In the heart of Oshkosh, amidst a vibrant community of artists and creators, I had the distinct privilege of photographing a remarkable woman who wears many hats—Carrie Olson. A local tattoo artist, muralist, and co-owner of 920 Tattoo Company, Carrie's artistic journey is nothing short of inspiring. As a young 21 year old woman in Wisconsin Dells, Carrie was a waitress looking for her first tattoo. After completely falling in love with ambiance of Point Blank Tattoo, she applied to be a counter girl. She later apprenticed for piercing, and even managed the shop in the summers of 2004 and 2005. The artist who taught her to pierce saw her potential and interest in tattooing and after asking her three times if she was interested in learning, Carrie said yes. She worked part time for Steve Gold of Steve’s Tattoo while studying and working on her apprenticeship in Madison, WI, and traveling to his three different locations as a piercer before settling down in Oshkosh, which she and her husband now call home as a family and for their shop 920 Tattoo, which they opened is 2012 in downtown Oshkosh. 

Carrie's journey as a local business owner holds significance for me as a fellow female entrepreneur and artist. I initially got in touch with Carrie during the late spring season. Over the course of a few years, I had been photographing tattoos done by Carrie on various individuals, including friends, family, and clients and so I know and enjoy her work very much.

The idea to capture images of an inked woman had been on my mind for a bit, and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to work with Carrie. Having heard she had appreciation for my photography, it felt like a natural choice for a collaboration. I extended an invitation to her to participate in a photoshoot that would both capture the inked images I wanted represented in my portfolio, and also give her a creative freedom to have the kind of session I offer to my clients, artistic control over the direction we go!

 In our creative portrait session titled "How Others See Me vs. How I See Myself," Carrie's story unfolded before my lens, revealing the dichotomy between her external perception and her intrinsic identity.

Carrie Olson's story is a testament to the power of embracing one's true self despite external perceptions. As a tattoo artist and muralist, she has an undeniable presence—one that is often seen as intimidating by those who don't know her intimately. Yet, beneath this exterior lies a soul that resonates with the spirit of a flower child, a creative at heart who thrives on color, connection, and self-expression.

“At first I was trying to think of the idea for my to different looks as just that, style of clothing or the fashion part of a shoot. I felt I didn't really express myself through fashion, which lead to the thought that I had 2 different sets of clothing: the one I wore when I am playing the role of tattoo artist, and the one I wear when I am just me. That made me think about the difference between peoples perception of themselves vs. how others view them.” —Carrie Olson

Our portrait session was more than just a photo shoot; it was a journey of self-discovery and expression. Carrie's journey was beautifully expressed through the darker black and white images in the studio depicting a tough, tattooed exterior that the world perceives. In another, she was surrounded by trees and adored wildflowers in her boots, a flowery artistic soul who loves to steal away to the quiet only trees can offer for some much needed rest.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Carrie after our session to show her the images we created and ask her about the experience of not just doing the photoshoot, but seeing the images themselves. “My first feeling upon seeing the images was "wow, these photos make me look gorgeous." Seeing the images combined with the shoot and our conversations throughout the whole process made me realize that the shoot was also who I really am vs. my projection of what others think of me, or part of who I used to be. Maybe even, what I thought I was expected to be. Seeing these and thinking about who I was in the past made me glad to be 42 year old me. More comfortable being me, the real me. 20 year old me would have never thought her future self would have gotten involved with half the things I have.

I know if I had done this shoot at 20 or 30 it would have looked entirely different, what they would have looked like at this point I can't say, I fell like 20 year old Carrie is at least 4 versions of Carrie ago.” --Carrie Olson

Carrie Olson's presence in the Oshkosh community extends beyond her artistry. She is an advocate for creativity, a driving force for artistic expression, and a valuable member of the Oshkosh Beautification committee since 2022, having served in both Member Co as the first tattoo artist, and the Downtown BID Board. Through her journey, Carrie exemplifies the importance of embracing authenticity and defying societal norms and expectations. A theme of talking with Carrie that really resonates with me is that she is always up for a challenge or a new experience that will lead her to a new passion or to learn a new perspective. 

As a photographer, capturing Carrie's transformation from an intimidating figure to a radiant flower child was a privilege and an honor. It served as a reminder that each person's story is a blend of how others see them and how they perceive themselves, and that our true selves deserve to shine, unburdened by preconceived notions.

The experience of photographing Carrie Olson's transformative portrait session was a celebration of identity, artistry, and self-discovery. Through her captivating story, we are reminded that we have the power to define ourselves, to break free from the constraints of others' perceptions, and to embrace the full spectrum of our authentic selves. Carrie's journey from an intimidating presence to a vibrant flower child is a testament to the strength of creative expression and the importance of being true to oneself.

Thank you Carrie, for the generosity you extended to me in sharing in art and conversation over these last couple months, I'm so glad we got to do this together and I know we'll work together again soon! -Cece