Brad Sayles’ “Love the mirror”

Brad Sayles’ “Love the mirror”

Brad Sayles’ “Love the mirror” (photograph by Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova)

“I have so happily put Frank X walker’s words on my skin in permanent ink; however, the words carry meaning to me that is different from what the poet might have imagined.

2015 was a year on fire. I would like to kindly assist it in performing a ‘stop, drop & roll’ over a cliff and gleefully watch it shatter in flames on the rocks below. Without a doubt, it has been the most trying year of my life.

I am a Kentuckian, not by birth or choice. Like so many of the first Kentuckians, I came here by way of Virginia, but Kentucky is my home now. I remember seeing the first tattoo project and being envious of those who participated; it was such a true, permanent bond of people and place, which I loved. But when Love Letter To the World was announced, I was at a crossroads with my family, marriage, career, and the commonwealth I called home.

I am the father of two toddlers. A boy genetically predetermined to make my same mistakes. A girl so sweetly taking after my partner to remind me of why I eagerly entered this union. A union that nearly saw its end, and rightfully so, on more than one occasion in 2015.

I am the partner of the most amazing person. She is flawed, stubborn, and relentless. She is beautiful, passionate and driven.

I am one of the lucky few who do what they love. I consume my work and it consumes me equally. By the start of 2015, I was ready to move on and up, which meant leaving Kentucky, my home. While what I had poured into my career was full, I was also left staring into another pool that was dry and barely offered the kind reflection it once had. I had let my children go without me; on her own, my spouse went without me as well.

I began making the changes necessary to create balance and see the reflection in my family that I desired. My partner and I recommitted. We found our happiness again, in each other, right where we had left it.

When the tattoo designs were released, I was immediately drawn to ‘Love the mirror.’ My family is my mirror. I see only a reflection of what I put in front of it. Each star inside the postage circle of my tattoo is a color of a member of my family’s birth stone; the stars outside of it are mine. My tattoo serves to remind me that my family is my mirror. I have not had an easy 2015, but the tattoo I can only see in a mirror reminds me daily that my family is a reflection of me, and that I must love the mirror.”

detail of Brad Sayles’ “Love the mirror”

detail of Brad Sayles’ “Love the mirror”

Maggie & Michelle

Michelle Knickerbocker's "with the sun" and Maggie Brewer's "and the moon" (photograph by Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova)

Michelle Knickerbocker’s “with the sun” and Maggie Brewer’s “and the moon” (photograph by Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova)

Maggie and Michelle sent us their narrative before we met them at Third Street Stuff on a warm night in December. Because we had read their words, we expected to have fun photographing and chatting with them. And we did! They are indeed as colorful and charming as the complete rainbow they make when they are together.

“Michelle says: Maggie and I both enjoy the Lexington arts scene and when we learned about the Lexington Tattoo Project we were so excited. We knew immediately that we wanted to be a part of it because we love poetry, Lexington, and Bianca Spriggs. But we were too late. We found the project right as it was finishing. So when we heard about Love Letter To the World, we knew we wanted to be part of the movement. We read the poem. And we reread it. We were so moved by the content, we seemed to struggle to find which lines we wanted to represent. I wanted to represent the whole poem, the whole connection we humans have with our amazing planet and our amazing individual lives and our mistakes and successes and everything. How could I pick just one part? I had almost decided on the title as my piece. And then Maggie and I started talking about the lines, which ones we liked and why. We started talking about how we related to the poem, each other, and the world. We realized that we were right there in the poem; we had chosen our symbols before this project was even considered. Maggie has always loved celestial imagery and has moons and stars all around our house and lives. I grew up in sunshiny Florida, loving the year-round rays. I still spend too much time soaking up the sun, laying there, wondering if that’s what Superman must have felt like when he was recharging. Because we both favor the celestial, just by different imagery, early in our relationship we began referring to each other as ‘the sun’ and ‘the moon.’ I was making quiche for her one weekend and arranged her refrigerator magnets into a little love poem that included the sun and moon as representations of us. So when we were pouring over Frank’s poem together, we kept coming back to the lines ‘with the sun’ ‘and the moon’ and we decided to have lines that didn’t just connect us to the project and the poem. The lines we finally chose connect us, our relationship, our love, and our whole hearts to the heart of this poem, the hearts of the participants, the world, and the heavens.

Maggie says: When Michelle and I were first dating, she would often make quiche on the weekends.  She would wake up early while I was still asleep and sneak into the kitchen to cook.  I had a set of magnetic poetry on the side of my refrigerator and she sometimes wrote me little poems but one day she wrote this:

She who is moon
and me the sun
bring good change to this
thick life
full of every color

Imagine our rich shadow dance
turning through time and seasons
between here and there
a gentle morning cloud rounds into
the hard dark happy night

her and me
that beautiful
cold red
hot blue
makes we

I have always loved moons and stars and Michelle is from Florida and embodies sunshine so we see each other as yin and yang in this way and many other ways.

When we read Frank X Walker’s poem, Michelle felt like these would be perfect lines to get together.  I wanted to get them in cool colors and warm colors, not only to represent the sun and the moon, but also to show that when we are together, we are the complete rainbow.”

Note: If you’d like to see more photographs of Maggie’s and Michelle’s tattoos, watch the video artwork that includes all the photographs of Love Letter To the World participants we’ve received and taken. Keep refreshing and playing it again–it is different every time!


Last summer, as we prepared to travel to Black Rock City to photograph Burners with Love Letter To the World tattoos, we realized we were facing a problem we had not encountered with our city-based tattoo projects: many people who got Love Letter tattoos seemed to forget about photographing their tattoo or about uploading a photo to the website. (With the city-based tattoo artworks, each participant is photographed by a professional photographer.)

How did we know this? Not only by the number of times each tattoo phrase had been downloaded from our website (hundreds of times), but also through our own experiences. Every so often folks would tell us about encountering someone with a Love Letter tattoo. Frequently, after talking about that person and their tattoo, we would realize that we didn’t have a picture of that particular tattoo. When these participants were friends of friends, we would contact them and try to photograph them ourselves. But we also knew there were many many tattoos we had never even heard about.

So last summer we came up with a way to both include more people as participants and to capture photographs of some of the phrases we were missing. We were headed to Burning Man, we knew that Burners like to play along, and we also knew the sun is intense in Black Rock City.

That’s how we came up with “light tattoos”: we would use sunlight and a laser-cut mirror to project the designs of tattoo phrases onto the skin of fellow Burners.

We spent the mornings at Burning Man photographing some of the hungry folks waiting in line for our famous Kentucky Fried Camp breakfast. We gave everyone a choice between two phrases, either before or just after they had received their shot of bourbon and their fried bologna sandwich.

Here is a small collection of images. You will see many more on the website once the full-length video goes live (soon).

Note 1: Once our video is live, we will also post a collection of images of our KFC campmates sporting light tattoos. Many of them were early ambassadors for Love Letter To the World, getting their ink before Black Rock City 2014 and proudly wearing them at our own first Burn in 2014.

Note 2: Because everyone we photographed in Black Rock City 2015 loved our light tattoos, we will be using this same process for creating images in a new artwork in 2016!

"on humanity"

“on humanity”

"to cool a fever."

“to cool a fever.”

"wide and deep."

“wide and deep.”

"your love."

“your love.”

"is your shiver,"

“is your shiver,”


"your hemispheres,"

“your hemispheres,”

"at your navel."

“at your navel,”

"hot flashes"

“hot flashes”

"How our earthquake"

“How our earthquake”

"once covered"

“once covered”

"with ice"

“with ice”