RUSSIAN CRIMINAL TATTOO Arkady Bronnikov collections

With 256 pages, Russian Criminal Tattoo Police Files, the most noteworthy archive of tattoo’s photos from the prisons, published by FUEL.

FUEL are Damon Murray and Stephen Sorrell a graphic design and publishing company established in 1991. They own the Russian Criminal Tattoo Archive.
This unique collection comprises over 750 original sheets of pen and ink drawings, sketchbooks and posters by Danzig Baldaev, the exclusive rights to the photographs of Russian prisoners by Sergei Vasiliev, and 918 photographs from the Arkady Bronnikov collection of Soviet Police Files.

Arkady Bronnikov
, is probably the best expert of iconography of the Russian criminal tattoo.Russian Criminal Tattoo Police fiels vol.1

In the early 1950s he studied at the Moscow Academy of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Soviet Union.
Arkady worked as police inspector for the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the URSS, for more than 30 years.
During this time he collected thousands of photographs of tattooed prisoners.

Most of all tattoos made with a painful process, need years to be completed. With 4-6 hours of work you can obtain a single figure. As instrument, they use an electrical razor modified with needle and a phial of liquid colorant. As pigment they use a rubber of the boots, mixed with urine. For hygienic reasons it’s better to use the urine of  the person that will be tattooed. Tattoos are illegals in the prison, that’s why they do everything in secret, without hygienic conditions.

As a result, criminals are subjects to infections as gangrene and tetanus. Anyway the common problem is the lymphadenitis,an inflammation of the lymph node that provokes fever and shivers.
The highest percentage of tattooed prisoners is in the maximum security penitentiaries; 95%-98% for the male penitentiaries and 40% for the female one.

Furthermore the criminals interviewed by Bronnikov, confirmed that they started to get a tattoo after committed a crime.
Tattoos are for criminals, therefore, you cannot find it in prisoners of political crimes.
The boss of the criminals organizations doesn’t has a lot of tattoos. They just  have a few stars with seven or eight tips; more cruel is the criminal, more tips has the star.

If others prisoners discover a false tattoo in another criminal? They send a brick or a piece of glass to him to remove it and if he doesn’t, he can be beaten up, raped, or be killed.

Every image has a meaning and can become a question of life or death. Due to this, tattoos are respected and people are afraid about it. Tattoos are personals, with a specific meaning and are the law in this unconventional society.
The religious images are the most commons but have a different meanings from the religious one.
Criminals, as a result, want to show them self as marginalised with a painfull destiny.

The Madonna with Jesus it’s very popular and can symbolize the loyalty to a clan, or someone that is been in the prison since his childhood. The church or, monastery, represents a thief and the number of the domes the quantity of verdicts.
The cross on the chest and indicates the devotions to the thief’s traditions, it’s the proof that you are clean from the betrayal.

The stories of the prisoners are describe through their tattoos, depending on the zone.
In addition, FUEL published the encyclopedia of tattoos with a huge amount of information, photos and much more..




Russian criminal tattoo












Russian Criminal Tattoo 1
First of all, the text tattooed on his chest means: “Save and Protect”. On both sides of the cross we read: “Christ is risen.” The eight-pointed star indicates that the detainee is an important character. The bow tattooed on the neck is typical of someone who has committed a crime against the state, while the dollar sign specifies that it is a money launderer. Originally the bow was a symbol of dishonor, and was forcibly tattooed below the collarbone of pickpockets guilty of having failed to “code of thieves” and working with the authorities.
Russian Criminal Tattoo 3
This man is a murderess. It includes the warrior with sword represented on the chest and the dagger on the neck. The two “stars of thieves” on the clavicles make him an authority, as well as the military epaulet drawn on the shoulder.




russian criminal tattoo 8Tattoos of this detainee underline the high degree of man in the life of crime. The skull at the center of the shoulder pad indicates “I’m not and I will never be a slave, no one can force me to work.”

Russian Criminal Tattoo 5
The letters tattooed on the fingers make up a woman’s name, Nadia. The ring on the index means: “Count only on yourself” and is very common among the most important prisoners. The symbol on the middle finger is typical of pickpockets. The tattoo on the third finger means that the thief has served his sentence without any reduction in his sentence. On the little finger, finally, the image indicates that the detainee has spent much time in an isolation cell. The skeleton, the gun and the knife preceded by the letter “K” (Killer) on the back of the hand indicate that the detainee is a murderer.


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