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IN TOKYO: A mistress of a Yakuza organized crime boss: Yakuza membersÂ’ full-body tattoos show images of Japanese mythology and legends. (Chris Rainier, Oceanside Museum of Art)

IN OUR pop culture-obsessed society, tattoos and body piercings have come to symbolize rebellious youth or a trendy fashion statement. In other cultures they reflect sacred beliefs, forge identities or simply tell stories.

Chris Rainier, a National Geographic editor and documentary photographer, has captured the rituals and cultural traditions behind this symbolic body altering art form in the exhibition "Ancient Marks: The Sacred Origins of Tattoos and Body Marking" at Oceanside Museum of Art.

Rainier, who trained in darkroom methods while working as an assistant to Ansel Adams in the early 1980s, is dedicated to documenting the disappearing cultures and tribes remaining on the planet

On display are more than 100 black and white photographs taken over a seven-year period of travels from the savannas of Africa to the streets of Los Angeles. The exhibition runs through Aug. 24. -- Liesl Bradner