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Russian Prison Tattoos: Codes of Authority, Domination and Struggle [Paperback]

Alix Lambert
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
RRP: 24.99
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Book Description

8 May 2003
For centuries, Russian prison inmates forcibly initiated newcomers with tattoos. Gradually, prisoners developed a secret form of communication with their tattoos, allowing them to establish rank among the other inmates and maintain a clandestine hierarchy. This book explores the grisly reality of Russian prisons and the people who inhabit them. Over 190 black and white and color photographs expose the different tattoos and their meanings, ranging from churches, crosses, Christs, Madonnas, military symbols, cats, dolphins, bears, hawks, and other startling images. Documentary filmmaker Alix Lambert traveled around modern Russia to film these sinister environments, collected stories to identify the dying art of tattooing in Russian prisons, and detailed the lives of the heavily marked inmates, past and present. This fascinating, spine-tingling book provides an entirely new outlook on tattoos and what they can represent!

Frequently Bought Together

Russian Prison Tattoos: Codes of Authority, Domination and Struggle + Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopaedia Volume I: 1 + Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopaedia Volume II: v. II
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Product details

  • Paperback: 64 pages
  • Publisher: Schiffer Publishing Ltd (US) (8 May 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0764317644
  • ISBN-13: 978-0764317644
  • Product Dimensions: 27.7 x 21.7 x 1.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 586,331 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Coffee-table book on a fascinating subject 4 Sep 2007
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The first thing that needs to be said about this book is that it is based on material collected for a TV documentary. Hence the book consists mainly of photographs of prisoners and their environment, punctuated with occasional quotes. The quotes come from prisoners - who talk about their lives, their crimes, and their sentences, not just about the meaning of their tattoos - and from Russian criminologists, proudly demonstrating how they have decoded the complex code by which prisoners communicate rank and status. It is these snippets of lives that make this book heart-rending reading (and a world away from Carl de Keyser's glossy, posed portraits in "Zona"!)

A few statistics: 1 in four Russian men has been in prison, the average time spent on remand is 2-3 years (during which remand prisoners share cells with hardened recidivists), the cell space per prisoner in one prison is less than 1 square metre...

A glossy book on such a subject seems incongruous; and Ms Lambert reduces the impact by spreading quotes from a given prisoner over several chapters, seemingly randomly, rathe than letting him or her tell her own story.

For an in depth study of this fascinating subject, explaining in detail the complex language of the Thieves Code, and the mores enforced - where a man must "stand by his tattoos" or remove them - I would unhesitatingly recommend Danzig Baldaev's "Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopedia". (With the warning, however, that he reords sketches of obscene and racist tattoos which are suspiciously absent from from Ms Lambert's collection!)

However, the valuable contribution that this book makes is in exploring a period of transition.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More than pleased 23 July 2010
By Antisi
Overall this is a book mostly about prison life in Russia rather than solely the Tattoos, but with a healthy amount of information regarding them it doesn't disappoint.
If you want something thats just about the tattoos then look elsewhere, if you're after accounts and experiences with views on prison life and information on tattoos, then this is easily recommended.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A world rarely seen.... 18 April 2005
By MC - Published on Amazon.com
Fascinating anthropological, photo-journal examination of the symbolism and code representations of Russian prison tattoos. An explicit, brutal look at a world most Russians and indeed most Westerners will never see. For an American audience, the importance of tattoo symbolism may be somewhat lost. After all, we live in a world where over privileged frat boys and corporate conformists are now "inked" with designs once almost exclusively earned by members of our own working or "criminal" classes.

Overall a fascinating read, even if the brevity of the text leaves something to be desired.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent resource 3 Jan 2007
By Monty Micki - Published on Amazon.com
For those passionate about Russian prison culture, this is the book for you. This book provides an excellent resource for the meaning behind Russian prison tattoos and it provides valuable information on contemporary Russian prisons...which don't seem to have changed much since the end of the Gulag system. The author attempts to show as many different tattoos as possible, but it does feel repetitive. What helps is the author providing information about Russian prison culture; this brings context and a story behind the tattoos.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Russian Hell 27 July 2008
By Cwn_Annwn - Published on Amazon.com
For the most part a photography book Russian Prison Tattoos besides going into the meaning of the tattoos the text of this book is also a look into Russian prison life and street level criminal culture. There is a pretty strict caste system within the Russian prison system, that I have to say seems to be a lot more orderly than the rest of Russian society. Tattoos are used to show where you sit within that caste system. Some examples are spiders denote drug addiction, a Madonna or woman holding an infant means you have been in the system since you were still a child, an executioner or a knife through a skull means you are a murderer, eyes on the lower abdomen means you are a pedophile or in for a sex crime, etc. In most cases you are more or less obligated to have these tattoos on your body to show what crime you have committed. However the old prison codes and tattooing system is slowly but surely dying off according to this book.

You also get a look into a few of the people in this books lives and hear some of their stories, like the guy who shot, killed and then beheaded three gypsies when he caught them digging up his Mothers grave in order to steal items that she had been buried with. One surprising thing about the Russian criminal system is the penalty for murder is often barely more than the penalty for seemingly petty robberies and thefts. The pictures in the book really give you a feel for what an utter hell life is in a Russian prison. High tuberculosis and hepatitus rates, potential violence from guards and inmates at all times, living in unbelievably cramped and filthy conditions. I actually began to feel like I was in a Russian prison myself while reading this. Due to there not being a huge amount of text its a quick read (I think I read it cover to cover in less than 24 hours) but its very interesting none the less.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent book 28 Mar 2006
By hombre pollo - Published on Amazon.com
this is an excellent book about russian prison tattoos. it has a lot of clear pictures. it also has quite informative text from good research done by the author. i reccommend this book to anyone interested in tattooing in foreign cultures and countries.
5.0 out of 5 stars LOVE THIS BOOK 15 Mar 2014
By Kathryn Elliott - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
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