Posts Tagged ‘photography’

Identity.  What springs to mind when you hear the word identity?  And how does that relate to art?

Let’s now take those general questions and narrow it down to the work of three artists, or photographers to be more precise: Suzy Lake, Lori Blondeau, and Shelley Niro.  I haven’t chosen those women randomly; I’m writing about them because their work is on view if you go to the Ryerson Image Centre.  Suzy Lake’s photos are on display in the main gallery inside while Lori Blondeau and Shelley Niro’s are showing outside.  The latter two were installed as part of the CONTACT Photography Festival.

below:  Three large images of the Lori Blondeau draped in red while standing on a rock adorn three of the large boulders in Devonian Square.   They are part of her “Asiniy Iskwew” work.  The title is Cree and translates to “Rock Woman”.    In this work, the rocks on which she stands refer back to Mistaseni which was a large sacred boulder that once marked a gathering place.   The Saskatchewan government dynamited it in the 1960’s to make room for a man made lake.

photograph or painting of a woman in red standing on a rock, directly onto the surface of a large rock in a shallow pool of water outside Ryerson Image Center, three large black and white photographs of people's heads are above and behind the artwork

The words on the wall say that Blondeau questions (“interrogates”) how the definitions of Indigenous identity are influenced by popular media and culture, not just in this exhibit but in the rest of her art as well.   Her point here is that pictures of strong woman run counter to how popular culture portrays Indigenous women.

photograph or painting of a woman in red standing on a rock, directly onto the surface of a large rock in a shallow pool of water

My questions – What and/or who shapes your identity?  That question can mean “Your” as in you the individual and it can mean “Your” as in some collective group that you belong to.     How does identity evolve?  Can it be changed?

How does history affect your identity?  As one who has done a lot of genealogy research I understand the importance of history to some people.  I have traced my Canadian ancestors – I know where they’re buried and I know where they lived.   For me that is a comfort.  But I also know that if you want to kill a conversation just bring up the subject of genealogy.  Not everyone is interested.

Back to photography and history –

A second indigenous woman artist is Shelley Niro whose work is titled “Battlefield of my Ancestors”.  It consists of 6 photographs that were taken in upstate New York and in southwestern Ontario.  The pictures are in the garden with the statue of Egerton Ryerson (1803 – 1880), the man who Ryerson University is named after.   He was many things including a Methodist minister, a founder of Victoria College (part of the University of Toronto), a Chief Superintendent of Education for Upper Canada, and the person who wrote a report/study on Native education (1847) that became the model for the residential schools thirty years later.

below: Ryerson standing in the greenery with a picture on either side of him.  On the left is a picture of a plaque in New York state that says: “Site of Indian village Gar-Non-De-Yo destroyed during Sullivan campaign Sept 21, 1779”.  On the right is a black and white picture of the Mohawk River in New York state.

statue of Egerton Ryerson in a small garden with shrubs and small trees. Two large photographs also in the picture, one on each side of the statue

below:  Photo taken of a rock at Cayuga Lake.

photo of a small plaque on a rock exhibited amongst shrubs and greenery outside

The plaque says:
Site of “A very pretty Indian town of ten houses” burned September 21, 1779. See page 76 “Journals of the military expedition of Major General John Sullivan” published by the state

Back a few lines I called Niro an “indigenous woman artist”.   I don’t know if she’d be comfortable with that.  Maybe yes, maybe no.   I used those words because they help to understand her work in the context of this blog.   Should I then use the description “white woman artist” to talk about the third person, Suzy Lake?

Lake’s photography career began in the 1970’s and for the first two decades was primarily concerned with female identity.  In almost all her photos, she is the subject.  The 1970’s were the days of  Women’s Lib and the rise of “Feminism” – the quest for political reforms on issues such as reproductive rights, domestic violence, maternity leave, and equal pay.  It was also a time of increased questioning of cultural norms with regard to women’s roles.  In many ways it resembled the increase of awareness of indigenous identity, rights, and problems that we see today.

large black and white photograph in a gallery, two men on top of a large frame are controlling the movements of a human puppet

 large photo in a gallery of a women dressed just in a long slip, sweeping up debris from the floor. Debris is bits and chunks of plaster that have been removed from the wall

below: Her most recent work involves pictures of her standing in an environment of some sort.  The photo is a one hour exposure and the end result is an image where only she and inanimate objects are present and in focus.  Here is “Extended Breathing in the Rivera Frescos” 2013-2014.   The painting behind her is one in a series by Mexican artist Diego Rivera at the Detroit Institute of the Arts.

three suzy lake photos, one of her in front of a mural and two are close ups of her face

colour photo of close up of a woman's face, just mouth, bottom part of nose and some cheek. She is wearing bright red lipstick

Monday’s walk was a meandering route downtown, once again going where my feet and eyes take me.  No particular plan in mind and no set destination…   just trying to explore where I haven’t been recently.   No theme jumped out and tapped me on the shoulder but a few “stories” emerged.

below: There is now a 3D sign between the CN Tower and the Aquarium that says Canada 150.

a young boy is leaping from the D of the 3D Canada 150 sign in front of the CN Tower, and is leaping onto the top of the A. His hands are on the top of the A, one foot is one the side of the A and the other foot is near the top of the D

below:  …and another 3D sign by the CN Tower (you can see part of the back of the Canada 150 sign through the tree). I wonder how many there are in this city now?   Another bit of information (trivia?) – this area is called Bobbie Rosenfeld Park and has been since 1991. Fanny (“Bobbie”) Rosenfeld was a Canadian athlete who won two track medals  in the 1928 Olympics.   She also played softball and hockey in the 1920s and 30s.  When arthritis force her to stop playing she turned to sports journalism, working for the ‘Globe and Mail’ until her retirement in 1955.

3D sign for the CN tower with tourists taking pictures in front of it. Canada 150 3D sign in the background as well as some people sitting around on benches

One of the routes from the CN Tower into the downtown core of the city is via the Skywalk, a glass enclosed elevated walkway over the railway tracks.  The next few photos were taken as I walked that route.

below: A Toronto species of woodpecker in its native habitat – a forest of glass and steel. This artwork was completed in 1997 and is the creation of Dai Skuse and Kim Kozzi who together are known as Fastwurms.

large sculpture of a woodpecker on a pole in the foreground, many glass skyscrapers condos in the background

below: The above photo was taken from a quiet little terrace that I accessed from the Skywalk. Now you can see just how big the woodpecker is!  The ‘tree trunk’ pole is 30m high.  What you can’t see is the second woodpecker who is on the other side of the pole and slightly farther down it.

a concrete terrace, with benches and planters with purple flowers, lots of condos in the background, one person standing there

below:  The glass of the Skywalk creates some interesting reflections and shadows.  The glass was fairly clean the other day when I walked through it.  I have seen it when it’s been quite dirty and it’s not a pretty sight.

reflections of a woman walking on the Skywalk between Union Station and the convention center, with views of the street below and buildings beyond also in the frame
reflected in the red glass of the entrance to the CN tower are two women walking

below: Union Station, looking east from the Skywalk.   The new roof over the station platforms is taking shape.  Someday soon I’m going to have to take a look at the insides of the station; I can’t wait for all the renovations to be completed.

union station as seen from the west, from the skywalk, with open air tracks as well as the covered platforms. New roof over the platforms, tall buildings in the background

below: Part of the south “wall” along the railway tracks.

buildings reflected in another glass building right beside the trains tracks south of Union Station

below: Looking east from lower Simcoe along the south edge of the Gardiner Expressway.   The podium of the new condo under construction at 10 York Street is quite the wedge!

construction of a tall condo beside the gardiner expressway. The bottom of the condo is a wedge shape to maximize the space available

below: I played a bit on google maps street view and this is what I found for the above scene (taken Nov 2016).  If you compare the photos (above & below), it’s obvious that one of the ramps for the Gardiner Expressway has been demolished.   The eastbound exit to Yonge/York/Bay was removed a couple of months ago.  If you are a regular user of the Gardiner, I’m sure you have already experienced the consequences of this!

screenshot of google maps street view of Lower Simoce stret just south of the Lakeshore, one of the offramps for the Gardiner, a new condo under construction

below: Standing on the same spot, but turning around 180 degrees – looking west from Lower Simcoe.  An old ramp in the foreground…. and what looks like new construction in the background.  Those are new bents (the structures that hold up the road).

under one of the Gardiner Expressway ramps, with new bents being built for a new ramp in the background.

below: To get a closer look at what was happening here, I ventured around to the other side .  This is the view from closer to Rees Street. There is car on the old ramp so it must still be open (onramps still functional, just the offramp was removed).

two "cherry pickers" parked in front of new bents being constructed for a new ramp for the Gardiner Expressway

below: The trees are growing at Canada Square (Harbourfront), but so are the condos.  Yes, this new building is the same one with the wedge shaped lower floors.

view from Canada Place (Queens Quay West) with a clump of birch trees in the foreground and 3 highrise buildings in the background - two older ones and one in the middle that is under construction.
below: Also at Canada Square, there are three large photographs by Johan Hallberg-Campbell, a series called “Coastal”.   This one of them:

a large photograph of a run down building, northern, on the side of a concrete structure that is an entrance to the underground parking

below: More of Hallberg-Campbell’s work can be seen inside in the Artport Gallery (Harbourfront building) – here, many photographs with simple wood frames are mounted on a wall that is covered with large images.  “Coastal” is the product of the artist’s travels to coastal areas of Canada, from Newfoundland to northern Manitoba to British Columbia and many places in between.   Life on the edge, so to speak.  (Note: gallery show ends 18th June)

three colour photos in simple light wood frames mounted on a wall that is covered with large images

below: It’s not art but sometimes the line between public art and advertising campaigns is fuzzy.

a man walks on the sidewalk below a largef ad for Apple watches.  The photo is cropped so that the only part of the ad that shows is a hand on the handle bar of a bike.  A bright turquoise watch is on the person's wrist

Not all is shiny and new.   And that’s the way it should be.

metal grille, part of a barricade along the side of a parking structure, rusted,

parking structure on the top, old door and wall on the bottom. A wood picnic table in disrepair is in front of the door

As I’ve mentioned before, I tried to see as many of the CONTACT Photography exhibits as I could in the last few days of May.  I blogged about two weeks ago about the ‘blocks’ at Brookfield Place.  I have been meaning to finish posting about the other exhibits I saw but there’s so much happening in the city.  I’ve been spending a lot of time walking with my camera instead of sitting in front of my computer.

Two of the exhibits that I saw were on King St West, one by Metro Hall and the other on the corner of the TIFF Lightbox building.   I haven’t been able to figure out what to say about the photos so they have sat in a folder on my hard drive.   Unfortunately they are not alone.  Yesterday I went back to take another look at the exhibits and think through a few thoughts, but the photos are gone.  Procrastination has its pitfalls.  TIFF Lightbox is now promoting their “Canada on Screen” program – all year, all free – as part of the Canada 150 celebrations.

I’ll just let the pictures do the talking.

below: The corner of Widmer and King back in May.  The photos are “On Location” by Sam Cotter.

large photo on the corner of a building, taken during a movie shoot on the streets of Toronto (Bay St), a young man is sitting against the other side of the corner of the building asking passers by for money.

bikes parked in front of a large photo mounted on the side of the TIFF lightbox building, showing an orange movie shoot cone and a fake city street sign.

below: A similar viewpoint, taken yesterday.  Different pictures.. and different bikes.

bikes parked in front of a large poster advertising TIFF's Canada on Screen program, a collage of black and white pictures taken from movies.

The other exhibit was “The Sum of All Parts” by Jalani Morgan.

I was away for most of the month of May so I missed a lot of the annual Contact Photography Festival.  In the few days that I had to catch up, I visited a few of the exhibits.  One of these was ‘Nous ne somme pas des heros’ (We are not heroes) by Valerie Blass at the Allen Lambert Galleria in Brookfield Place.

two large cubes constructed from pieces of photos of different people in different positions sit in the middle of Brookfield Place, under the glass arched roof.

Blass arranged people in sculpture-like poses and then photographed them from different angles.  The photographs were then cut into sections, glued on blocks,  and then the ‘sculptures’ were re-assembled.

a large stack of blocks with black and white photos of people on them by Valerie Blass.

The subjects of the sculptures are anonymous.  Their “bodies fold inward, their differences intertwine and merge into single entities” (source).

photographs of the back of a person with another person sitting on his shoulders, upper person is leaning forward with head down, the blocks on which the photos are printed are in the walkway at Brookfield Place

bottom part of photos by Valerie Blass on a block at Brookfield Place as part of Scotiabank Contact photography festival, feet. Also the feet of people walking past.

Myseum of Toronto is a fairly new addition to the cultural fabric of the city.  It is a museum without walls.  It is an organization that helps deliver programming to different locations in the GTA.  Last night, March 6, at City Hall, Myseum of Toronto launched its second annual festival of events and exhibitions.  This festival, Myseum Intersections,  consists of 36 different events and exhibits spread around the city throughout the month of March.   “One Toronto.  Infinite Perspectives” is the motto of this year’s festival.

In keeping with that motto is an exhibit called ‘Cosmopolis Toronto: The World in One City’.   It was showcased at the Myseum Intersections launch party.   A few months ago it was on display at 18 libraries around the city but it has been brought together in one exhibit for the festival.   At the moment it can be seen on the ground floor of City Hall but it will also spend some time at Metro Hall and then end the month at the North York Civic Center.   (schedule at the bottom of the post).

people looking at an exhibit of photos and stories that are printed on upright posters standing on the floor.

“Cosmopolis” consists of a series of portraits and interviews by Colin Boyd Shafer.   The goal was to find a person from every country in the world who now calls Toronto home, hence its tagline “Photographing the world, one Torontonian at a time”.   I am not sure if that goal was attained, but the series is a fascinating look at a very diverse group of people.

Cosmopolis posters on display at City Hall as part of Myseum Intersections festival

Cosmopolis posters of Andrea from the Congo and Nevena from Serbia

Two photos were taken of each person.     The first was a portrait taken in a Toronto location where they felt “at home”.  The second was of an object that they felt connected them to their country of birth.

cosmopolis posters of immigrants to Toronto from different countries

The Cosmopolis website has more information as well as the portraits and stories of many more new Torontonians.

portrait and story about Yosvani from Cuba, a violin player

cosmopolis posters of immigrants to Toronto from different countries

***

EXHIBITION DATES & TIMES:
MARCH 5 – 8 & 13 – 19
MONDAY – FRIDAY, 8:30AM – 4:30PM
City Hall
100 Queen St W, Toronto

MARCH 9 – 12
MONDAY – FRIDAY, 7:30 AM – 9:30 PM
SATURDAY & SUNDAY, 8AM – 6PM
Metro Hall
55 John St, Toronto

MARCH 20 – APRIL 2
MONDAY – FRIDAY, 7:30AM – 9:30PM
SATURDAY & SUNDAY, 8AM – 6PM
North York Civic Centre
5100 Yonge St, Toronto

#myseumTO | #myseumX

 

 

This post is subtitled ‘Staying Cool on a Hot Hot Day’.  When the temperatures are into the 90’s (old style) and the humidity makes the air thick, walking streets and alleys is not very comfortable.  Instead I took refuge in air conditioned arty places.  With the help of the (mostly) air conditioned TTC I only needed to take a few steps outside.

below: At one point I walked through an air conditioned building rather than going outside.  This is what I found there. ‘August 6, 1945’ by Matthew Day Jackson.  Moments after I pulled my camera out of my backpack, a security guard appeared.  I was sure that once again I was going to get the “this is private property” talk but instead we ended up discussing the work and how it is displayed.

It is constructed of four panels and it’s very heavy.  The base is made of lead; you can see the lead where Lake Ontario is.  It is attached to the wall with 18 very long bolts and each bolt is wired to an alarm.

map of toronto made of charred wood and lead, meant to resemble the city after an atomic bomb, large, made by Matthew Day Jackson, hanging on a wall behind a metal railing.

below:  Looking a bit more closely at it you can see that it is a map of Toronto.  As you might have surmised,  the title is a reference to the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima by the USA during WW2.    This isn’t just any map of Toronto, it’s an aerial view of a burnt out city after a nuclear explosion.  It is one in a series of cities given similar treatment, all with the same title.

detail of the islands and downtown area of map of toronto made of charred wood and lead, meant to resemble the city after an atomic bomb, large, made by Matthew Day Jackson

From the effects of man made death to the life enhancing effects of nature….

below: A few steps outside took me past the Gardiner Museum where I noticed that the front garden was redone about a year ago.  ‘Vertical Crevice Garden’ was designed and donated by landscape artist Neil Turnbull.  From the Gardiner museum website, a quote by the artist: “When the massive forces of continental drift push against layers of sedimentary rock, they cause it to crack, break, and rise. Over centuries, through exposure to wind, sun, and the freeze-thaw cycle, the layers split open. These fissures and crevices collect rain, dust, and an array of windblown bits like seeds and spores; plants take root, and life takes hold.”

limestone rocks arranged on a slant in a garden, stripes of red rock and grey rock, all just a few inches off the ground

below: When walking past the Gardiner Museum, one can’t help but notice the striped head.  It’s actually called ‘Untitled’ (why do artists do that?) and it’s by Jun Kaneko, 2002.  It’s made of glazed ceramic and galvanized steel.   Before heading underground at Museum subway station I took a few minutes to try to take a ‘pretty’ picture of the head.  The plants in the garden next door haven’t quite grown up enough to hide that ghastly table that the head sits on.  I have always wondered why the museum chose such a mundane bland platform for the sculpture but now that I look at it again I wonder if it’s possible that the table is actually part of the artwork.  Could it be?

large striped head sculpture on a table, outside, by Jun Kaneko, old building behind it, lavender and other plants growing in front of it.

below:  A photograph in the doorway of a gallery caught my eye.  The picture below is not the one in the doorway, but one that was hanging on a wall inside that I liked even more.  ‘Paris Rooftops 4’ by Michael Wolf.  It is 48″ x 68″ and is a chromogenic print (full-colour silver-based photograph), edition of 9.   To buy it will set you back $22,000 but looking is free – check out more of Michael Wolf’s work on the Bau-Xi gallery website.

picture of a photograph by Michael Wolf of Paris rooftops. Concrete grey with lots of lines of little terra cotta chimneys

below: A man with a camera stares at a painting on a gallery wall.  ‘Watching’ 2010, (26 inches high) by Tom Campbell on the left and ‘Brown Trail #7’ 2016 by Shi Le, a Toronto based landscape artist.  These are at the other Bau-Xi gallery (the non-photography one)

a small sculpture of a man holding a camera is placed in an art gallery such that he seems to be looking at a painting on the wall.

below: Three paintings by NUBARR Gallery, a collection of the works of Armenian-Canadian painter Noubar Sabag (Noubar Sabbaghian) 1920-2006.   These, and others by the same artist, are on show at the Art Square Cafe & Gallery but unfortunately I just learned that today is the last day.

a woman in a floppy black hat is taking pictures of three paintings hanging on a gallery wall.

below:  How many people try to paint pictures like this?  How many people sell such paintings, not to mention have them hang in the Art Galley of Ontario?  But they aren’t Robert Motherwell.      So I ponder on the age old question of what makes a piece of art valuable or collectable?  Is the AGO (and other galleries) collecting paintings or names?  Motherwell painted this in numerous variations – a few changes in colour, a slight change in the lines.  Cheating?  Or brilliant marketing?  One for every gallery of note? This is Motherwell’s ‘Untitled (In Orange with Charcoal Lines)’ c1970.  There’s that “untitled” again, the most popular name for an artwork.

all orange with 3 black lines that form three sides of a square, top line of the square is missing. It's a picture of a painting by Robert Motherwell in an art gallery

My last stop of the afternoon was at the photography exhibit by Thomas Ruff at the AGO.  Part of the exhibit was a few large photographs of stars,  ‘Sterne’.  Large pictures of stars in the night sky were made from negatives that Ruff bought from the European Southern Observatory in Chile in 1989.

below:  They are difficult to look at, or rather it is difficult to what is the picture because the blackness of the photograph creates a mirror when placed behind glass.   This is me taking a picture of the picture – me plus the picture on the opposite wall plus the lights and light fixtures in the ceiling plus a table plus another person in the room plus a few white spots that are stars.

large photograph of the night sky, lots of stars and blackness. The black acts like a mirror and parts of the gallery are reflected in the picture.

below: ‘Walking Away, Walking Through the Universe’ a manipulation of a manipulation.

a reflection of two people walking hand in hand as seen reflected in a photograph of stars in the black night sky

below:  One last photo.  Let’s end this on a positive note and give Thomas Ruff credit for some interesting work.   These two pictures are part of his press++ series where he has taken old photos used in print medium and merged the front (picture) and back (words and markings) of the print into one.

a woman is standing in an art gallery and she is looking at two large pictures on the wall.

Thomas Ruff, Object Relations, at the AGO until 1 August 2016

There are seven or eight large photographs, portraits of older women, on University Avenue.   They were actually part of the CONTACT Photography Festival and they have been on display outside the Royal Ontario Museum since early May.  The photos are the ‘The Last Tattooed Women of Kalinga”, portraits by Jake Verzosa.

large black and white photo of an older woman with many tattoos, black and white, displayed outside, another portrait in the background

In the villages of the Cordillera mountains of northern Philippines the women have been tattooed with lace-like patterns for centuries.  The tattoos are symbols of stature, beauty, wealth and fortitude and are traditionally applied during rituals.  The tradition is dying out as standards of beauty change and as the old ways are replaced with more modern methods.

Each village once had their own tattooist, or mambabatok, but today only one remains.  Born in 1918, Whang-od (or Fhang-od), is the last person to practice the centuries old technique called batok.  The ink is made of charcoal and water and it is applied by tapping the skin with a thorn.

two older women with their shoulders tattooed, wearing necklaces and a patterned skirt, seated. Black and white

Once the men were also tattooed.  The Kalinga tattoo has evolved from their ancient tradition as warriors and headhunters.  Heads were taken from fights and battles as a trophy; each time a man brought home a head he would receive another tattoo as a reward.  Tattoos were a mark of social status.

Indigenous groups throughout the Philippines practiced tattooing for centuries.   When the Spanish arrived in the 1500’s they called the people ‘pintados’ or ‘painted people’ as it was not uncommon for people to have tattoos covering their whole body.  While some tribes used tattoos to mark status, other tribes believed that tattoos possessed special spiritual or magical powers which gave the individuals strength and protection.  The use of tattoos as protective symbols is an idea that occurs in many cultures.

large black and white photo of an older woman with many tattoos, black and white, displayed outside, another portrait in the background

In conjunction with the Kalinga portraits, the ROM is featuring an exhibit that examines the beliefs surrounding tattoos, and the role that they and other forms of body art play in different cultures over the years.  “Tattoos: Ritual, Identity, Obsession, Art” is on view until September 5th.  It is a global tour of tattoos past and present.

One of the cultures that is featured is the Chinese.  For centuries, tattoos were forbidden, or at least taboo, in China.  To be tattooed was to be discriminated against as they were associated with prisoners or vagrants.  Recently that has begun to change.

below: Three large modern picture tattoos by Taiwanese tattoo artist Gao Bin featuring traditional Chinese images, Buddha, lion and dragon.  Tattoos as a cultural expression.  In some countries such as Sri Lanka and Thailand images of Buddha are considered sacred objects of worship.  While it’s not illegal to have such a tattoo, wearing one could get you into trouble.

Three pictures of the backsides of men, each with a large picture tattoo from neck to thigh. Chinese art pictures as tattoos

below:  Here is another example of why people get the tattoos that they do.  This is a picture of one photograph in a series by Isabel Munoz.  Munoz spent three weeks inside several prisons in El Salvador and photographed mara gangs.  Gang members wear offensive tattoos to assert their antisocial behaviour and express their loyalty to the gangs.  Tattoos as statement; tattoos as a mark of membership and belonging.  Tribal.

photo of a picture in a museum of a man's face that has been tattooed with gang symbols and words,

below: A silicone arm with a tattoo by Montreal artist Yann Black on display.  This is one of 13 commissioned tattoos on silicone body parts – arms, legs and torsos both male and female that are part of the exhibit.   Tattoos as artwork.  Individuality.

a silicone arm has been tattooed with a design that looks something like a cross between Frank Lloyd Wright and Mondrian. It is in a glass showcase in a museum.

The oldest known tattoos were found on Otzi the Iceman, a natural mummy who was found in the Otzal alps near the Austria – Italy border in 1991.  His tattoos were 61 lines ranging in length between 7 and 40 mm.  The lines were arranged in groups.  Most of his tattoos were on his legs where there were 12 groups of lines.  Otzi is estimated to have died between 3239 BC and 3105 BC.

Tattooed mummies have also been found in other places – Greenland, Alaska, Siberia, Mongolia, western China, Egypt, Sudan, the Philippines, and the Andes in South America.  We will probably never know what significance the tattoos had.  Theories abound of course and they often involve reasons like protection, spiritual, status, tribal, or just for decoration.  Reasons that probably ring true today too.  The methods have changed and some of the images have changed, but human nature remains just that, human nature.