From Kink to Ink

A former fetish photographer gets Rude

Justice Howard is one of the top tattoo photographers in the world. She shoots regularly for eight ink magazines, including Ink Fashion, where she’s responsible for a third of the picture content. Her photographs—of the inked, the naked or the celebrity sort (often all three simultaneously)—have also appeared in Playboy, Esquire, Cosmopolitan and as murals at the Lord Balfour Hotel, in South Beach, Fla. She even turned down a position with Vogue because she “already has her dream job.”

Howard, who began her career as a fetish photographer and remains a disciple of the erotic, loves shooting women. But while her subjects are often nude or scantily clad, they never appear weak or vulnerable in the scope of her lens. A powerful woman in her own right, the outspoken 52-year-old, California-based photographer seeks to expose the strength of women, the inner diva.

For her ability to capture and even influence popular culture, Sin City Gallery owner Laura Henkel likens Howard to Annie Leibovitz. “She makes you appreciate the beauty of the person who put that art on her body,” Henkel says.

Howard’s latest show, Rude Crude and Tattooed, features 30 sexy and haunting images. It opens at Sin City Gallery on Oct. 26 to coincide with the Tattoo Expo at The Mirage.

What did you want to be when you were young?

I wanted to be a veterinarian. [Laughs.] I never had a clue that I wanted to do this. Even when I picked up my camera in the ’90s, I never really wanted to do it professionally. I was just fooling around and then everybody was like, ‘Oh, my God that’s amazing!’ So, it was really my peers that pushed me.

How did you get into erotica?

I had a lot of friends that were, shall we say, a little more sexually progressive: a lot of doms, people into latex, etc. I had an open realm of using them as my subjects. My passion is women. I love to do diva portraits, something that you can put on your wall and go, “Yeah, motherfucker, that’s me.”

Did you face any hurdles as a female erotica photographer?

When I first started it was really hard to be taken seriously. I would go into a magazine editor, and they’d just be like staring at my tits. They weren’t looking at the work. So, I just got more determined. I was like, “Fuck you, I’ll be back.’ The work just got better until there was no way they could negate me.

What have you learned during your career?

I wrote this tutorial about the most important things in taking great photographs. I thought it was lighting and styling and backdrops, or whatever the fuck it was. Now, I’ve learned that it’s entirely something else: You have to have your subjects relaxed, because stress shows. You’ll get what is known as claw-hand; it’ll ruin every frame.

Does your studio match your photo philosophy?

I used to have a huge studio. Now, I just have a small workstation where I live [in Redondo Beach, Calif.]. In my smaller space, everybody is very relaxed. We sit down and have tea before I take any pictures. I let everybody’s energy drop down.

What can we expect to see at Rude, Crude and Tattooed?

It’s all stuff that I’ve shot in the last two months, except there’s a couple of old favorites peppered in there. I hope it doesn’t get closed down. My last two shows got closed down. So many people came, that it was overcapacity.

When you’re not shooting, how do you keep busy?

I stir up a lot of shit. No, I’m just kidding. [Laughs.] I create havoc.