Category Archives: Photojournalism

Bleeding Lotus

“The real Paul McCartney died a long time ago and was replaced by a body double,” says Standefer, a shirtless guy with a buzz cut.

A couple dozen bottles of pigment dot the table of Jon Rio’s work station at Evil By the Needle, a tattoo business in Bloomington, Ind. Rio and his wife, Jamie, started the business together four years ago.

A couple dozen bottles of pigment dot the table of Jon Rio’s work station at Evil By the Needle, a tattoo business in Bloomington, Ind. Rio and his wife, Jamie, started the business together four years ago.

He pulls up a photo of the cover photo of The Beatles’ 1969 ‘Abbey Road’ album on his smart phone while Rio concentrates on tracing the outline of the new tattoo going on his right arm. Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Hey Joe’ gushes from speakers in the shop.

Jordan Standefer, 21, of Crawfordsville, comes in to get a tattoo to memorialize the lives of his mother and grandmother who recently passed away.

Jordan Standefer, 21, of Crawfordsville, comes in to get a tattoo to memorialize the lives of his mother and grandmother who recently passed away.

“Look, see—Paul is the only one that’s barefoot,” Standefer says under the beaming fluorescent light hanging just over his head. It’s one of the perennial “clues” that conspiracy theorists behind the “Paul is Dead” movement have curated over the years in an effort to corroborate the urban legend that the Beatles bass man everyone knows and loves is actually a lookalike pod person in disguise.

Standefer discusses the “Paul is Dead” urban legend while John plies his craft. “The real Paul McCartney died a long time ago and was replaced by a body double,” Standefer said. Oddball banter like this is nothing new to Rio; it helps clients pass the time while under the needle.

Standefer discusses the “Paul is Dead” urban legend while John plies his craft. “The real Paul McCartney died a long time ago and was replaced by a body double,” Standefer said. Oddball banter like this is nothing new to Rio; it helps clients pass the time while under the needle.

“That is just completely crazy,” Rio laughs, wiping away black ink from Standefer’s reddened upper arm. He squirts some a bit of green soap solution onto a cloth and wipes down the emerging lotus flower he’s piecing together for Standefer. He follows with an application of distilled water. Then more ink.

Rio’s tattoo machine is capable of cycling its needle hundreds of times into clients’ skin, depending on what type of tattoo work is being done. Rio energized the gun by tapping the connected foot switch.

Rio’s tattoo machine is capable of cycling its needle hundreds of times into clients’ skin, depending on what type of tattoo work is being done. Rio energized the gun by tapping the connected foot switch.

Jon Rio, 32, of Mitchell, Ind., has been carving tattoos into people’s skin as a professional artist for over 12 years. Four of those years have been at Evil By the Needle, a tattoo business he and his wife Jamie own in Bloomington, Ind.

“It’s shady to take someone else’s tat” Rio says, discussing his personal code of ethics when dealing with using and borrowing other artists’ work for ideas. “I just won’t do that.” He designed this memorial tattoo himself.

“It’s shady to take someone else’s tat” Rio says, discussing his personal code of ethics when dealing with using and borrowing other artists’ work for ideas. “I just won’t do that.” He designed this memorial tattoo himself.

Nestled into the ground floor of an old red brick building on the southwest corner of Walnut and Hillside, Evil By the Needle is a natural gathering place for denizens of the world of decorative body ink who come from around the area get tattooed.

Mr. Miyagi, the sensei from the film ‘Karate Kid’ is one of many iconic faces hanging out in Rio’s shop. He’s hand drawn everyone from Mr. Miyagi to President Obama to Stevie Ray Vaughn.

Mr. Miyagi, the sensei from the film ‘Karate Kid’ is one of many iconic faces hanging out in Rio’s shop. He’s hand drawn everyone from Mr. Miyagi to President Obama to Stevie Ray Vaughn.

Drawing Jordan Standefer to the seat under Rio’s tattoo machine—typically called a “gun” by laypeople—today is the artist’s reputation for executing high quality tattoos, not to mention the fact that Jamie is her cousin.

“Being able to do art every day and have that be a living,” is probably the most rewarding aspect of being a professional tattoo artist, Rio says.

“Being able to do art every day and have that be a living,” is probably the most rewarding aspect of being a professional tattoo artist, Rio says.

“You get the little cousin discount,” Rio says peering up from his work, smiling. He presses his left foot down onto a silver foot switch, activating the mechanical tattoo machine now humming loudly in his gloved hand.

Rio has to trace over the same spot a couple times in order to get the pattern dark enough to look right. Pools of pigment are left behind until wiped away with green soap and distilled water. “We call it pigment rather than call it ink,” he says. “But even place where I buy it call it ink now. It’s just sort of a generic name.”

Rio has to trace over the same spot a couple times in order to get the pattern dark enough to look right. Pools of pigment are left behind until wiped away with green soap and distilled water. “We call it pigment rather than call it ink,” he says. “But even place where I buy it call it ink now. It’s just sort of a generic name.”

But the tattoo Rio is stitching together on Standefer’s arm today is not a thoughtless, discounted gesture, rather a design that holds special significance to Standefer, a 21-year-old manufacturing worker from Crawfordsville. He’s come in to get a tattoo to memorialize the lives of his mother and grandmother, both who recently passed away.

Working as a team, Jon handles the tattoo work at Evil By the Needle while his wife Jamie takes care of the young people coming in for body piercings. Jamie and Standefer are cousins.

Working as a team, Jon handles the tattoo work at Evil By the Needle while his wife Jamie takes care of the young people coming in for body piercings. Jamie and Standefer are cousins.

Flanking both sides of a large violet lotus developing on this upper arm are two bright orange lilies, each symbolizing one of the lives that he lost.

An hour into his first session, Standefer steps outside for a quick break. The pain from the process can be intolerable. “Yeah it hurts,” he said before going back in for more.

An hour into his first session, Standefer steps outside for a quick break. The pain from the process can be intolerable. “Yeah it hurts,” he said before going back in for more.

“One flower is for my grandma,” he says pointing to the outline of the vibrant lily on the right. A small pool of blood has seeped out of Jordan’s skin and collected on one of the lily’s petals.

“That one is for my mom,” he adds gesturing to the lily to the left.

Blood seeps out of  Standefer’s broken skin and collects on one of the lotus petals, creating a surreal contrast of colors.

Blood seeps out of Standefer’s broken skin and collects on one of the lotus petals, creating a surreal contrast of colors.

And in the middle lies the lotus. “It represents healing,” he says. It’s a beautifully detailed violet flower encircling a soft yellow bud that when peppered with dots of blood issuing from Jordan’s epidermis looks almost like a tiny emblazed fire.

This is not Standefer’s first tattoo. Apart from the artwork from the album cover artwork of Sublimes 1992 40oz. to Freedom, he has “Hell & Back” written across his chest and other small artwork on his body.

This is not Standefer’s first tattoo. Apart from the artwork from the album cover artwork of Sublimes 1992 40oz. to Freedom, he has “Hell & Back” written across his chest and other small artwork on his body.

Finally, above the large cluster of flowers stretch two dark turquoise waves reaching up and underlapping the rays of a large sun, a tattoo based on the artwork form the album cover of Sublime’s 1992 ’40oz. to Freedom.’

Evil By the Needle may be a small operation, but the two don’t seem to have experience any shortage of work. “Yeah, we do pretty well,” Rio says.

Evil By the Needle may be a small operation, but the two don’t seem to have experience any shortage of work. “Yeah, we do pretty well,” Rio says.

“We’re gonna’ touch that one up later,” Rio says.

In all it has taken the artist two separate sessions to finish the memorial tattoo. But checking himself in a mirror hanging on the shop’s easterly wall, Standefer is pleased—it was worth the wait.

It’s taken two sessions in order to complete this tattoo. Standefer checked himself in a mirror. “It’s great,” he said.

It’s taken two sessions in order to complete this tattoo. Standefer checked himself in a mirror. “It’s great,” he said.

After Rio bandages up Standefer’s arm, the two discuss setting up another appointment to clean up and colorize the Sublime sun and a fair payment for the artist’s work.

“Just give me a ‘hundo,’’ Rio says casually.

Though this project is done these two will see each other in another week to touch up the Sublime sun on Standefer’s shoulder.

Though this project is done these two will see each other in another week to touch up the Sublime sun on Standefer’s shoulder.

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