A deeper look at the Illawarra’s heavily-inked women

Sue Maffullo poses for Illawarra Mercury photographer Sylvia Liber's photo essay on heavily tattooed Illawarra women.

Sue Maffullo poses for Illawarra Mercury photographer Sylvia Liber's photo essay on heavily tattooed Illawarra women.

More Than Skin Deep Series

Tattoos have been around for centuries. But never before has inked skin been so widely accepted.

The size, colour and style of the artworks are as diverse these days as the people who chose to carry them.

Some tattoos are carefully considered to represent a life-defining moment.

Others are the result of a spur of the moment visit to a tattoo parlour on a wild night out.

For some, the pain of the needle is calmly satisfying – an escape from the agony they feel within.

And for others, the artwork hides the scars of self harm.

The high rate of inked flesh on our streets today sparked the curiosity of our artistic photographer Sylvia Liber.

‘’The idea started when one day I was fueling up my car at a Shellharbour servo,’’ the Mercury photographer said.

‘’As I'm standing there, I noticed a guy, possibly in his late 20s, with his face fully covered by tattoos.

‘’This was the look of a guy that would more than likely scare anyone in a dark alley, but to me, he actually looked like a person who was covered up in lots of interesting stories,’’ Sylvia explained.

‘’A person’s appearance can be misleading.

Model Katia Kubacki puts a lot of thought into her tattoos. Every piece of art is full of meaning and she plans to get more ink. Picture: Sylvia Liber

Model Katia Kubacki puts a lot of thought into her tattoos. Every piece of art is full of meaning and she plans to get more ink. Picture: Sylvia Liber

‘’I agree that it displays a small part, but overall it’s an inaccurate way of measuring someone's personality.’’

It was then that Sylvia decided to create a ‘’photo essay’’ and videos featuring heavily tattooed Illawarra residents.

‘’I wanted to hear what was behind the incredible tattoos,’’ she said. 

‘’I wanted people, our readers, instead of making a judgement based on appearance, to listen to these people first.’’

The original plan was to find five men and five women.

Picture: Sylvia Liber

Picture: Sylvia Liber

But after asking around, and approaching strangers and friends of friends with tattoos, the only positive response was from women.

‘’So instead, I decided to tell the story of heavily-inked women and made a point of incorporating women of all ages.’’

Sylvia herself is not heavily tattooed, and is not trying to promote the tattoo industry or sway people’s personal preferences.

She just wants everyone to stop and think - look a bit deeper.

‘’I have a small tat on my bottom of two dolphins, which in themselves have a personal story,’’ she said.

‘’But getting involved in  this photo essay has actually inspired me to get another.’’

Today we launch our series ‘’More than skin deep’’ featuring the 12 Illawarra women happy to share their personal stories of body art.

Each week one will share their stories and the reasons behind their love of all things ink.

Videos and photos will appear in print and on the Illawarra Mercury website.

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