Chris Nieratko (writer),
Lionel Deluy (photographer)
Whether you know L.A. Ink's O.G. because he's renowned in the tattoo world for his amazing freehand, or simply because he's the only guy the show, you know he's a badass—and a damn smart one at that.
CN: Do you ever feel any sexual harassment from the girls? You know, ass slaps, whistles, being called baby?
Corey Miller: What's funny is that they all got that woman empowerment card going. I'm pretty polite in general. I'm married and have daughters so I'm not going to be saying a lot of crude shit. It's kind of reversed because they have the power and they'll say some bolder stuff, but it's not going to hurt my ears. What has been the best and worst parts of your sudden mainstream notoriety? The good thing is that it got Middle America off their asses and into the tattoo shop. Some people want to say that's bad, but that's like saying Nirvana should have stayed under that bridge playing for those junkie kids. Bullshit. The world got to hear it and they liked it because it was good. That simple. I understand it's a protected art form. When I got into the industry, people would tell you the wrong thing to do before the right thing. A lot of people want to hold onto that. I think I personally caught a little more grief about the show than anybody because I've been around as long I have. But I have humility. I will be the first to say I do not own tattooing, everybody else does. We're just vessels for it. The guys that are complaining about it, their businesses are thriving.
There are certain parts of it that make me sad. Anybody can get into tattooing now—it's like playing guitar in a band. But like I told one of my mentors, ‘We're gonna pass one day. We carried the ball for while, then we pass it on and we leave.' When I got into tattooing I wanted to be around it because all the bad people were hanging around it and it was more fun hanging around the knuckleheads. It wasn't the good thing to do. It was the thing to do to piss people off. Twenty years later it's accessible. And that's what these shows did for tattooing.
Do you think you're making it difficult on the rest of the tattoo community by inspiring people to go into shops with these grandiose sob stories? That's definitely an effect of the show's format. But if a guy says that makes it hard for him, all he has to say [to his client] is, ‘I'm not a psychiatrist.' You don't have to be friends with the people you tattoo, for fuck's sake. I don't want to be. I meet some great people but I meet a lot of trippy people too, and it's not like we're ever going to spend time together again.
I hear that a lot from artists; they say that everybody comes in and tells their story. But what about when the Navy guys came in with stories about crossing the equator or some battle story? It's the same thing. If you don't like it, and you don't like the therapy end of it, and you don't like where tattooing is in our culture in 2007, then fucking quit. We make decent money and we get to do our art.
Sure some people do shit artwork and they still make killer money. And there are the guys with no talent and the gift of gab. You have to call a spade a spade. This business is full of artists and carnies, and I consider myself both. I'm just a glorified carnie. I'm not going to put myself on some pedestal for tattooing skulls.
You're known for your freehand work, which is seen less and less from newer tattoo artists. Do you think that's an aspect of tattooing that is getting lost? A lot of people trip on my freehand, but when I started in a shop, we didn't have a copy machine. We had those old plastic stencils that you would engrave and put the powder on; and when you'd barely blot it, that stencil was gone, man. So you had to learn to draw.
But I do hope people continue to do freehand if they're good at it. But I also know a lot of artists who can't draw at all but can do a stencil like a master. When I say anybody can get into this business, I'm not saying that's a good thing. Sometimes it just feels like people think, ‘I'm gonna dye my hair purple, stick a bone in my nose and I'm a tattoo artist.' Sometimes I resent it—but not enough to say that people shouldn't be allowed to do it. For more on Corey, go to sixfeetunder.com
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