Shot! The 13th Brighton Tattoo Convention

Having been to the Brighton Tattoo Convention every year since 2010 — when it was held at the Brighton Racecourse — it’s been a 36-month wait for the 13th show following various postponements and then ultimately cancellations.

Signalling it was indeed back, the organisers did a great job with this year’s branding. Posters fluttered from lamp posts all the way from the station down to the beach and, once again, the street-level windows of the Brighton Centre were festooned with eye-catching images of fully inked torsos, many holding small dogs.

This was also my first visit to the Brighton Centre in months where a Covid passport was not required. Once inside, what immediately struck me was just how busy it was. The place was rammed. But having so much space, meant it rarely felt overcrowded. Indeed, this year’s layout looked to be better arranged than I can recall in previous iterations. All that was missing was a continuation of the branding: there was nothing that proclaimed Brighton Tattoo Convention and the absence of a branded Instagram backdrop was an oversight.

Tattoo artist David Barclay

Walking around the 350-plus artists, it was noticeable that compared with previous conventions, there were few from overseas, no doubt due to Covid travel issues. That aside, with hardly anyone wearing masks, it really was like old times.

Tattoo artist Beatriz Souza

That being said, perhaps the biggest difference for me was quite how many female tattoo artists there were.

Tattoo artist Lol

Back in 2010, they were almost a novelty, but this year it felt like there were more women than men tattooing. What’s more, I wouldn’t be surprised if women accounted for well over half of those being tattooed at the show.

Tattoo artist Dani J

The other noticeable trend was the prevalence of blackwork. The vast majority of tattoos I saw being worked on only used black ink. Few, it must be said, caught my eye. Whilst I didn’t see anything truly innovative, two pieces really impressed me.

The first was Dane Kingswell’s full chest and sleeve piece by Southampton’s Jamie Kerr. My eye was drawn to his stunning photorealistic black and grey portrait of Eminem. When tattooing a famous face, there’s no margin for error and the sublety of Jamie’s needle work shone through.

But my favourite tattoo was more illustrative: a full back piece of a bison head being completed by Brighton-based Sarah Lu.

(Taken with iPhone 12)

Unlike most tattooers who work with electric machines, Sarah uses an actual needle attached to an actual chopstick to ‘hand poke’ her designs. It’s rare to see. And it’s unusual to find such a large single tattoo on someone who has no other inkings.

Of course, no visit to a tattoo convention would be complete without seeing a few standout individuals and three people stood out more than most. Two were artists and one was being tattooed.

Tattoo artist Boff Konkerz

A bald man wearing a clergy’s outfit, in full make-up, black lippy and a skirt, you just couldn’t miss Boff Konkerz.

Alex Varona

Neither could you overlook Alex Varona with his highly distinctive tribal work by John Del Pinto.

Tattoo artist Rafel Delalande

But no one left a more indelible impression than Rafel Delalande, who had a tree tattooed across his face. In fact, only two of the Mallorcan-born tattoist’s fingers and the soles of his feet remain unadorned by ink!

Tattoo artist Beth Talbot

Whilst the convention may have been delayed longer than anyone could have anticipated, there’s no doubt that getting one’s body adorned with ink is more popular now than it’s ever been. Or that Brighton is far and away the UK’s best showcase for those who want to make a lasting impression.

Tattoo artist Mon

Behind the shot: These portraits were taken using the Olympus OM-D E-M1 with the M Zuiko 1.8 75mm lens and the camera’s built-in digital zoom, using available light only. Although they all agreed to have their photo taken, none of the subjects ‘posed’ for these pictures. As always, the challenge for me was to come away with a set of interesting images that were different from those taken by the many other photographers shooting the convention. It’s all too easy, just to go round snapping everything one sees. I’d rather be much more selective and seek out the most eyecatching individuals and then get a great portrait of them. Photographed in Brighton on 19 February 2022.

Alex Varona

About the author: Based in Sussex-by-the-Sea, on England’s south coast, Gary is a creative writer and image-maker. He specialises in out of the ordinary portraits of musicians and people with interesting faces, as well as photographing some of the world’s finest flowers and gardens. On the writing side, he also penned deep dives into some of his favourite songs beginning with Bryan Ferry’s ‘These Foolish Things’ ‘Ghost Town’ by The Specials and ‘All The Young Dudes’ by Mott the Hoople. Most recently, he has written a biography of Robert Palmer and the story behind Whitesnake’s ‘Still Of The Night’. All these can be found here on Medium, along with his reviews of gigs and events and chats with musicians.

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