Tattoo Convention

NYC Tattoo Convention 2001

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“The decoration, so-called, of the human body by tattoo designs is, in our culture, a barbaric survival, often associated with a morbid or abnormal personality.” -Judge Aron Steuer, Grossman v. Baumgartner.

Back when I used to think that going to tattoo conventions was a fun thing to do, I always loved the NYC Convention held at the Roseland Ballroom. During the years I attended I was lucky enough to have met personalities as diverse as Sonny Barger, Linda Lovelace and Joe Coleman (who’s included in the photos here, along with 90s/2000s convention mainstay Andrew Gore) mixing it up with the tattooed masses.

These photos- scanned from 35mm prints- were from the 2001 NYC Convention. I’ve long since misplaces the artist credits for the tattoos pictured.

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Rudy Inhelder

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I first met Rudy in the early/mid 1990s through the UNIQUE classified ads. A self described ‘tattoo and piercing enthusiast’, Rudy and I exchanged letters and photographs over the years, sharing stories of our own tattoos and experiences. Our correspondence eventually fell off and, as is prone to happen, we lost touch with one another. I’m not sure what ever happened to him, though many of his letters are still in my collection.

Clipper Ship (center of chest) by Sailor Eddie Evans.
Dragons by Alan Oversby.

Rudy is briefly mentioned in an article by Gauntlet’s Jim Ward: http://runningthegauntlet-book.com/BME/jimward/20050715.html

In 1996 Rudy sent me a photocopy of a profile on him from the NTA’s magazine- what follows is a transcript. He did not provide a month/year/issue number.


My interest in tattoos became activated as a youngster in 1954 when I read a critique about Hanns Ebenstein’s book “Pierced Hearts and True Love” in a local newspaper in my native Switzerland. I wrote to Hanns, who in return put me in contact with one of the most famous British artists, Rich Mingins in London. 1955 I was sent to London for further education and then met Rich in person. The same year, probably the first national convention to place in a pub in London, organized by Rich Mingins, , Les Skuse from Bristol and Jessie Knight from Aldershot. This was also the start of my photo collection.

In 1957 I emigrated to the United States and got really involved in tattooing. My first tattoos were done by sailor Eddie Evans in Camden, New Jersey and Paul Rogers who then work with him. Work by Phil Sparrow (Chicago), (then Crazy) Philadelphia Eddie Funk, Huck Spaulding (Albany, N.Y.) and Buddy Mott (Rhode Island) followed.

I then realized that very many people are interested in tattooing, but had difficulties meeting others of the same interest. Therefore, in 1963 some friends and I in New York decided to do something about it. We found it the “Tattoo Club of America “, probably the first American Tattoo club. I collected news items related tattooing and in January 1964 published the first periodical dedicated tattoos, the “Tattoo News”. As a supplement the “History of Tattooing” was added from time to time. Tattoo tidbits and instructive news items, very much in the vein of the column now written by Lal Hardy for “Tattoo international”, where the main attraction of the publication.

On 5 October, 1964 I organized probably the first tattoo convention in the U.S.A. – and if you hadn’t already guessed it, Elizabeth Weinziril was, of course, there. That was the time when a few young artist such a sailor Jerry Collins of Honolulu started to change the style of American tattoos. The beginnings were small and the magazine only mimeographed, but it was a start. Unfortunately my job became more and more demanding so that the December 1966 issue of “Tattoo News” was the last to appear. I had nothing to do with the later magazine which took over my title.

In 1970 the cutback in the defense industry in the USA for which I worked as a physicist, forced me to look around and I went to Munich, Germany to work for a German firm. In 1973 this firm sent me to England, where George Bone and Alan Oversby in London have mainly worked on me since. I have not missed a single convention of the TCCB be since its beginning and felt very honored when I was asked on several occasions to be on the jury of the beauty contests.

It is good to see that the Tattoo tradition continues, many more people get tattooed with better designs, more clubs are founded , more publications printed and more conventions held. It shall continue.

Debra Cooper 1986

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I recently turned in an article for a new British tattoo zine about the tattoo videotapes that were mainstays in the  advertisment section of tattoo magazines of the late 1980s and early 1990s; highbrow offerings like the more structured documentaries that Michael O. Stearns put out through his Metamorphosis II label, erotic offerings from photographer/anthropologist Charles Gatewood’s FLASH VIDEO line and the gonzo films of the legendary Royboy & Debra Cooper of the Badlands of Gary Indiana. The Royboy series especially captures a time/place in tattoo (and biker) culture that’s really unique and were always among my personal favorites.

This photo, scanned from a 3×5 print in the Occult Vibrations archives, features Debra Cooper with work by Royboy. it was taken at a Tattoo Convention in Tennessee in 1986. You can see more of Royboy and Debra by using the Royboy tag.

OVxAMS953: The Enigma versus 22 Tattoo Artists

The third and final Amsterdam Tattoo Convention 1995 clip; this one is the roughest with a little more shaky camera than I’m happy with, but ultimately a pretty fun little video. The sound has been removed due to copyrighted music in the background, so enjoy the silence.

I don’t have a complete list of the artists who tattooed Enigma- offhand I spotted:

  • Alex Binnie
  • Horiyoshi 3
  • Permanent Mark
  • Bob Vessels
  • Crazy Ace Daniels
  • Timothy Hoyer (?)

I’m sure Henk made a full list, but….

OVXAMS95: Amsterdam Tattoo Convention 1995 Video Part 2

This excerpt from the 1995 Amsterdam Tattoo Convention video features Paul Booth, Filip Leu, Mike Wilson, Nalla Smith, Joseph Ari Aloi, Chris Trevino, Paul King, Xed Le Head, Alex Binnie, Curly and Juan Puente.

No audio on this one.

There’s still a little more footage from the convention that needs to be finished up, but it’s really shaky and taking a lot of work to make it usable. Fingers crossed.

Amsterdam Tattoo Convention 1995

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Twenty years ago today my brother Robert (who took the majority of these photos on honest to goodness 35mm film) and I were strolling around in Amsterdam’s famous Red Light District, winding down from Hanky Panky’s Amsterdam Tattoo Convention. We had spent the previous three days at the Beurs van Berlage, the Damrak’s former commodities exchange and current convention venue, snapping pictures, getting tattooed and- for two L7 farm boys from Florida (I was 20 at the time) enjoying an inescapable contact high from the dozens (or hundreds) of convention go-ers who were enjoying the city’s liberal drug policy. For the last twenty years I’ve used Henk’s event as the yardstick by which I’ve measured every other tattoo convention I’ve attended and one by one they’ve all fallen short. The vibe was perfect; casual and energetic with each booth pushing out one amazing tattoo after the other. As the nights wore on people didn’t leave- they’d grab some floor space to sit down with old and new friends to shoot the shit about tattoos, travel, whatever. The tattoo world was considerably smaller then and every person you met had the potential to be a new friend- I still maintain friendships with folks I met that weekend.

Everything lined up perfectly, including an Amsterdam tour date for the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow- which led to one of the more memorable  events of the weekend- The Enigma, tattooed head to toe in puzzle pieces- had 22 (or 23?) of the attending artists- from Henk and Horiyoshi III to Bob Vessels and Alex Binnie- fill in some of his open outlines with his trademark blue. At the same time. It took quite a bit of maneuvering to get everyone working together, but the craziness of it fit in perfectly with the gonzo  goings on at the show and while I only managed to snap one photo of it (which I didn’t get a chance to scan tonight) I do have it on video. One of these days I’ll get a working 8mm video camera and will get that footage online.

It’s surreal to be able to look back on an event that still seems so fresh in my mind and realize that two decades have passed. I’m happy to be able to share these photos with you folks.

Philly Gets Inked Excerpt (sorta)

This has been a really frustrating process so far.
I’m not sure what the issue is, but my video capturing system has been un-synching the audio of any longer recording (it seems to be over 10 minutes now) and I’m not sure if it’s the software, the hardware or just dumb luck. In any case, I’m going to have capture smaller sections and flex my editing muscles to get it back into one piece. Until then, I apologize that the audio is slightly off in this first excerpt from Michael O. Stearns’ PHILLY GETS INKED.

This clip features a very young team of Bernie Luther and Guy Aitchison tattooing in their hotel room due to an overbooked 1990 NTA Convention in Philadelphia. It’s strange to think that Aitchison, who’s widely regarded as one of the most influential tattooists of his generation, used to be the new guy. He tattooed me not long after this video was filmed (which is also strange to think about- it’s been almost 25 years) and while his style has evolved over the years you can see the roots of his aesthetic in this clip.

Bernie Luther was also coming into his own during the early part of the 1990s. As spoiled as we are with Instagram, Tumblr and blog culture it’s easy to forget the impact that ‘the magazines’ had on an artist’s career before the rise of social networking and instant uploads. The magazines- most notably Outlaw Biker’s TATTOO REVUE and Easyrider’s TATTOO were content machines, needing constant grist for the mill. An artist getting magazine coverage would expose them to a worldwide audience and provide bragging rights and validation with some tattoo fans becoming ‘collectors’ who sought out artists who regularly appeared in print. Obviously same can be said for Social Media, but back then it was a much smaller community.

But I digress. I’ll work on getting the audio synch issue fixed and to get the tape back to it’s generous owner as soon as I can.

Until then- enjoy!