Russian Criminal Tattoo Books
5.96 x 1.03 x 7.9 inches
Russian Criminal Tattoos And Playing Cards
This book reveals the importance of playing cards in Russian criminal culture. The handmade decks are beautiful works of art in their own right. Prohibited by the prison authorities, they are constructed from innocuous materials procured from the everyday routine of prison life. During construction, both the cards and their designs are adroitly manipulated so they can be read. Once they are completed, the virtuoso player prowls the prison, searching for a suitable victim. This process is described here for the first time. Extensive diagrams show how the cards are made, while decks of actual prison cards are reproduced in facsimile.
The book also features a further 150 photographs from the Arkady Bronnikov collection. The texts and captions accompanying these images reveal the connection between the criminal hierarchy, tattoos, and playing cards. The respect commanded by any criminal was directly related to his ability to play, and win, at cards. The game was viewed as a means to demonstrate cunning and bravado. Failure to pay a gambling debt could result in a forcibly applied pornographic tattoo, lowering its bearer's status. The loser would also be made to pay the "pricker" (tattooist). Fingers, ears, even eyes might be lost―cut off in the presence of other prisoners as witnesses. Russian Criminal Tattoos and Playing Cards provides unique insight into the design of these playing cards and their link to the Russian criminal underworld.
Danzig Baldaev's father was an academic, an ethnologist who found himself imprisoned under Soviet rule as an enemy of the people. In fact, much of Baldaev's family moved through the Soviet prison system, while he became a guard. At his father's suggestion, Danzig used his access to the document and study the tattoos that were pervasive among the truly criminal portion of the prison population, the vory v zakonye, or legitimate thieves, a semi-professional class who kept their own brutal laws. During his 30 years of supervising inmates in St. Petersburg's notorious Kresty Prison, Baldaev recorded more than 3,000 of their tattoos and parsed their meanings, in the drawings and text that made the first volume of the Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopedia a bestseller. This essential second volume, which collects all-new, previously unseen photographs and drawings, goes to the extremes of his incredible collection. Sergei Vasiliev's photographs authenticate the images, Baldaev's drawings make sense of them and through them both, we glimpse an extraordinary world where the criminal's position, history, and even sexual preference are displayed indelibly on his body.
This volume of drawings and photographs completes the Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopaedia trilogy. Danzig Baldaev’s unparalleled ethnographic achievement, documenting more than 3,000 tattoo drawings, was made during a lifetime working as a prison guard. His recording of this esoteric world was reported to the KGB, who unexpectedly supported him, realizing the importance of being able to establish facts about convicts by reading the images on their bodies. The motifs depicted represent the uncensored lives of the criminal classes, ranging from violence and pornography to politics and alcohol. A medieval knight is surrounded by the severed heads of his enemies, a naked woman simultaneously services a man and two dwarfs, a crying President Gorbachev grips a human bone between saber-like fangs, a group of angels drink vodka with God on a cloud--the meanings of these arresting images are explained to the uninitiated eye. Sergei Vasiliev’s graphic photographs show the grim reality of the Russian prison system and some of the alarming characters that inhabit it, while the illustrated criminals of Russia tell the tale of their closed society. This volume, the last in the trilogy, includes an introduction by historian Alexander Sidorov exploring the origins of the Russian criminal tattoo and its various meanings today.