This Same Purpose

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Inked: The Stories Behind The Tattoos

My sophomore year of college, I did a photo essay for my university's bi-yearly print magazine. The topic? You guessed it! Tattoos.

Now, because it takes me 30 minutes to decide what I want to eat for lunch, I know better than to ever entertain the idea of having something permanently 'inked' on my skin. Because I won't exactly be immersed in that part of the art world anytime soon, it was such a treat getting to hear the stories of why these wholehearted, wonderful friends of mine chose to do something so permanent, so lasting.

Andi Smith


Andi Smith is sophomore social work major from Nixa, Missouri, and she enjoys painting, lettering, and playing games. One time, she bought a fake engagement ring to ward off creepy men when she worked in retail.

“The reason I got my Kingdom Worker tattoo was because God called me out from using my gifts and talents to build my own kingdom and to start building his. It’s my oldest tattoo and I cherish it because it reminds me of such a pivotal moment in my life.”

“The Morse Code tattoo says, ‘Lord How Many,’ and it’s a matching tattoo with my best friend back home. It started as an inside joke but over the course of our friendship, it has evolved into much more. It’s ‘Lord how many trials, how many tears, how many blessings, how many triumphs.’ It means a lot to both of us and reminds us of his goodness and we walk in our friendship.”

“The floral tattoo is actually a coverup. I stumbled upon a bowl at a TJ Maxx and this design was in black and white on the inside. I loved it so much that I decided to get it as a tattoo. I asked the artist to add the blues and greens.”

Josh Bowden


Josh Bowden is a senior conservation biology major from Hickory, North Carolina. He enjoys reading, backpacking, reading about backpacking or playing frisbee for the Union Jaxx. He also owns an olympic warm-up uniform from the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia.

“The phrase, ‘Conquerors Of The Useless’ comes from a documentary made by Patagonia called ‘180 Degrees South.’ Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia and Black Diamond, used it to describe his climbing group when they went down to Patagonia to attempt to summit Corcovado. Those guys lived for the outdoors; they were real dirtbags, and I really admire that lifestyle. The phrase is kind of a humorous “up yours” to people that look down on that non-traditional lifestyle. The mountains and trail are because backpacking and thru-hiking is my thing. I hope to get into climbing like they did.”

Zac Fletcher


Zac Fletcher is a senior sports management major from Donaghadee, Northern Ireland. He works at Barefoots and Modero, doesn’t like potatoes, and is often asked if his tattoo is for an ex-girlfriend.

Quote: “Jessie was our family dog growing up, and she died a few years back. That’s when I got the tattoo. It’s based off her dog tag.”

Justice Walker


Justice Walker is a mathematics education major from Union City, Tennessee, and he enjoys all things sports. In 2013, Justice took a trip to Europe where he had coffee with a former Buckingham Palace Royal Guard and where he forged offensive tackle Michael Oher’s autograph for several people who thought he was the guy from “The Blind Side.” He charged 10 British pounds per autograph.

“When I was as senior in high school, I had a friend who became ill. He was literally one of the best guys I’d ever met. He was involved in church, did missions, and one of his favorite ministries was ‘I Am Second,’ which is the inspiration for one side of the tattoo. Later, in the summer, he passed away. It was a point in my life where I questioned God. You could even say I was angry with him. I would up talking to my friend’s mom and she told me that God was in control and that we just have to trust in his will. That’s where the inspiration for the second part of the tattoo comes in. Proverbs 3:5 says, ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.’ This is what I had to do with my friend’s death and other parts of my life.”

Photographer/Writer's comment: I need to give a big shoutout to Andi, because her shoot literally lasted 2 1/2 hours in 35 degree weather. She was wearing short sleeves, while I wore gloves. So we all know who the real MVP of this project is.

All-in-all, it was a great experience. Not just because they're awesome people and fun to photograph, but because there are few things in life I value more than the opportunity to enter someone else's story and listen to the heart of who they are. That's treasure right there. And I never want to take it for granted.

Mattanah DeWittComment