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'Ancient Marks': Charting Sacred Origins of Tattoos

NPR's Alex Chadwick talks with National Geographic photographer Chris Rainier -- once a student of the famed Ansel Adams -- about his latest collection of photographs, Ancient Marks. Rainier travelled across the globe documenting a wide variety of cultures that apply tattoos and other markings to their bodies.

From Ancient Marks:

As the 21st century opens, our world is at a moment of profound transformation and cultural reawakening. Traditional societies living on the frayed edge of nature are being pushed hard by modernity, while powerful urban cultures of the West, swept along by the intoxicating pulse of progress, are realizing that materialism and secularism may not lead to spiritual well-being. Both the ancient and the modern find themselves considering what it means to be truly human...

Traditional cultures worldwide are experiencing a renaissance in body markings, which they see as meaning-laden paths to empowerment that honor both the individual and the community. In the West, body marking satisfies a yearning to reconnect with the primordial pulse of ancient ways, thus connecting to something larger than the individual, more profound than daily existence, and a deeply rooted in a sense of global community.

Millennia after the dawn of man's awakening, we continue to etch the geography of our bodies as we have always marked the landscape of the Earth. In creating these sacred forms, we forge a critical element of human existence -- our identity.

© Media 27 and Chris Rainier 2004. All Rights Reserved

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Alex Chadwick
For more than 30 years, Alex Chadwick has been bringing the world to NPR listeners as an NPR News producer, program host and currently senior correspondent. He's reported from every continent except Antarctica.