet for the first time.
Photography: Caoimhe Hahn
Styling and creative direction: Woody Cecilia
How do you go about scouting your subjects?
Eoghan Barra: A lot of them have been friends and lovers – but, lately, working with Jasmine Dreamer and Jess Brennan has allowed more people with interests in body positivity to be exposed to my pictures too. For those I haven’t met previously, there’s usually a shared sense of the world, and we get along really well. I’ve become lifetime friends with some of them.
What’s the general mood when meeting them before the shoot?
Eoghan: We’ll hang out, get to know each other, the project is fully explained. I also let them know that they’re free to take pictures of me, if they wish. That’s something I’ve adopted to be able to feel exposed and vulnerable, and to diffuse any sense of power that a photographer might have over their subjects.
SHOES: Wood Wood
What’s the message behind your nude photographs?
Eoghan: The message is definitely anti-censorship and feminist, in the sense that all bodies should be equally uncensored. It’s about freedom of expression, comfort in one’s own skin and an attempt to disrupt the notion of a nude photo as pornographically sexual.
How do you get your subjects to act so naturally?
Eoghan: They often pose, and I wait. As soon as they stop thinking ‘I’m in front of a camera’ and start thinking ‘Why is this idiot taking so long?’ their expression changes and I press the button. When they move into an internal monologue and become less conscious of the situation, that’s when they look more natural.
How did you meet Christopher Makos?
Eoghan: When I finished my BA in Dublin, I was hired to document an artist who was living and creating work in a contemporary gallery. The curator and I became very close friends and he introduced me to Chris Murray who was part of Warhol's extended circle back in the heyday. Over drinks, I told them that I was planning to spend a year in New York and they were both very enthusiastic that Makos was the man I should begin that journey with. So, I showed up at his studio door one morning and so it all began.
Is it true he was the one who turned you onto shooting on Polaroid?
Eoghan: One day when I was archiving his Polaroids, I asked Chris what it was that let so many people feel comfortable posing nude for him. He gave this fascinating explanation about the physical nature of the Polaroid that’s held and touched and approved in an instant, on location, and how that instills more confidence over an iPhone or digital camera. In a somewhat Warhol-esque way, he also taught me about its intrinsic and increasing value as a one of a kind.
Did Makos speak much about Warhol?
Eoghan: Their friendship spanned well over a decade and they travelled the world together, so there was definitely a sense that it was heartbreaking for Makos when Warhol passed away at just fifty-eight-years-old. He'd sometimes say things like, “Andy would have liked that” or "That's where Andy bought his glasses,” pointing at the Moscot store. Working through the archives, I'd ask him questions about Andy dressing up in drag for their Lady Warhol series, about the moments when Andy is pictured with the likes of John Lennon and Bowie and Basquiat, and all of these people who I'll never ever have the chance to meet. The stories were magic.
What’s next for the Polaroid series?
Eoghan: Right now, there are hundreds in a box. I’m waiting for the point where I feel like I have enough of a collection to put on an exhibition. It probably annoys the hell out of some people who've waited so long to see the final results of the project – and to those people, I'm sorry. But it's getting there, I promise.
GLASSES: Ace & Tate
SHOES: Converse One Star
SHIRT: Potato Head
SHOES: Stepney Workers Club
How did you get into doing handpoked tattoos?
Laura: I started tattooing as a hobby while I was at university. I had around six or seven tattoos at that point and I really wanted more, but couldn’t afford it – student life for you! So, I did a few small ones on myself with some tattooing equipment my friend gave me and, after that, everyone wanted one from me!
What words of advice would you give people wanting to follow in your footsteps?
Laura: Don’t give up, as frustrating as it can be – and don’t let the rubbish tattoos that you will do make you want to quit. It’s normal to mess up while starting out. I spent a lot of time dwelling over ‘mistakes’ and I still do, but it’s so important to not let them lower your confidence. You’re great! Keep at it, and be safe and clean while you do so!
What was the first tattoo you ever did?
Laura: The first tattoo I ever did was a little ‘X’ on the top part of my wrist. Top tip for you handpokers out there, start small.
How would you describe your style?
Laura: I’d say my style is very linear and minimal. I like to include occasional dot and line work, but I generally keep my tattoos quite spacey and delicate so they don’t look too busy. It works really well with the florals that I do. My style has been called ‘Cute’ many times in the past!
What’s your favourite thing to tattoo?
Laura: I love tattooing linear female bodies, as I admire the female form and I think that it’s such a beautiful thing. I love that non-sexualised versions of nude women tattoos are becoming more of a ‘thing.’ Rather than being seen as sexual objects as they were in the pin-up era, they now have the purpose of celebrating beauty and freedom. It really supports today’s body positive generation, which I really try to push in my work.
How many tattoos would you say you’ve done since starting out one year ago?
Laura: It’s so difficult to say. I’ve tattooed up to fifteen people in one day before, so I’d say probably around six-hundred? A lot!