The first time Gavin Bond heard Mark Mahoney speak, he knew he needed to capture his voice. Like a Bostonian Tom Waits, Mahoney sounds like he’s washed cut glass down with warm butter.
The photographer, who’s worked with everyone from George Clooney to David Beckham to the Victoria’s Secret Angels, had just picked Mahoney up for a shoot for the newest issue of Jocks & Nerds. As he Mahoney spoke, Bond knew he needed something more than stills.
The resulting film draws on Mahoney’s history as an outlaw tattoo and reformed heroin addict, wandering alone through Joshua Tree. Though he now inks the likes of Adele (on the day of the shoot, he had to rush back for a house visit) Mahoney began his career at 14, when the art was as underground as his clients. In Bond’s film, he is cut adrift from society, as he intones Dave Bas’s poem The Drifter.
Gavin, where did the idea for the video come from?
The idea initially was to take him out to Joshua Tree, out to the desert, put him in this part drifter, part man who fell to earth situation and shoot him in this setting. I’d never heard him speak before and we got in the car and he was talking, telling us all these stories about living in New York back in the day with the New York Dolls. All the people he’d tattooed. And he was being really honest about everything, his heroin addiction and how he cleaned himself up.
He had this great history and this incredible Boston-Irish accent. So when we out there I just grabbed the camera and filmed little bits. Well, that guy’s voice is amazing. I said will you just narrate this poem for me. It just kind of happened.
What was your idea going into the shoot?
When we turned up at his house, he has this incredible wardrobe. Mark [Anthony Bradley, Jocks & Nerds fashion director] was like, ‘Well look, we want to feature your pieces.’ So he brought a bunch of his stuff and they collaborated together. One of the things he brought down was this vintage Gucci suitcase and he was wandering around with that. And that summed it up – this figure who’s out in the wilderness, nothingness.
A little bit of the other inspiration was those characters Richard Avedon’s In the American West [a black and white photo series depicting the forgotten and downtrodden in the US]. Those people who just have this look that’s just got history ingrained into them. Their face is like a map. There are certain people I’ve photographed, like Iggy Pop, Keith Richards and now Mark – they have this thing about them. The other thing is he has this effortless cool. When he walks, when he moves. I could shoot him every week.
When did he come across your radar?
A friend of mine who used to live in LA gets his tattoos done by Mark. I came across pictures of him then through contact with my friend, he introduced me to him. From that I found out that Green Day get their tattoos done by him and there were all these people I knew who’d gone in and out of each other’s lives through him.
He’s getting into film and there’s a guy at this agency in LA who’s looking after me a lot on the directing side. And suddenly I find out that they represent Mark as well. It all kind of came together.
His shop, Shamrock Social Club, is a democratic meeting place where the famous are treated the same as everyone who walks in off the street. He doesn’t feel inaccessible.
When he talks about people – he’s in the car and he’s talking about Johnny Depp and David Beckham – he treats everyone very equal. I was really surprised, when we picked him up he lived a good hour’s drive from his shop, out in a very humble neighbourhood. His wife has a vintage store, she collects vintage clothes. But he’s not the glamour guy.
He has this amazing car that he drives every day to work. And everything that he puts around him – his clothes, his whole look – it’s just Mark Mahoney. He gets custom suits made, custom shoes made. It couldn’t be anyone else. When you’re getting tattooed by him, it’s almost like you’re getting part of him. I haven’t got any myself but I’ve photographed some of the biggest tattoo artists in the world. Maybe I’ll have a midlife crisis and get a load done.