Short Film – Yantra: The Sacred Ink

Now available to view on Vimeo –  This short - 4:34 minute cut of the film Yantra: The Sacred Ink uses footage shot between 2008 and 2014, it shows the tattooing process and ceremonies attached to the tradition, as well as the state of trance, or “Khong Khuen” (animal Spirit possession), tattooed devotees enter when “possessed” by the spirit of their tattoos.

The full version of the film will be released at a later date. For more info on the photographic project Yantra: The Sacred Ink, as well as exhibitions please visit this page:

Francis Bacon & Photography

A Peter Stark portrait of Francis Bacon taken in the 70ies, and found in the painter’s London Studio. Collection Hugh Lane Gallery © The Estate of Francis Bacon.

During a  visit to Ireland a few years ago, I went to an exhibition on Francis Bacon and the fascinating contents of his chaotic London studio. After the painter’s death, everything in his famed 7 Reece Mews studio was left untouched for years and eventually all donated to Dublin’s Hugh Lane Gallery. Paint brushes, canvases, documents, photographs, were all carefully cataloged and moved to Dublin for the eventual reconstruction of the space in Dublin. And the Hugh Lane really did put together something special, I imagined it would be his studio space with the original contents and a few supporting documents, but with all that was made accessible, it turned out to be one of the best exhibits I’ve been to in a long time.

The 7 Reece Mews Studio

L: Bacon in his studio – R: Studio detail showing a portrait of Bacon and an image of Mohamed Ali

Thousands of photographic prints, magazine reproductions, scientific manuals, were found littered around his London studio, ranging from images of Mohamed Ali & Marylyn Monroe, to studies of human and animal movement, war imagery, and reproductions of work by classic painters such as Velasquez and Rembrandt. Most of the images were creased, crumpled even torn and paint stained. I knew Bacon had used some photography as inspiration, but had no idea it was to that extent… A vast database of all these pictures was accessible via touch screens on the gallery’s walls, including information on how they influenced his work, a unique insight into Bacon’s approach to painting, a man who was never filmed or closely watched while painting. The database featured images that influenced his paintings, passport pictures, even holiday snaps, and countless portraits of himself by famed photographers such as Henri Cartier Bresson, all paint stained and creased, sometimes torn, and put back together… Discovering this side of Bacon was like discovering a new artist, I stayed there for ages searching through all the documents available, fascinating.

Eadweard Muybridge’s work (above), heavily influenced the way Bacon expressed the human body’s movements.  The pioneering photographer developed a multiple camera system in the 1870s to record movement sequences first of animals and humans.   A whole room full of paint stained, torn and crumpled reproductions of Muybridge’s work, originally found in Bacon’s London studio was on display at the gallery. Bacon would often go to the Victoria & Albert museum, just round the corner form his studio, where all the original plates were kept, he later acquired reproductions and used them extensively for core elements of his paintings.

L: Bacon’s “Two Figures” – R: Muybridge reproductions found in Bacon’s studio.

Bacon on Muybridge “Michelangelo and Muybridge are mixed up in my mind together, and so I perhaps could learn about positions from Muybridge and learn about the ampleness, the grandeur of form from Michelangelo. …

Bacon also used a still image from Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 film Battleship Potemkin as an influence for his Study after Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X 1953 (bellow)

L: a still image from Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 film Battleship Potemkin. R: Study after Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X 1953

Photography played a major role in Bacon’s work. Many of the photographs found in the studio were of Bacon, his friends and various other subjects. During his lifetime, Bacon accepted only a handful of commissions. From the early 1960s he chose his closest friends as sitters, preferring to work not from life but from their photographs.

He grew up in the age of photo documentary, with then new magazines such as Life in the US and Picture Post in the UK giving him a wealth of imagery which could often filter into his paintings through his unique and seemingly random or even careless treatment of photographs. But on closer inspection it soon becomes apparent that he would often engage in a complex form of pre-painting groundwork with the images that could be described as an art form in its own right. Creases, folds, tears and paint stains on photographs often appear to be Bacon’s own form of sketching.

Early on, he would collect all images that he thought he could use and alter for paintings. But he became more discerning and began commissioning photographers for much more specific projects. Vogue photographer John Deakin worked with Bacon and photographed the painter’s friends and his partner George Dyer. Bacon would later go on to use a Deakin image of Dyer (his now dead partner) as a reference for a portrait of his then partner John Edwards (bellow)

When interviewed, Francis Bacon often talked about his own spontaneity in painting , about how he never sketched before painting or drew outlines on canvases. The discoveries in 7 Reece Mews shed light on how he actually worked his way towards a finished painting. For all his brilliant legacy of portraits, he only ever painted four sitters from life the rest from photographs, this allowed him the space and time for behind the scenes planning with the aid of photographs. I found the damaged, creased, torn and paint stained photographic portraits really powerful and inspiring.

An exhibition in London in 2010 called “In Camera” featured many of the originals, and a fascinating book of the same name has since been published.

The Photographer’s Gallery in London dedicated an exhibition earlier this year to John Deakin’s photographs of Soho. The show, entitled ‘Under the Influence’ (John Deakin and the lure of Soho) featured a photograph of a woman captioned “party goer” – The Guardian newspaper recently revealed in their article “CIA facial software uncovers the artist Francis Bacon – In drag”   The resemblance is uncanny but there remains the issue of cleavage…


“Unknown woman, 1930s” by John Deakin

“One question still remains. While the face is very much like Bacon’s and the mole on the model’s chest closely matches that which can be seen in the famous picture of Bacon holding two sides of meat, it is impossible to ignore the substantial cleavage.”

Bacon Vogue 1952 by John Deakin

Francis Bacon, 1952, by John Deakin. Photograph: John Deakin/Vogue

Quai Branly – Tatoueurs, tatoués exibition

Paris’ Musée du quai Branly launched its Tatoueurs, tatoués exhibition last week. The biggest of its kind, the 18 month long exhibition features photographs, films, original tattoo artwork on synthetic silicone skins and antique objects from all over the world illustrating the art of tattooing from its very origins and oldest traditions to modern practice.


Visitors at the Thai section of the exhibition which features my short film Yantra: The Sacred Ink and 4 prints from the series of the same name.

The museum, along with the flamboyant curators Anne et Julien, the people behind art and pop culture magazine Hey! enlisted the help of anthropologists, historians and modern tattoo artists to source an impressive, comprehensive and fascinating collection.

Here are some of my favorites from the exhibition

L: Maras portrait, 2006 © Serie Maras, 2006. Isabel Muñoz. R: Traditional Japanese tattoo © Photo: / Martin Hladik.

L: Maras portrait, 2006 © Serie Maras, 2006. Isabel Muñoz. R: Traditional Japanese tattoo © Photo: / Martin Hladik.


Portrait of an Algerian woman, Algeria, 1960. © Marc Garanger, artist’s private collection.


Tryptic of Japanse prints: the dual. The prints represent two Kabuki theatre actors in a dual against a winter backdrop. Realised by Toyohara Kunichika (1835-1900). The actor on the right is Ichikawa Danjurô, in the rôle of Kumonryû Shishin, a mythical figure tattooed with nine dragons. The actor on the right is Ichikawa Sadanji in the role Kaoshyôrochishin, covered in a Kaidô flower tattoo representing the family of roses. Edo and beginning of Meiji periods, year 18 of the Meiji era, Japan © Musée du quai Branly, photo: Claude Germain.

Women wearing tattoos and costumes. Photographer: anonymous. © CORBIS  Bettmann.

Women wearing tattoos and costumes. Photographer: anonymous. © CORBIS Bettmann.


Images from the ‘Recueil Lacassagne’, 1920-1940 © Gdalessandro/ENSP.

L: Captain Costentenus tatooed by order of Yakoob-Beg, 19th century © Fonds Dutailly, Ville de Chaumont. R: Traditional Japanese tattoo © Photo: / Martin Hladik.

L: Captain Costentenus tatooed by order of Yakoob-Beg, 19th century © Fonds Dutailly, Ville de Chaumont. R: Traditional Japanese tattoo © Photo: / Martin Hladik.

The exhibition's catalogue, published both in English and French is a beautiful 300 page hard cover volume. I am very proud to have my image on the cover.

The exhibition’s catalogue, published both in English and French is a beautiful 300 page hard cover volume. I am very proud to have my image on the cover.

‘Yantra: The Sacred Ink’ Teaser

Yantra – Short film

The teaser for ‘Yantra: The Sacred Ink’, to be premiered at Musée du quai Branly’s TATOUEURS, TATOUÉS exhibition on May 6th is live on Vimeo.

Tatoueurs, tatoués catalogue

I am happy to announce that my portrait of a muay Thai fighter has been chosen for the cover of the Tatoueurs, tatoués exhibition catalogue at Paris’ musée du quai Branly.


Tatoueurs, tatoués exhibition catalogue cover. Picture © Cedric Arnold

Published by Actes Sud in Arles, the 300 page hard cover book features selected works from the exhibition and details the history and practice of tattooing from around the world.  Available in May at the museum’s book shop all good art book stores in Paris and France; the catalogue also has an English version.


Tony Benn

Sad to hear the news about Tony Benn. Obituaries are filling the British press today. I had the opportunity to photograph the great man early on in my career in 1999 in London. It was one of my first big one on one portrait sessions. He readied himself for the camera with his usual face-on, pipe puffing pose. When I suggested a profile shot, he arched an eyebrow and quipped:  ”I’ll look like a coin”. May he rest in peace.

London, 1999 © Cedric Arnold

Here’s his wonderful quote on photography

“Most things in life are moments of pleasure and a lifetime of
embarrassment; photography is a moment of embarrassment and
a lifetime of pleasure.” -Tony Benn-


Old film stills from Myanmar

A few years ago, while on assignment in Yangon, I came across a small antique / curiosity / junk shop in the old city center.  I searched through boxes of old photographs and eventually found a pile of old movie stills, many stamped with “British, Burma Film co., ltd – Rangoon” a film production and distribution company established in the 1930′s. While many of the images were stamped, none were dated, making identification quite challenging. Some do have notes on the back, so I will post an update once contacts and friends in Yangon help me gather more info.


A movie still from what was then known as a “stunt film”

The first film produced in Myanmar was a 1920 silent film called “Myitta nit athuyar,” (Love And Liquor) a tale of  gambling, alcohol and destruction. Later on in the 1930s the British began to censor films with such themes.


“But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?” The classic balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet, with a Burmese twist on the wardrobe and probably on the dialogue too. This is one stamped with the British Burma Film co seal, and judging by the decor, most probably a stage production. In 1941 the Japanese bombed most of the movie theaters, during occupation no films were produced, film companies and actors turned to stage productions. Due to the impossibility of acquiring film, an attempt to save precious film stock was made by burying it; but the high temperatures caused the film to deteriorate.


The “British Burma Film co” seal on the back of one of the prints.

In 1946 film production kick started again but it wasn’t until the early 1950s that much needed extra film stock, new equipment and technical expertise were brought in by reps from international studios such as Universal Studios. The 1950′s were considered to be Myanmar’s cinematic golden years with state of the art studios such as the A1 studios attracting productions from Neighboring Thailand and even the then President U Nu getting involved in script writing in 1953.


An archer in a scene that could also be a local take on the story of Ekalavya

With the formation of the Revolutionary Council in 1962, things began to change for the local film industry. Although, according to the LA Times , “Censors could be influenced with tea money – and the industry remained relatively vibrant until the mid-1970s.” after the socialist regime’s “reformation” officials insisted that all films should promote the socialist agenda. This obviously hugely restricted the themes filmmakers could tackle.

Absurd decrees such as the 1982 decision stating that actors must make three movies simultaneously further damaged the already chocking industry. After the pro-democracy protests of 1988 which saw many actors and directors take part, the government would regularly ban films because of actor choices and film score choices. To avoid the need for script approval, filmmakers started shooting direct-to-CD and later direct-to-DVD releases.

This along with the growing popularity of pirated foreign films further sealed the fate of the industry and created a huge decline in Cinema goers. Land prices soaring to incredible heights have predictably caused old “standalone” cinemas to be destroyed or targeted for destruction to make way for hastily built business towers. By 2011 cinema numbers nationwide had declined to  71 from their peak of 244, several more have since been destroyed in what is known as “Cinema Row” in Yangon.

The film industry today focuses mainly on TV productions with very rare cinema releases. However, initiatives such as the Yangon Film School and various organizations helping with media and art development, will hopefully help Burmese cinema to grow again.


Many photographs from the collection feature this type of “almost kiss” in varying stages of closeness, but never quite a Hollywood style embrace.


A little closer…


A countryside scene


The shop owner told me she was very famous, but could not give me a name… Eye lashes and hair point to the 1960′s, possibly Khin Than Nu.


A confusion of facial expressions in what looks like a countryside scene.


Two actor portraits


A family scene, no clues given on this one, but it looks like it’s from the 1950s

Further reading:

A fascinating website documenting the traditional standalone movie theaters in SE Asia including Myanmar:

On Burmese cinema history:

Musée du quai Branly show

I am happy to announce my participation in Paris’ musée du quai Branly ’s “Tatoueurs, tatoués” (Tattooists, tattooed) exhibition May 2014 – Oct 2015 -

The 18 month long show examines the history of tattooing from all over the world, as well as the current renaissance of the practice. Visuals in the form of large format prints and multi-media from ‘Yantra: the Sacred Ink’ will be on show to illustrate the yantra tattoo tradition. More details on the content of the show soon.