This book features over 180 photographs and accompanying texts of Russian criminal tattoos from the Arkady Bronnikov collection. From the mid-1960s to the late- 1980s Bronnikov worked as a senior expert in criminalistics at the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs, part of his duties involved visiting correctional institutions of the Ural and Siberia regions.
It was here that he interviewed, gathered information and took photographs of convicts and their tattoos, building one of the most comprehensive archives of this phenomenon. He regularly helped to solve criminal cases across Russia by using his collection of tattoos to identify culprits and corpses. The Bronnikov collection was made exclusively for police use, to further the understanding of the language of these tattoos and to act as an aid in the identification and apprehension of criminals in the field. Unimpeded by artistry, these vernacular photographs present a guileless representation of criminal society. Every image discloses evidence of an inmate’s character: aggressive, vulnerable, melancholic, conceited. Their bodies display an unofficial history, told not just through tattoos, but also in scars and missing digits. Closer inspection only confirms our inability to comprehend the unimaginable lives of this previously unacknowledged caste.