Seeing a fully tattooed person in a shady neighborhood can create all kinds of negative assumptions. But sometimes (if not most of the time) they’re just stereotypes, that actually make the lives of these people quite a bit harder. That’s the topic photographer Steven Burton explores in his photo series “Skin Deep” where he removes tattoos from ex-gang members to show the person beneath.

When I started Skin Deep I had a simple concept: take portraits of heavily tattooed ex-gangsters and do tattoo removal using digital re-touching to create before and after portraits,” Burton writes on his Kickstarter page. “Most of the homeboys/girls hadn’t seen themselves without the gang tattoos for decades, so during the interviews, I presented the photoshopped images. There was a deep emotional response by the subjects.

These images inspire personal insight from the subjects and elicit questions of how we as a society perceive and judge those with tattoos and how this stigma goes so far as to influence these former gang member’s perception of themselves.

The photographer spent two years and over 400 hours on Photoshop to create the cool photos and turn it into a book. The last thing that’s missing is your support on Kickstarter.

More info: kickstarter | steven burton | (h/t: demilkeddesignboom)