By KELSEY SUTTON • Of the News-Register • 

Ink Project makes its way to Linfield

For eight and a half months, professional McMinnville photographer Bill Miller has been documenting members of the community who’ve decided to tell life stories through tattoos. He has dedicated his efforts to recording both the tattoos and the stories behind them.

One of his hopes is to reduce some of the stigma associated with people who choose permanent body art. By revealing the beauty of the art and the meaning leading to its creation, he hopes to change the way the typical uninked person views inked skin.

Miller began photographing tattoos as part of a project involving depictions of the American flag. But he said, “The more I went to tattoo parlors, and the more I met people, I realized that’s where the humanity was.”

He became fascinated by people opting to ink their bodies. He wanted to know how they made that choice and how their lives were affected by it.

“I want to let people know the incredibly personal, and often very painful, things that have gone on in people’s lives that they choose to share by inking their bodies,” Miller said. “Throughout the process, I discovered it’s not so much just putting ink on your body. It’s about celebrating.”

The photo session at Linfield when members of the professional faculty shared his interest — Psychology Department Chair Tanya Tompkins and Mass Communication Professor Susan Sivek.

Tompkins has been working with her students to develop tools to measure preconceptions about tattoos and the roots of those attitudes. Sivek has been working with hers to explore the ways people with tattoos are portrayed in the media.

The two professors felt it would be mutually beneficial if Miller were to schedule one of the shoots for his project on campus, and he readily agreed.

Although their reasons for getting tattoos varies greatly, many bearers hold deep and personal connections to their tattoos. And you can count Linfield senior Amber Hay among them.

Hay decided to participate in Miller’s ink project because she values the idea of sharing the stories told by her own tattoos and those of others. 

“Sharing can decrease stigmas,” she said. “When you hear ‘tattoos,’ you might think of someone who is covered in them or lives an alternative lifestyle, which is not necessarily true.”

Hay has a tattoo on the top of both feet.

Her left foot features the black outline of a simple, one-inch heart. The way it is situated, with the point facing toward her, the heart is right-side up when she looks down at it.

“It’s there to remind me to love myself, to realize that I have value and really remember that,” she said. “It also reminds me that I have other people who love me as well.”

In the same position, her right foot features a shade dog pawprint.

Initially a memorial to a beloved furry companion who passed away, the tattoo has since come to represent her deep love for all dogs. She has a seasonal job working with dogs and plans to have dogs of her own as soon as she is able.

Both of Hay’s tattoos are reflective of her personality — not too flashy, but crisp and readily apparent. Her art represents her values and style. 

“They’re for myself,” she said. “I look at them and see them the way I want to.” 

For Hay, one of the most important implications of tattoos is the opportunity to have a conversation and connect to others through body art.

“Both of my tattoos are situated where people can see them,” she said, “It creates an instant connection, which I think is really unique.”

The Linfield students and faculty represent just a sliver of the community Miller is featuring in his photo essay project, slated for unveiling May 17 at the Willamette Valley Vineyards tasting room in downtown McMinnville, in conjunction with downtown’s every-third-Saturday Art & Wine Walk.



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