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This Is What Happens When Ex-Gang Members Get Their Tattoos Photoshopped Out

This Is What Happens When Ex-Gang Members Get Their Tattoos Photoshopped Out

Loyalty is an intrinsic part of gang culture, so much so that to gain acceptance, individuals will regularly cover themselves in tattoos which are unique to a specific gang. The effect is two-fold, whilst proudly displaying your allegiances helps your compatriots identify you, it also makes it virtually impossible for members to stray and join a rival cartel.

But for those individuals brave enough to escape gang life, their tattoos serve as an unwanted reminder of their previous transgressions and of a life beyond the rule of law. Despite potentially being reformed, having dozens of gang tattoos inked across your body instantly causes society to judge and at the least be wary of you. More than a hindrance, their criminally inspired tattoos often undermine any attempt to walk the straight and narrow.

Photographer Steven Burton wanted gain a deeper insight into the world of gang tattoos and provide hope to those who look to break free from their criminal past. His new series sees him photographing 27 ex-gang members before painstakingly Photoshopping out their ink work - briefly returning them to their former lives.


The project has taken over 2 years to develop, Burton estimates he's spent in excess of over 400 hours in front of Photoshop perfecting these works. But aside from the visual effect of his work, it's the deeply affecting emotion nature of the final portraits that makes Burton's work so special.

"One of the more heavily tattooed people, Marcus, started laughing because he just didn’t know what to say. He was sort of shocked by the image. The laughter was followed by a heavy silence, then his eyes teared up. It was then that I realised how deep this story could be." explains Burton.

Burton is currently looking to raise funds on Kickstarter to help create photographic book, which will feature all the stories of the ex-gang members and the transformative effect the series has had on them personally and professional.

You can find out more about the campaign and support the series right here.

Via Steven Burton

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