BBC Fresh: Skin You’re In and the art of the short doc

Posted on January 8, 2014


BBC Fresh Skin You're In

Skin is the body’s largest organ. Stretched out it measures two metres square on average and accounts for 15 per cent of total bodyweight. Thinnest on your eyelids (0.2mm) and thickest on your feet (1.4mm), every minute your skin sheds more than 30,000 cells.

Science over. Art and technology meet where we adorn our bodies with indelible inks, jewellery, implants and tribal scars. Tattoos and other body modifications fascinate, create obsession, signify style, disgust some and create envy in others.

Northern Brands
Martin Fraser is a friend of mine and we made a film to document his fascination with tattoos and body mods. Last year he set up a business to brand people using a laser burner. Going further than pushing ink into the skin, laser branding creates a permanent scar and it is much more like the initiation scars that many tribal people use to show maturity in adolescent males.

I was instantly fascinated and we set up a day to film an interview with him and potentially a branding session. The footage that resulted was turned into a short film called ‘Skin You’re In’. I then submitted the short to BBC Fresh – a spin off of BBC3 – and the film has taken on a mini-life of its own, featured prominently on the site it has been a ‘hit’ of sorts. Click on the image at the top of the page or here and you will go straight to the film on the BBC Fresh website.

Skin 2.0
We had talked initially about his using the footage as a social media tool to promote his business, but it was never used that way because Fraser (as he prefers to be called) is also a sound engineer and has committed a lot of his time to a local theatre in Blyth, Northumberland.

Fraser is an articulate person and has a rationale for what many people would consider irrational. Body adornment is a personal choice and often influenced by fashion. Not for Fraser. He told me that he had a high pain threshold and often pushed his own limits in the same way that tribal people undertake trials. We talked about ritual scarring, branding, archetypal imagery and religious ceremonies. Some of those discussions are recounted in a second short ‘Skin 2.0’ (above).

Skin 2.0 is a companion to Skin You’re In and a contrast in style. Both films reveal something about the reasons people choose to tattoo or alter their bodies, but Skin 2.0 looks more at traditions. Surprisingly, the swastika makes a resurgence in many modern tattoos following its ancient roots as a symbol of peace. For anyone interested in finding out more about the ‘gentle swastika’, look at the work of artist ManWoman. His story is incredible. After a revelatory dream he devoted his life to reclaiming the swastika using tattoos and his art.

Tech spec
Both films were shot using a cheap £25 tripod. Stable shots are important though many of the more dynamic shots were simply handheld. All footage was shot at 720p on a LG 2X P990 smartphone. I love my phone even though it is a dog – it’s a reconditioned unit that often crashes and restarts for absolutely no reason. Audio was recorded on a Zoom H4 stereo mic and everything was edited using Final Cut Pro 7.0. I will probably upgrade my phone and look at something like the Nokia 1020 or the Sony Xperia Z1, which both have much better resolution, but would like to look at the new LG phones too. I’m also looking at other mobile and wearable cameras like the Vio POV cams, Epiphany Eyewear, Google Glass and others. If anyone can suggest a cool HD cam (or camcorder) I’m all ears.

Implant technology
The Internet of Things and body modification cross over in this fascinating short from Vice about biohacker Tim Cannon, who inserts an unreasonably large sensor under his skin to measure his biometrics. As an open source instrument the Circadia 1.0 connects up to any Android mobile device. What’s wrong with a thermometer?