The Province - Take a Break!  e-life

E-NEWS - Body needlepoint rages on

The word "tattoos" has been a Top-10 search term on the internet all this year.

Knocking out the Backstreet Boys, beating out Baywatch babe Pam Anderson, the word has yet to fall from its vaunted position.

Riding on this phenomenon, perhaps fuelling it, is a Vancouver-designed website called The Vanishing Tattoo (www.vanishingtattoo.com). Pinnacle Entertainment, a local film production company, put the award winning site (17 design awards at last count) on the Net in September to promote its documentary film about one man's journey around the world to study and document the vanishing ways of traditional tribal tattooing.

What started out as a promotional gimmick, a la The Blair Witch Project, has become a phenom unto itself.

Netscape picked the site as its Cool Site of the Day on June 5, rating it "10 out of 10, Must see site." The site was later featured on KCOP 13 (a UPN affiliate) in Los Angeles, which ran a piece on The Vanishing Tattoo during the evening news. Bring on the hits, lots of them.

"We were tickled pink to say the least," says Pinnacle's President Vince Hemingson. "Between June 1 and 12, we got half a million hits. Ever since (the Netscape accolade and TV spot), our traffic's gone through the roof."

The documentary -- yet to be filmed -- will be narrated by Thomas Lockhart, who local tattoo enthusiasts will recognise as the artist who runs the world-famous West Coast Tattoo studio on Davie Street.

"He's our Indiana Jones with tattoos," says Hemingson, who called on the well-traveled tatt-man for his own ink. "We'll follow him around the world for two months. There's very little recorded history of tribal tattooing."

To the top

The trip will take Lockhart and crew to San Francisco, Hawaii, Japan, Polynesia. China, Russia, the Queen Charlottes, the Philippines and Borneo, where Lockhart will talk and study with masters of the art. The site already features brief tattoo histories of each region and pseudo-sociological reports on the bridge tattoos offer across cultural divides. Hemingson (with  Vanishing Tattoo co-writer P.J. Reece and web-master Doug Cook) has done a thorough job of prepping the site for the launch of the global field trip, set to sail this summer.

Oh yeah, and then there are the exclusive celebrity photos of one of Lockhart's recent clients.

"A couple of weeks ago an attractive young lady came into Thomas's studio and I said, 'You've probably heard this a thousand times but has anyone told you, you look like Christina Ricci?' " says Hemingson. "She said, 'Perhaps that's  because that's who I am.' "

Ricci lay down under Lockhart's needles for her third tattoo. The entire process is documented on the website, with Ricci's enthusiastic permission.

"We'll be well over a million hits this month," says Hemingson, who is quick to point out that Ricci is one of the reasons the site has suddenly become so popular with surfers (thousands cruising over from the actor's fan sites) and the media.

I ask Hemingson why he thinks the word "tattoo" has spent a year in the Top 10 in cyberspace.

"Our studies have shown that at least 15 million North Americans have tattoos -- that's six or seven per cent of the population," says Hemingson. "In the 18- to 25-year-old demographic, almost 20 per cent of people have tattoos -- that's one in five. This Y generation literally lives on the Internet and the majority of their searches are popular culture, mainstream searches. Until recently, tattoos were never considered to be part of mainstream or popular culture. Now they are."