Isaiah Toothtaker

Isaiah Toothtaker

Interview

October 12, 2017

What is your name, birthplace, and year of birth?
Isaiah Philip Camacho, formally known as Isaiah Toothtaker. Most people call me Toothtaker or Toothy, after Max B gave me that nickname. Born 1981 in Amaru-ca, land of the serpent.

Where did you grow up? Please describe your upbringing and sociocultural background.
Tucson, Arizona. I had a sordid upbringing. In my earliest years I lived in a shantytown village—what has become known as the first “Urban Reservation.” It was a makeshift Native American reservation that was in the center of the city for approximately 70 years before being federally designated as land for our tribe and given HUD [US Housing and Urban Development] funding to build sustainable housing.

I’m half Mexican and half Pasqua Yaqui. My mother was a chola runaway who fled to LA for some years, then moved back and met my father—a punk rock meth dealer, who dabbled in all heavy drugs. I grew up in poverty, was poor more than half my life. Kicked out the house at 11. I bounced around different homes until I was able to live on my own at 15. Ran a violent street crew for most of my adolescence. Stabbed and shot a few people but became more known for my talent in fist fights. The frequent violence was how I initially garnered my nickname.

Where do you currently work? Prior to that, where have you worked?
I now exclusively tattoo on the road, only booking travel dates in various places and going wherever the work takes me. Previously, I operated my own shop for 11 years in Tucson. The shop was called Staring Without Caring. After selling the shop’s building, I decided not to relocate the business or reopen elsewhere, instead focusing on a less stationary journey.

How long have you been tattooing?
Approximately 17 years or whatever…

What inspired you to learn tattooing, and in what style did you initially learn how to tattoo?
It came by happenstance. Although I had been drawing and producing art my entire life, it was never a focus of mine to pursue any career revolving around visual arts. I had declined the offer to fast track prospect into the Hells Angels by then-acting President of the Tucson Chapter, but remained in good standing and was asked to continue working alongside him at the tattoo shop he owned. I was expected to be versatile in all styles and as proficient as possible because it was a street shop, making most of its business from walk-in traffic. This meant that you were at the mercy of the client’s request, so you had to have a wider scope of abilities. That said, the clientele back then almost exclusively wanted black and grey fine line tattoos—probably because the major references they had seen with larger amounts of work were ex-convicts. Wikipedia reports: Arizona has 48 state prisons geographically grouped into 14 complexes and two correctional facilities, NOT including the number of county jails or federal prisons or detention centers. I believe most reference points in Arizona tattoo culture grew from the systems within government-sanctioned slavery.

Have you had or do you have plans to take on apprentices?
I’ve had 12 apprentices, three of them forfeited to pursue other fields completely, the rest are all working tattooers. The only one I acknowledge as my true progeny is Theo Giordano. The rest were opportunists who don’t deserve any attribution from my mentorship; they’re pathetic interlopers who care nothing about cultural traditions. Complete disappointments. The only graduate is Theo—that’s my heart.

What do you look for in a shop?
Professionalism. Good interaction between co-workers and clients alike. Positive, creative energy with healthy communication throughout. Cleanliness. Interesting decorum.

Do you have any hobbies outside of tattooing?
Reading. Music. Film. Fashion. Interior design. Jewellery. Writing.

What inspires you generally?
The great work.

Where can we find your work online? What are your usernames on social media?
@toothtaker
Toothtaker.com
Instagram
Twitter
For tattoo appointments email: itoothtaker@gmail.com

Are any other forms of media, traditional or digital, important to your work?
Most if not all forms of expression are interesting to me. I enjoy engaging with digital technology and the deliverability of technological devices. I think it’s important to experience different means of activity to process art. Life is art and the spirit is transmutable. I really enjoy music most of all. I try to allow all things in this world to enlighten my methods. Though, for tattooing specifically, I stick to physical instruments to produce my work.

Is traveling important to your work as a tattooist? If so, where do you usually travel? Do you have any interesting experiences abroad that you can share?
Yes. I am now only available for bookings when traveling. I frequent NYC, SF, and LA. I’ve never been abroad, just recently acquired my passport. I hope the places that I want to visit will allow a three-time violent felon entry. On November 24th of this year, I’m going to be a speaker on the main stage at the Us By Night design conference and festival in Antwerp Belgium, so maybe afterwards I can share that experience abroad. Maybe next year I will share some experiences of working at Sang Bleu. (Huge shout out to Maxime—I wanna’ come out my boy!)

What is the main challenge of tattooing today?
Government and/or state interference. Sanctions or regulations brought on by the government or outsiders who have no concern for or understanding of our culture or art.

Taxation. Corporate interests or financiers who delegate the industry’s supplies with no moral compass or regard for purposeful customs. The participants of this industry need to grow more self-reliant if they want to preserve its integrity or promote rational competition within our community. Otherwise, these outside forces will always exploit those dependencies.

You can’t only virtue signal on Instagram when a tattoo school moves in the neighborhood while you’re also paying the state for a tattoo license! You’re still being marginalized by the state. You have to put in actual effort to work beyond the exploitation of the culture overall—not just cherry pick the easy, little issues. If this industry is really a community, then it should act like it and stand against any state licensing, regulations, sanctions, or impositions at every time and in every way. None of us control the heritage we worked to earn if we got to pay the Feds taxes to perform our art and pay the state to practice our trade. There’s no honor in allowing our traditions to be bled dry at the squeeze of a greedy government. This outlaw culture has been subverted and the main challenge is upholding values of independent logic, free from government and state jurisdiction.

Ideally, how would you like to see tattooing evolve? How do you think it will evolve realistically?
I don’t care to dictate any normative trajectory for how the craft ought to evolve for others, but I think we can evaluate history to forecast what a future of tattooing will look like. Most likely, there will be a painfully low hangover from the intoxication that high collectivism brings. Popularity becomes indulgence and addiction becomes shame, regret becomes normal and everyone finds safety in the comfort of homogenous thought, dictated to us by malfeasant faction. Realistically, nothing will be shocking or interesting or carry any significance or reasoning any more, so it’ll all be a melting pot of useless imagery and misappropriated symbols thrown together. Right now, we’re at a point where you don’t have to have any lineage or historicity to be a valid practitioner. Instead, you maybe pay the government for a license and pay a private corporation for a utility in order to manufacture popularity. To be in big business, you create an artificial avatar and present a parody of whatever persona you wish to project to the Internet. Ideally, I’d like people to be honest and truthful about themselves and their work. I don’t know if that’s realistic in any era, so I just live by my own ethics and constantly try to raise my own standards. Evolution isn’t real—you can only adapt to real circumstances, the ecosystem of intelligent design.


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