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A senior expert in criminalistics at the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs for over thirty years, part of Bronnikov’s duties involved visiting correctional institutions of the Ural and Siberia regions. It was here that he interviewed, gathered information and photographed of convicts and their tattoos, building one of the most comprehensive archives of this phenomenon acquired by FUEL in 2013.
The Bronnikov collection, consisting of 918 images, was made for police use only to further the understanding of the language of these tattoos and to act as an aid in the identification and apprehension of criminals in the field. The photographer’s only consideration was the recording of the body for practical purposes. Unimpeded by artistry, these vernacular photographs present a guileless representation of criminal society. The photographs unintentionally betray their human side disclosing evidence of prisoners’ character: aggressiveness, vulnerability, melancholy, and conceit. Their bodies display an unofficial history, told not just through tattoos, but also in scars and missing digits. Closer inspection only confirms our inability to comprehend the unimaginable lives of this previously unacknowledged caste.