While many industries, from photography to beauty to fitness, have been greatly affected by Instagram, its arguable that the tattoo industry has made the greatest transformation because of social media. Instagram was first launched in 2010 and since then, it has caused the tattoo community to rethink nearly every aspect of the industry.
Before Instagram came along, the most common way to find a tattoo artist was through word of mouth or by going to the best shop in your area. Artists relied on their reputation in a centralized location and the only way to learn about new artists was through tattoo conventions or in magazines.
Before Instagram took off, magazines and books were the ideal way for people to learn about new artists, techniques and styles. However, Instagram has eliminated the need for a hard copy binder of tattooers. Now, instead of reaching for a copy of TAM or Tattoo Time, all someone needs to do is go on Instagram and they have access to thousands of artists.
Speaking of artists, while Instagram is a tool for tattoo clients, it has also been an extreme asset to tattooers themselves. Like we mentioned earlier, before Instagram the only way to research artists and styles was to look through magazines or visit conventions. However, having access to millions of tattoos online allows artists to see new techniques and approaches, therefore bettering the work of the industry as a whole. Artists can learn from other tattooers around the world, which has benefited the industry by raising the bar for quality and engaging artwork.
In addition to Instagram increasing the global exposure of tattoo artists, the industry has been greatly affected by celebrities and social media influencers. Before Instagram, the concept of an influencer was relatively unheard of, however, today influencers have an incredible amount of power over millions of impressionable people. Tattooing has been affected by this because a select few tattooers and shops have become famous on social media due to the clients they attract. If a celebrity or influencer posts a photo of their tattoo on Instagram, that artist has the potential to have their art seen by millions of people.
However, given the immense clout that influencers have, there comes a responsibility to positively portray the industry. In many cases, celebrities end up letting down the tattoo community by promoting artists that lack technical skill or artistic talent. There are a select few cases where celebrities will go to the best that money can buy, for example Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson or T.J. Dillashaw, however, its more common that a star won't do their research. This has an impact on the industry at large because it causes the mainstream to believe that these celebrity tattooers are the best in the business, when in actuality their work is extremely subpar or heavily manipulated by Photoshop.
That's another aspect to consider when discussing the impact Instagram has had on tattooing. Before Instagram, hardly any Photoshop was used on photographs of tattoos. However, Instagram has encouraged many tattooers today to do subtle (or in some cases, extreme) modifications to their photographs. Adding contrast or fixing the background of a tattoo is generally accepted by the industry, yet Photoshop become problematic when it is used to deceive the client. If a tattoo looks too good to be true, there's a good chance that it has been doctored. Even then, if it can be used as a tool to bring in more clients, there's no stopping Photoshop from being used by artists in the industry.
While Instagram has made a noticeable impact to tattooers and tattoo culture within the Western world, it has been even greater in countries like China. Internet censorship is extremely extensive in China, which has led most tattoo artists there to find tattoos straight from Instagram. Because they are not able to rely on references from other sites or online mediums, Instagram has been an essential tool for growing tattoo communities throughout China.
So while Instagram has certainly impacted the personal lives of millions of people from around the world, it has also drastically transformed the work life of nearly every tattooer on the planet. Instagram is both a blessing and a curse to the tattoo industry, however, if you were to ask any artist they would probably say that the rewards outweigh the consequences. At the end of the day, Instagram has allowed tattooers to grow their businesses and their brands in a way that was never thought possible—making it the most powerful tool an artist can have freely at their disposal.
What do you think about the impact that Instagram has had on tattooing? If you're an artist, how has it personally affected your work? And if you're a client, how has Instagram changed the way you look at collecting tattoos? Share your thoughts in the comments section on Facebook.