Artist Explores the Near Extinction of Māori Face And Body Tattoos in New Zealand

Photojournalist Michael Bradley‘s latest series, Puaki, focuses on tā moko, the permanent markings on the face and body practiced by New Zealand’s indigenous culture, the Māori.

Bradley came across the concept for Puaki when looking at wet plate images where people’s tattoos often didn’t appear. It is not known if this technique was deliberately used to ‘hide’ Māori’s facial tattoos to ‘sanitise’ the images for a largely commercial, English audience. This sparked and investigation into the history of tā moko and develop the long-term project.

“In Māori culture, it is believed everyone has a tā moko under the skin, just waiting to be revealed,” writes the Te Kōngahu Museum of Waitangi. “The problem is, when photographs of tā moko were originally taken in the 1850s, the tattoos barely showed up at all. The wet-plate photographic method used by European settlers served to erase this cultural marker—and as the years went by, this proved true in real life, too. The ancient art of tā moko was increasingly suppressed as Māori were assimilated into the colonial world.”

As you can see in the below images, Bradley’s series juxtaposes the original photograph with a duplicate image that has the wet-plate method applied to it.  The facial and body markings are clearly visible in the original photograph, whereas they mysteriously disappear in the latter.

You can see Puaki at the Te Kōngahu Museum of Waitangi in New Zealand until September 2, 2018.


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