Bled For Boston: Commemorating The Marathon Bombings With Tattoos

Using body ink to commemorate tragedy and instill hope.

After last year’s Boston Marathon bombings, Chris Padgett got a tattoo of a version of the city skyline he had seen on Reddit, where he, like many looking for answers, got most of his news in the days following the event. “I have no connections to the marathon, to the bombings–I’m not even from here,” he told Fast Company. “I was on a plane landing at Logan [airport] as it was all happening and I got the sick feeling of, ‘Why is this happening here? This isn’t supposed to happen where I live.'”


At the time, Padgett, a Boston resident, wouldn’t have considered himself a “tattoo person,” even though he had three other inkings on his body. (He now has a total of five.) But he felt compelled to memorialize the event in a permanent way–a feeling, it turns out, a lot of Boston residents had. While at his local parlor, Padgett was intrigued not only by the number but the variety of people opting for permanent body art to commemorate the tragedy.

Chris Padgett, photographer and founder of Bled for Boston

“While I was waiting my turn it was just a lot of people coming through that were not typical tattoo folks,” he said. “It was young couples and dudes–and it was everyone. I thought it would be interesting to find out why they were getting their tattoos specifically, what inspired them to do so.” The trend was partly inspired by the donations that tattoo shops had promised to The One Fund Boston if people got Boston themed tattoos. But Padgett suspected that there was more motivation behind people’s decisions to permanently alter their bodies than generating $50 or $100 for a local charity benefiting victims of the bombings.

Padgett, who works in IT but calls himself an advanced photography hobbyist, decided to turn his curiosity into a formal art project. For the last year, he has documented the tats of 75 people and the stories behind them. As the first anniversary approaches, 38 of his photographs, which consist of portraits of his subjects as well as close-ups of their tattoos, will hang in the Boston Center for Adult Education for a month-long exhibit called “Bled for Boston.”

“It started out with, ‘Let’s just show these people’s tattoos and get the story behind them,” he said. But the stories and subjects he found surprised and enlightened him. He hadn’t known the role that nurses played as first responders, for example. He presumed that loads of cops would come in to get tattoos, but he actually encountered a lot of nurses, who had been waiting to treat dehydrated and exhausted runners after 26.2 miles of running. “They went to treating dehydration to tying tourniquets,” he added. One of his pictures is of a group of these women, who got the same drawing on different parts of their bodies.

Over the last year, Padgett also met runners who had been stopped at mile 25, firefighters, the men who got to Jane Richard, the sister of Martin Richard, the 8-year-old boy that died, and lifelong Boston residents. Some had come in for their first and only tattoos, others added to a growing mural of images on their bodies. Some got large, complicated drawings; others went with markings as simple as the letter “B.” But all of them wanted to show solidarity with each other and their city by marking their bodies forever.

“I think that they were looking for a way to express their own personal thoughts as to this horrible event,” said Susie Brown, executive director of the BCAE, who helped put together the exhibit, opening April 3. “It’s the permanency of the tattoo and the symbolism of ‘We’ll never forget,’ and to have that lasting sentiment to have created art on your own body.”

About the author

Rebecca Greenfield is a former Fast Company staff writer. She was previously a staff writer at The Atlantic Wire, where she focused on technology news.