Tattoos & Tentacles

Published: 06 February, 2012 - Featured in Skin Deep 208, February, 2012

Sometimes, the best ideas come out of nowhere, but as we shall see, that doesn’t necessarily mean those ideas will come together very fast...

I’ve been following this project for some time now. It’s genesis is well documented online and over the last couple of years, Tattoos & Tentacles has achieved no small amount of notoriety and fans – and rightly so. This coupling of non-related subjects is something more creatives should take note of, because when it comes to magazine copy, this sort of material is priceless!

Now, with enough time under the belt, this project has found its way into publication. Julian Murray has worked too long and too hard on this for it be swept under the carpet, so its perfect timing to catch up with him, find out how the hell he found himself in this place and publishing some of the great images they captured during its formation.

You’ve been working on this for a long time – in fact when I first caught wind of it, it looked like you had already been working on it for quite some time. How long have you really been working on it now?

“We started working on it as just a four image photography series back in 2008. My friend Jackie and I did the first shoot, along with a few others and they displayed on our website for almost a year with no thought to expand. At the top of 2010, after a move to Los Angeles, we started to pursue the series again as a creative outlet and it became, pretty much a full-time job.

“Over 70 shoots later, Tattoos & Tentacles was laid out and sent to the printer in book form in August of 2011. The book itself is a 12 inch, 144-page hardcover book. Lace hand drew the logo to make it look like a tattoo sketch, and picked out this material that makes the book feel like skin. Once a person has it in their hands, the feel alone is pretty impressive.”

How come you decided to self-publish? Did you ever try and figure out the traditional publishing route or was it much a case of you wanted control over the project and didn’t want people who didn’t know what they were talking about messing around with your stuff?

“We decided to self-publish right from the start. It was very important for us, not only to maintain complete creative control over the project, but as well, to have such an amazing accomplishment under our belts at such a young age. It’s been a major investment; I don’t think people realize. From concepting, shooting and buying props, to traveling, editing and straight up cash to market and print the finishing product. It’s been a roller coaster, but we’ve met a lot of extraordinary people along the way and have such a stunning piece to show for it. Staying independent is giving us the chance to tour conventions this next year, and contemplate what’s next. It’s also opened up doors to new business opportunities and has recently led to our first sponsorship deal with Clique Vodka (, an up-and-coming premier vodka company off the east coast.”

There has to be a good story behind the idea for this. What happened? Was it accident or design or something else. Let’s face it – it’s not your everyday kind of project to start!

“Late 2008 my partner/fiance/graphic design wizard was re-vamping our website and we were short one photography series. I had a couple new lighting techniques up my sleeve, so I decided to shoot Jackie again, along with three others. We didn’t have a name for the series until we went through the photos and realized that all four models, coincidentally, had tattoos. Two bottles of wine and some conversations later, Tattoos & Tentacles was created.

"From there, the small series always seemed to catch people’s attention, especially in Los Angeles. That sparked a thought to maybe trying and shoot a couple more images, but this time, be more creative with it, and that’s exactly what we did.”

Did you do one shoot and then figure it was great and hunt down more people to be involved, or after a couple of shoots, did the models start coming to you?

“After showcasing the small Tattoos & Tentacles series we had created on our website only, we started to get a lot of positive and intrigued feedback from everywhere. But still, the series sat, for a hot minute, until January of 2010 when we moved to Los Angeles to work with a couple record labels and a hip hop magazine. Just about every person we met with, to show our work, would end up talking about the Tattoos & Tentacles photographs. That’s when the thought hit us, that maybe we should expand and build the project, try a couple more shoots, see what we could come up with. I put a few casting calls out online, being very clear as to what the shoot was and consisted of. Handfuls of replies came in and we shot five more models for the series. At that time, the book was a mere thought, but nothing had been determined, so we released all the images we had created and that’s when people started to contact us non-stop, looking to be a part of it.”

Are they real live Octopuses?

“Yes, all real, however, they are not alive. In the beginning, I thought it would be impossible to find any, but we quickly found out they are sold in almost any international market. More recently, we walked into a Rainbow Foods – a major chain grocery store in the midwest – and there were some on the deli section! Must be a new food craze or something... the markets sell them one by one; frozen.

“We only bought one at a time, depending on the shoots we had lined up. Lace would thaw out the octopus, wash and dry it, before and after all shoots. It’s amazing how much moisture they constantly produce. None of the models had a problem working with an octopus; most thought it was pretty rad, especially the texture of them. I’m also not one of those photographers that feels the need to make a huge production of everything and over photograph, so we kept the shoots short and sweet, never lasting more than 15 minutes.”

Did you find the ‘quality control’ hard to master – there’s a lot in there that a lot of people might not really see. Great girls, great tattoos and a great set are not three easy things to get together all at the same time!

"Quality control was definitely a challenge. Organization is key. Never any big issues. Each shoot had to be concepted and planned out. We had to make sure all contracts were in place, that every model was comfortable. Having such an overwhelming response of models wanting to be in it, we had to be selective. Also being mindful and considerate of what we could do within our budget, since we were putting every dollar of our income towards the project.

"We were constantly writing out different ideas and concepts for the series. Some shoots went super smooth and others we just had to show up and wing it. I like to think, as a team, Lace and I work well under pressure.”

What else do you do? Is this your first project of this type or a sideline – and you can’t possibly leave it there, can you? There must a volume 2 in the pipeline – or a different but similar off the wall project.

“I’ve been doing photography for almost six years now, with an emphasis on music and portrait work.

“This is our first giant project. Before creating Tattoos & Tentacles, I had never been involved in the tattoo culture; I don’t even have any tattoos myself! I think a lot of people that see this project are expecting Lace and I to be a completely alternative duo. The whole experience has been pretty awesome. My favorite thing about photography, no matter what the subject matter, is being able to come in and learn about different people. From doing this book we’ve met some extraordinary individuals, gained a lot of knowledge and respect for the tattoo culture and artists, and even made some great friends along the way. Whether people love or absolutely hate the book, we still got a lot out of it personally. It has paved us another avenue as being self-published artists.
“Lace and I joke around about if we did get an offer to sign on with another publisher, we would do a Tattoos and Tentacles Vol.2: Europe Edition. We’re overflowing with ideas and there were so many people with stunning artwork overseas that we just couldn’t get to! As for now though, we’ve only had the book out for a few months, so we’re trying to enjoy it. This project has really opened my eyes, in the sense of doing photography as more of an art form, instead of always, only being hired as a portrait photographer. With that said we have a couple new ventures and merchandise ideas we’re nursing at the moment (non-tentacle related) and look forward to releasing them!”

Tattoos & Tentacles can be purchased at along with other prints as well.


- Octopuses have two eyes and four pairs of arms, and like other cephalopods they are bilaterally symmetric. An octopus has a hard beak, with its mouth at the center point of the arms. Octopuses have no internal or external skeleton (although some species have a vestigial remnant of a shell inside their mantle), allowing them to squeeze through tight places. Octopuses are among the most intelligent and behaviorally flexible of all invertebrates.

- Octopuses are highly intelligent, likely more so than any other order of invertebrates. The exact extent of their intelligence and learning capability is much debated among biologists, but maze and problem-solving experiments (including predicting World Cup football results) have shown that they show evidence of a memory system that can store both short- and long-term memory. It is not known precisely what contribution learning makes to adult octopus behavior. Young octopuses learn almost no behaviors from their parents, with whom they have very little contact.

- The Giant Pacific Octopus, Enteroctopus dofleini, is often cited as the largest octopus species. Adults usually weigh around 15 kg (33 lb), with an arm span of up to 4.3 m (14 ft). The largest specimen of this species to be scientifically documented was an animal with a live mass of 71 kg (156.5 lb). The alternative contender is the Seven-arm Octopus, Haliphron atlanticus, based on a 61 kg (134 lb) carcass estimated to have a live mass of 75 kg (165 lb). However, there are a number of questionable size records that would suggest E. dofleini is the largest of all octopus species by a considerable margin; one such record is of a specimen weighing 272 kg (600 lb) and having an arm span of 9 m (30 ft).


Text: Sion Smith; Photography: Julian Murray