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This volume of drawings and photographs opens the Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopaedia trilogy. Danzig Baldaev's unparallelled ethnographic achievement, documenting more than 3,000 tattoo drawings, was made during a lifetime working as a prison guard.
His recording of this esoteric world was reported to the KGB, who unexpectedly supported him, realizing the importance of being able to establish facts about convicts by reading the images on their bodies. The motifs depicted represent the uncensored lives of the criminal classes, ranging from violence and pornography to politics and alcohol.
Sergei Vasiliev's graphic photographs show the grim reality of the Russian prison system and some of the alarming characters that inhabit it, while the illustrated criminals of Russia tell the tale of their closed society.
This volume, the first in the trilogy, shows Skulls, swastikas, harems of naked women, a smiling Al Capone, medieval knights in armor, daggers sheathed in blood, benign images of Christ, sweet-faced mothers and their babies, armies of tanks and a horned Lenin: these are the signs by which the people of this hidden world mark and identify themselves. With a foreword by Danzig Baldaev, and an introduction by Alexei Plutser-Sarno, exploring the symbolism of the Russian criminal tattoo.