Mike Proto

Tattoos have always mesmerized me. They are what I originally wanted to focus this photo column around. People literally choosing to sit through pain to permanently change their skin — mindboggling. And then it hit me, tattoos are scars that you choose. Scars can come in so many forms, and tattoos are basically The Louvre of scars. They hurt, they scab over, and then they become art.

I was directed to Mike Proto, because, well, he has a lot of tattoos. What made me choose him for this project was the fact that he is an elementary school teacher who also has a lot of tattoos. You just don’t hear that every day. Another thing I find compelling about his artwork is the fact that every inch is significant to his life and family. I appreciate the fact that he has chosen each tattoo with careful consideration about his life, which shows the importance of his family. We all have scars, he chose most of his.

Mike Proto, 37, an elementary school teacher from Peabody, Massachusetts, shows off his full back-piece tattoo in his backyard. Proto got the tattoo to signify his life in Boston and the transition to family-life in Savannah, Georgia.
Mike Proto, 37, an elementary school teacher from Peabody, Massachusetts, shows off his full back-piece tattoo in his backyard. Proto got the tattoo to signify his life in Boston and the transition to family-life in Savannah, Georgia.

“All of my tattoos represent a part of my family or a part of my life. The lower portion of my back represents the city of Savannah. The purpose of this was to highlight the fact that I have spent the last 15 years of my life in this city.  I love this town, my kids love this town and as a family it has bonded up together. The upper portion of my back represents the city of Boston. This city is where I grew up and lived for 18 years of my life.  I created the tattoo of joining these two cites together because it has made me who I am today.”

Mike Proto, 37, an elementary school teacher from Peabody, Massachusetts, has tattoos on his left shoulder that represent his children's zodiac signs. The lion represents his daughter, Alex, who is a Leo, and the bull represents his son, Colvin, who is a Taurus.
Mike Proto, 37, an elementary school teacher from Peabody, Massachusetts, has tattoos on his left shoulder that represent his children’s zodiac signs. The lion represents his daughter, Alex, who is a Leo, and the bull represents his son, Colvin, who is a Taurus.

“The left shoulder tattoos are my two kids, Alex, a Leo, and Colvin, Taurus. It is surrounded by the Massachusetts state flower, the mayflower. The family crest is for Proto. The right shoulder tattoo is the tree of life with birthstones in the tree to represent my mother, my father, my sister, Alexandria, Colvin and my wife Tara.”

Mike Proto, 37, an elementary school teacher from Peabody, Massachusetts, says his tattoos represent his family and his life. Collectively, his artwork has taken well over 20 hours to complete.
Mike Proto, 37, an elementary school teacher from Peabody, Massachusetts, says his tattoos represent his family and his life. Collectively, his artwork has taken well over 20 hours to complete.

“The decision to get a full back piece wasn’t something that was originally planned.  I had a few smaller tattoos, but over time I lost interest in them.  I was looking to do something bold and different.  I would love to have a full sleeve tattoo, but my profession doesn’t really afford me this chance.  To me, it makes influencing kids on how to make proper choices a little harder.  I set out to start covering up some of my older tattoos. As I did this, my tattoo artist, Brian, and I started tossing around the idea of a full back piece.  It has taken me almost two years to finalize my back, but I love how it looks.  I have nothing against smaller tattoos, but I love the look of a large statement piece.  It also provides me with opportunities to talk about my family.”