The feminist lens

Central Tattoo Studio presents Passing Through’

3 minute read
Women’s constant battle for their bodily rights: Crystal Lee Lucas’s 2018 ‘Surrender.’ (Image courtesy of Central Tattoo Studio.)
Women’s constant battle for their bodily rights: Crystal Lee Lucas’s 2018 ‘Surrender.’ (Image courtesy of Central Tattoo Studio.)

The current exhibition at Fishtown’s Central Tattoo Studio, Passing Through, is a symbolic and surrealist exploration of beauty, femininity, isolation, and pain. The group exhibition features photography by Jordanna Kalman, Michelle Rogers-Pritzl, and Crystal Lee Lucas. Each photographer uses her work to create narratives of the emotional, psychological, and physical struggle of what it means to be a woman.

Art and tattoos

The space for the exhibition is a fun departure from the standard art gallery. When you walk into Central Tattoo Studio, the first floor greets you with a gallery space featuring local and emerging artists. As you continue, the second floor is a modern tattoo studio. The owners are a couple who met at Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and after marrying, decided to combine their respective love of the arts. Co-owner Melissa Montiel will be happy to share the studio’s brief history with any visitor.

“The art gallery puts the tattoo clients at ease,” she says. Montiel handpicked these particular artists for her gallery because “the concept of pain and beauty is shared with the art of tattooing.”

Not defined by pain

All three photographers share a commonality in perspective, and it is clear their work was shot by a woman. There is something about women photographing other women: they can capture their essence in a way that others can only attempt. The bare and intimate photographs don’t feel oversexualized or forced. They carry the depth of what it means to be a multifaceted woman.

Rogers-Pritzl’s black-and-white photographs instill feelings of pain. Pain and glory, pain through risk, pain by choice. Her subjects have several face and body piercings that make a statement, daring the viewer to look deeper. When you see someone covered in piercings or tattoos, you might make assumptions about that person. Rogers-Pritzl’s work challenges you to lay down those stereotypes and view these women through a wider lens. Her work seems to say that pain doesn’t define me. Love me or hate me, I will be me.

Dark magic, endurance, and power

Lucas’s work highlights a different tone. Her photos look like stills from a horror movie taking place in the Victorian era. One photograph shows a woman in a lace dress cuddling with a skull in bed. Her photographs made me think about censorship, dark magic, endurance, and undeniable power.

Like Victorian terror: Crystal Lee Lucas’s 2018 ‘Oh Sleeper.’ (Image courtesy of Central Tattoo Studio.)
Like Victorian terror: Crystal Lee Lucas’s 2018 ‘Oh Sleeper.’ (Image courtesy of Central Tattoo Studio.)

Lucas’s eerie photos invoke a sense of empowerment and left me thinking about the timeless fight for women’s rights. One of her photographs depicts a woman wearing all black, tied up with spools of thread. This bondage captures women’s constant fight to maintain control over their bodies and choices. Her work also flirts with themes of death, and maybe even feeling dead while still alive. Staring at the images, I began to think about my own relationship with death. Lucas’s collection seems to embrace fear and skillfully turns it into strength.

Seeing women

Lucas shared with me how her photographs revolve around feminism and mental-heath issues. Her goal through her photography is to “try and get away from the male gaze.” She succeeds by portraying her female subjects as feminine and soft, yet soulful.

Kalman’s collection is a stark contrast to the other two photographers, touching on themes of self-love and the cycle of life. Her subjects are naked women, often interacting with elements of nature. Her photographs have beautiful spacing and positioning of her subjects, creating surreal imagery that is almost poetic.

This exhibition is a celebration of feminist art and will make women feel seen, at least for a moment.

What, When, Where

Passing Through. Through September 1, 2019, at Central Tattoo Studio, 171 W Girard Avenue, Philadelphia, PA. (215) 882-1922 or

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