The knuckles used to be one of the last places a diehard tattoo aficionado had left available for tattooing. Hard to hide, these tattoos were nicknamed ‘Career Killers’ or ‘Jobstoppers.’ More recently, they have become more and more popular as an ideal medium for self-expression. With word combinations being relatively limited and ten knuckles at most, it is the skilful use of font and colour by the tattoo artist that creates a unique knuckle tattoo.

The archetypal Yin and Yang of knuckle tattoos, Love / Hate, was first seen in 1955 in the thriller “The Night Of The Hunter.” Featured on the hands of the sociopathic preacher Reverend Harry Powell, the actor Robert Mitchum used his fists to illustrate the battle between good and evil.

Since then, people use knuckle tattoos to tell a story about themselves or indeed to project a persona. Self Made, Lone Wolf, Know More are a few examples of these. Hold Fast was frequently used among sailors in the belief that it would help them grip the rigging more securely in a storm.

Stay Gold comes from the last line of the Robert Frost poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay” – a reference to staying true to oneself and holding on to the innocence of youth. This is most famously expressed by Johnny in the novel and later in the film “The Outsiders” with his dying line “Stay gold, Ponyboy. Stay gold.”

Begun in 2009, the Knuckles project sprung out of my fascination with the spectrum of expression attainable on a small, yet conspicuous canvas. As a professional photographer and filmmaker specialising in documentaries, I always have an eye out for the unusual.

The photographs of knuckle tattoos contained in this book were taken in the UK on the streets of London and Brighton, and at tattoo conventions nationwide.

Edward Bishop is a portrait, documentary and editorial photographer. To see more of his work, visit:

All the photos featured in The Gallery are available as limited edition Gold Fibre Silk Archival prints. For details of sizes and prices, please email: [email protected]