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Aura McKay


Do you remember the first time you saw a tattoo, and what your reaction was?
Not specifically but it must have been in my early teens. In typical suburban myopia, anyone who had a tattoo was some kind of a rebel or ‘outcast’. I remember thinking they were pretty ‘cool’ but too dangerous.

Do you have any tattoos yourself?
Yes! And I love it. I did wait until I was 23 in spite of fantasizing about having one since the age of 16. I have promised myself to stick with only one… they can be addictive. 

As a photographer, do you approach shooting a model with body art any differently than a model without tattoos?
Body art is contrast and contrast draws and often distracts the eye. Photographing a figure with body art, I either include it on purpose as part of the compositional elements or try to minimize or exclude it in order to draw attention to some other aspect of the individual. In portraiture, I will usually include any body art as part of the subjects’ unique personality and self-expression.

How did you approach the Tattoo Project weekend?  Did you have a concept in mind?  After the fact, do you think your concept was successfully?  Did you get what you wanted from the weekend?
I am a responsive and collaborative photographer so I wait until I see the environment I will be working in and the people I will work with. I was able to get a sense of the appearance of the models through the casting snapshots and give some thought as to lighting in advance. However, during the actual shoot I just rolled with the available sets and subjects. It was great! The video guys had brought these large paper lanterns in to create ambient working light. I loved them! I used them with several of the models. In most cases, the personalities or the body art itself guided my creative concept. I’m thrilled with the images.

Any tips for other photographers, for working with models who have tattoos?
See above.

Are tattoos and body modifications a problem in other work that you do? Do you ever have to shoot around tattoos or use cover-up make-up? Do you ever Photo Shop out tattoos?
They will definitely limit the kind of work I can do with a model. Often body art will eliminate someone from a casting call – I prefer to shoot clean skin if that’s what I’m looking for rather than Photoshop or make-up.

What is it about a particular tattoo or an individual with tattoos that you find interesting? Have you ever seen a tattoo, or a person with tattoos and said, "I have to shoot that!"?
Anytime I see someone with a unique self-expression manifested physically I am fascinated and inspired. I really like to see if I can bring something of myself to the process and offer an alternative way of seeing. So, with tattoos that often means finding a way of lighting or creating a narrative that shifts the perception away from being simply ink & skin.

Was there a particular tattoo or tattooed person who stands out in your memory from the Tattoo Project weekend?
Kevin! He was so genuine. He is the only one of his friends who is tattooed (and he has EXTENSIVE artwork) and had never been photographed. How exciting to help him archive his passion. Each person brought something to our session and I hope that I was able to give something back with the images.

As a photographer and visual artist, what defines a good tattoo in your eyes? What design and aesthetic qualities are you looking for?
A good tattoo is one that is personal – both to the wearer and the artist - compositionally sound, well placed and works with the body shape and personality of the person.  

What would be your advice to someone who wants a great photo that shows their body art to its best advantage?
Find a great photographer who is passionate about body art.

Any tips for taking good photos at tattoo conventions?
Try to take portraits – intentional lighting, specific background or environment or none at all (eliminate distractions), avoid simply documentary photos, get collaboration and buy in from your subjects.

Any tips for taking good photos of tattoos period?
See above. Add contrast.

Was there any one thing in particular about participating the the Tattoo Project weekend that surprised you or that stands out as a truly memorable moment?
Everyone who showed up to be photographed was totally unique and yet they were all similar in their patience and love of ink. So many different reasons, so many different styles, such overwhelming eagerness to participate.

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