Carlos Wolfos arrived at the supermarket feeling angry and tired. While chatting with a friend on the phone, he noticed a police officer trailing behind him. When his friend asked him a question, Wolfos replied, “I have the police next to me, I’ll ask him.” The police officer began to laugh. Wolfos invited the officer to shop with him by handing the officer his basket. The officer shyly declined, leaving Wolfos to shop alone.
In Guatemala City, tattoos may lead to unwanted trouble with gangs or police officers. However, in the tourist town of Antigua, Wolfos can reveal his 25 tattoos without worry, allowing him to make a living off of his favorite art form.
Wolfos walks to work wearing a red T-shirt, tatted arms, a short, twisted beard and smoothed, black braided hair. After putting the key into the padlock, the two black wooden shop doors swing open. Grabbing a broom for one hand and a pan for the other, he begins sweeping the vermillion tiles inside Antigua Tattoo in Antigua, Guatemala. The shop opens in 10 minutes. In
1998, at age 24, Wolfos began working for his older brother, Luis Bedregal, as an apprentice at this shop. “Being an apprentice is not fun or easy,” Wolfos said. “Sometimes I wanted to leave because I was so tired, but I’m still here.”
Before Antigua Tattoo, Wolfos worked the night shift at UPS Inc. from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. His bosses required him to wear a tie and look respectable. “I was very angry that I had to cut my long hair,” Wolfos said. “But I had to work, you know, because I’m not rich.” Wolfos says a negative stereotype exists in Guatemala about having long hair and tattoos.
While riding camionetas, Wolfos claims to always have an open seat beside him. Wolfos also claims to be treated differently when volunteering at the animal shelter. “They don’t trust you because society taught them that people like this [are] bad [people],” Wolfos said. In Guatemala, outside of Antigua, having certain types of symbolic tattoos can be very dangerous. Police not only scan you, but your tattoos as well. People of a higher economic class are safer, while those of a lower economic class are not. For example, Guatemala City is divided into 24 zones versus neighborhoods. Wolfos stays out of zones 3, 18, 21 and parts of 11 and 12 which are considered “red zones” because he knows he does not belong. “When you go there, local people start to scan your tattoos because they have gang problems,” Wolfos said. “They have to scan your tattoos and talk to you a little bit to see that everything is fine.”
Today, Wolfos notices other tattoo artists exhibiting arrogant and superior behavior, like “rockstars.”
“A good tattooer has to be humble, nice,” Wolfos said. “The best tattoo artists let their work speak for itself.” Wolfos works Monday through Saturday at Antigua Tattoo, but tattooing isn’t the only thing he enjoys. On Sunday he devotes time to his family and his girlfriend, Sara.
“We aren’t rockstars,” Wolfos said. “We are just normal people.”