In July 1970 Diane Arbus was sent on assignment by Esquire to photograph girl shows at a carnival in Hagerstown, Maryland. Not finding the subject matter the magazine was hoping for, Arbus made the trip productive for herself, photographing a number of carnival people, namely the Albino sword swallower and the present lot, the Tattooed Man.
Roaming the carnival grounds, Arbus undoubtedly found many of the carnival people endlessly fascinating. She had an attraction to people and subjects who lived in worlds vastly different from her own and obsessively captured them on film. In the case of the Tattooed Man, she has created an archetypal figure. This man seems to be at the same time a fierce warrior, as evinced by his full body tattoos and hands on hips, and a soulful being as revealed by his piercing eyes. The effect is intensified by Arbus' use of powerful flash. She has said of her photographs that "the more specific [they] are, the more general it'll be. You really have to face the thing. And there are certain evasions, certain nicenesses that I think you have to get out of" (Diane Arbus, Aperture, 1972, pg. 2).