Photo Essay

Uncle Freddie's Tattoo & Body Piercing, Buford, Georgia

Last Friday, my assistant Carmen and I were driving around Buford looking for some places to shoot, and as we passed by Uncle Freddie's, Carmen asked if I had ever been there. Not yet, I replied as I made a u-turn and swung into the parking lot. It was three in the afternoon and the place was packed. Cars were lined up on the gravel parking lot behind Freddie's, a mix of bondo buggies and Buy Here Pay Here beaters. My first thought was, why would someone pay to get a tattoo or piercing instead of getting their car fixed up? That answer would come later.

We walked in and Freddie, standing behind a counter, greeted us with "You getting a tat or piercing today?" We introduced ourselves, and I gave Freddie my card and asked if we could take some pictures. "You just want to steal my designs," was his reply. After a few seconds of looking us over he said sure, no problem. I went out to the car to get my equipment, and in the few minutes that I was gone, Carmen must have turned on the charm. "There's a tattoo session in one of the back rooms on the left, and in this room on the right we're doing a beauty mark. You guys make yourself at home!" That's when it dawned on me that Freddie didn't have any visible tattoos or piercings, my first preconception blown out of the water. I asked him about this and he said he did get a small tattoo on his upper back about six months ago and it hurt so bad that he would never get another. We opted for the beauty mark room.

A girl in her mid twenties was seated in what looked like a dentist's chair, holding a mirror while Christy Garrison, Freddie's daughter was strategically marking a spot on the girls' upper lip. Seated against the wall was an older guy with a full beard, a girl about seventeen holding an eight month old baby, and the recipient's cousin who was getting her naval pierced next. I asked the girl why she was getting a beauty mark on her upper lip, and she said because Marilyn Monroe had one.

On the way out, I stopped to talk to Mr. Garrison about his business. He told me with great pride that he has been in business for over twenty years, and has the best reputation in the county. He told me about how hard it is for his Artists, how they burn out in a couple of years. "Think about it," he said, "Buzz buzz buzz, with the needle, sometimes from four in the afternoon to 2 in the morning on the same customer." He told me he refuses to do any "stuff below the waist" and he only uses the finest ink. I could have spent all day talking with Freddie, he seems like a man that cares deeply for his customers and employees, a guy that would rather talk you out of that Charlie Manson on the forehead tattoo, than take your money. I figure that's why they call him Uncle, he makes everyone feel like part of his family.

As we were leaving, I thought about the girl getting the beauty mark. Another customer was pulling in the parking lot in a Monte Carlo circa 1978 with no front bumper. So what if the girl with a new beauty mark just spent some money on herself instead of fixing her car or having her gutters cleaned. After all, she now has something in common with Marilyn Monroe.

Uncle Freddie's is on South Lee Street in Buford, Georgia.

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