Earlier this month Philly hosted one of the country’s largest tattoo conventions, consisting of more then 200 world famous artists tattooing at the same time under one roof. The convention was every bit as hardcore, grungy, punk-rock and straight up badass as any tat-junkie could ever dream. Presented by Villain Arts and Tattooed Kingpin, the conference brought in around 20,000 ink junkies looking to get tattooed, watch death defying sideshow acts, suspension acts, burlesque, and meet other heavily tattooed people and artists.
As this was my first time attending the internationally recognized, 15-year-young tattoo convention, and my fellow photographer and I had no clue what to expect. I figured that my last experience at the Convention Center, for the Auto Show last month, would in no way provide insight to what to expect this time around. I would say that we entered this show with an open mind and even went as far as accepting the possibility of my body being a (practically) blank canvas in a world head to toe masterpieces and timeless art, and that a second tattoo might be something I could be convinced into.
The first two things I saw as I walked through the main doors at the Pennsylvania Convention Center were very telling of what was to come; The first, was a sea of ink-covered flesh, intentionally exposed on one of the coldest nights of the year by women dressed in short shorts and tank tops, and barebacked men with saran wrap protecting their fresh tats. Wind-burn and Hypothermia are a minor sacrifice when being presented with the opportunity to show off the intricate designs that define their host-human on such a large scale display of the country’s most expressive body art. This aspect of the convention was a given, the tattoo community has established a massive following bringing thousands of years ago, with exponential growth and acceptance in the 21st century, leading to the present era of Reality TV hit shows like TLC’s Miami Ink, Spikes Ink Master, Oxygen’s Best Ink, and countless network spin-offs.
The second thing that I saw was far more alarming; there were large signs all over the entrance that read, “No Alcohol, no weapons, no colors.” You could hear people in line waiting to get searched by security asking each other, “what the hell are colors?” I’ve heard this term before in similar context, at a concert of some sort I think, and don’t quote me it because I certainly didn’t attempt ask anyone for a definitive meaning, but I’m pretty sure your colors would be your gang affiliation. Awesome. I’m walking into an episode of Gangland, (I watch too much History Channel) except in worse because we will be in an enclosed crowed space with not nearly enough emergency exits and where everyone but me and my partner are strapped with potentially dangerous tattoo guns.
To my great relief, my thoughts of a turf war breaking out before my very eyes were far from anything close to what was happening on the inside. Instead, I was submerged in a maze of the most eclectic, outgoing, and eccentric creative minds and ink lovers, all sharing their passion for the craft and supporting their trade along side their friends, foes, and comrades.
There was no sense of imposing conflict. If there was any beef between members of the various shops it felt more like the childish, socially imposed rivalry as if they all grew up on the same block and went to the same grade school. I had so much respect for all the men and woman who traveled from all over the country to come have their work critiqued, judged and praised literally in the same breath as their competitors, whose book was propped open a matter of feet away from their own.
The giant showroom was lined with rows upon rows of tables shacked with the thick books, prints and portfolios compiled of each shops distinctive work and talented artists’ designs. Some of the most notable artists were NY Ink’s Megan Massacre, Myke Chambers from Sullen Art Collective, Amy Nicoletto previously from Kat Von D’s LA Ink, Spike TV’s Permanent Mark, the world famous pioneer of tattoo shops Bristol Tattoo Club cam all the way from the UK, Jerry Swallow, and South Streets most famous tattooing artifact, Crazy Philadelphia Eddie.
Walking through the isles and flipping through the books of sketches-turned-tattoos, I realized that there was simply too many tattoos for me to choose just one. Instead I settled on a lovely print from Tazz Tattoos. Perhaps next year I’ll have a little more confidence and a lot more decisive and, like so many others in this city, bite the bullet and take advantage of the everything the Philadelphia Tattoo Convention has to offer and get some fresh ink.
Written by Bryanna Carzo