The Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopedia

The Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopedia collects the drawings of Danzig Baldaev (1925-2005) made over decades as a prison officer and the photos of Sergei Vasiliev. A thrilling document that shows the codes of the Russian criminal world.

Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopedia
Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopedia

Danzig Baldaev worked between 1948 and 2000 as a guard in russian prisons, especially in the (in)famous Kresty prison in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). There he began to draw tattoos that covered the bodies of “The Vor v Zakone” (thieves in law), a caste of gangsters who devote their lives to crime, this dedication is contained on their skins.

The photographs, drawings and texts published in this book are part of a collection of more than 3,000 tattoos accumulated over a lifetime by Danzig Baldaev. Tattoos were his gateway into a secret world in which he acted as ethnographer, recording the rituals of a closed society. The icons and tribal languages he documented are artful, distasteful, sexually explicit and sometimes just strange, reflecting as they do the lives and traditions of Russian convicts.

Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopedia
Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopedia

In 2004, a year before the death of Baldaev, Fuel published the first of three volumes of “The Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopedia”, adding to the drawings,images of the photojournalist Sergei Vasiliev confirming the authenticity of Baldaevs drawings and providing evidence of the misery and suffering of the prisoners after their bluster.

“They paid whit their bronze skins tattoos and thus gradually satisfied their artistic, erotic and even moral needs: Breasts, stomachs and backs they could admire powerful eagles or women and men copulating; or the individual organs of their sexual enjoyment; and suddenly, beside their hearts, Lenin or Stalin, or both.”

Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopedia
Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopedia

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (author of Gulag Archipelago).

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Glenn Astete-Ortega

Glenn Astete-Ortega was born in the 20th century, during his childhood he used to play in the backyard, run across the country fields, climb trees and throw rocks into the river. Glenn was also a media-kid, he used to watch Tom & Jerry, Bugs Bunny, Transformers and He-Man. In those wild days pre-internet his favorite reading was horror comic books such as Dr. Mortis and Tales from the Crypt. He got interested in media when he and his sister made their first podcast on an old radio cassette player, Glenn was just nine years old. In the early 21st century he got a degree in journalism and moved to the big city, where he had to deal with the escalators, subway, big buildings and the noise. After a few years working as an advertising producer, Glenn moved to Sweden and it was there he began his new adventure as a Web editor, and sales manager at the Azaria Magazine.

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