Culinary art: A look at the Industry Ink project

We chat to the creator of Industry Ink - the viral project shining light on the food industry's love of tattoos


Have you ever noticed that a lot of those who work in the service industry are covered in a lot of tattoos? Well, you’re probably not the only one. However, there was one photographer in Toronto who saw an artistic and creative side to the city’s service industry tattoos and wanted to tell their stories. Thus, Industry Ink was born.

Meet photographer Brilynn Ferguson. When I met her for the first time last year, she was quiet and unassuming, like most photographers, wanting to stay behind the lens rather than in front of it. Her work prior to the Industry Ink photography series had included some incredible projects, including Matt Dean Pettit’s The Great Lobster Cookbook and Beerology by Mirella Amato. When we chatted about photography, she taught me some of her tips and tricks, and I seriously thought I was learning from a Jedi master of sorts.

At the start, Ferguson had no idea what exactly Industry Ink was or what it could be, but she tells me “I needed to create a project for myself that I could work on during down times that would keep me shooting and give me a creative outlet,” and it was from here some of the first few images came about.

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Ferguson recalls that “one day a client and I were working together and he was wearing a tank top. I noticed that he had a rather large tattoo on his ribs. It was script and said “never stop fighting” with numbers underneath.” She snapped an image of it and asked for the story behind it. What she realized from that day was that each person had a story related to their tattoo. And, since photography was such a big part of her work, she wanted to create a medium to tell those stories – thus Industry Ink was born to showcase and focus on the tattoos of those working in the service industry of Toronto.

Since then, Ferguson’s project has taken off, and for good reason: the industry is filled with interesting characters and immensely interesting stories to match. It has been exciting to see industry professionals, who are recognizable from around the city, documented inch-by-inch, person-by-person and tattoo-by-tattoo on Industry Ink week-to-week. However, Ferguson explains that when she first started the project, the growth exceeded her wildest expectations.

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“I posted something on Facebook, keeping it to friends-only, since I had a number of industry friends,” she says, “and the first participant was Jason Rees, who was brave enough – and I will always appreciate him for that.” Even since then, the rest of the project has been entirely word-of-mouth. “Once the ball got rolling, it was more often than not people would contact me instead of me having to seek them out,” she says.

Ferguson makes sure to ask each participant the same question: what was your first tattoo? From there, she tells me, the conversation naturally progresses, and the whole process can take anywhere from two minutes to several hours, depending on the stories that the individual wants to share with her. “Some people have certain stories that they really want to share and some that they don't,” she says. “It's very much a conversation – I just let it go where it will.”

Since the launch of Industry Ink, there was such a response from those in the industry that didn’t have tattoos and felt under-represented, that Ferguson felt compelled to launch Virgin Skin this summer, initially as a joke, but, rather than telling those without tattoos to just get one, she thought she would throw in a catch: “I told them if they wanted to shoot with me, but didn't have any tattoos, it would be nudes only,” she says. Oddly enough, she has had some participants and she enthusiastically tells me the shoots are “hilarious”.

In the short time the project has been running, Ferguson has shot internationally acclaimed chefs like Sean Brock, Massimo Bottura and Chuck Hughes – to name just a few. But there are a lot of things Ferguson would like to accomplish with Industry Ink – shooting more outside of Toronto is one of them. “To be able to go on an Industry Ink road trip, to shoot people in other cities, would be amazing,” she tells me. “So far, though, that hasn't really happened.” Until then, she’s going to keep shooting Toronto’s chefs and keep telling their stories.

Check out some of our favourite shots from the project below. You can view the entire collection on the Industry Ink Instagram.