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Ex-Gang Members With Their Tattoos Removed

Photographer Steven Burton decided to help out men trying to leave dangerous gangs by letting them see themselves without their old gang ink.

Allowing them to see themselves beyond the tattoos

Photographer Steven Burton wanted to see what men and women who used to be in gangs would look like if they didn't get tattoos that showed their gang affiliation; he wondered if people would have different impressions of them without a wall of ink advertising their past like a billboard. He explored this concept in his photograph series "Skin Deep" that he hopes to turn into a book that will explain how detrimental gang tattoos can be to someone who just wants a fresh start in life.

man sees himself without tattoos

Source: YouTube @skindeep_homeboys

Source: YouTube @skindeep_homeboys

My Son's Sake

One former gang member who has horns tattooed on his head among other things felt like his tattoos began creating distance between him and his five year-old son. The man didn't want his son to turn out like him, so he'd rather not spend as much time with him which he knows would only hurt him and the boy.


Steven cites Homeboy Industries as a huge influence on his project. The organization provides free gang tattoo removal for people who are done with gangbanging and need an opportunity to change their lives. Tattoo removal can otherwise cost thousands of dollars which can be extremely hard to come by when it's hard to get a job because of your tattoos or if you've spent time in jail.

A Better Future

Not only do seeing the photos of themselves without tattoos make them have hope for a better future because people won't immediately fear them, it makes them think of happier times before they got into gang life.

Francisco said, "I haven't seen myself like that in years with nothing. I haven't myself like that since I was 13."