Shot! The 14th Brighton Tattoo Convention
Once again there was a buzz around Brighton as Britain’s best tattoo show attracted hundreds of artists and thousands of ink aficianados
Perhaps it should be no surprise that the people behind the best branding at the Brighton Centre are those responsible for the city’s annual tattoo show. The rest of the year when the venue hosts concerts, comedians and theatre productions, you really have no idea what’s happening inside as there are no exterior signs at all.
By contrast, the organisers of the two-day Brighton Tattoo Convention do a brilliant job branding the outside of the building with specially commissioned posters of heavily inked artists, the same imagery which adorn so many of the lamp posts from the station right down to the beach.
Of course when it comes to branding, getting inked has never been more popular. Having attended my first BTC in 2010 — when it was held at the Brighton Racecourse — the changes witnessed over the past 13 years have been marked. Back then, tattoos were nowhere near as ubiquitous as they are today and women tattooists in particular were a rare breed.
How things have changed. Nowadays, it seems like everybody has a tattoo, so much so they’ve almost become something we don’t even think twice about.
But what’s made the biggest impression on me has been the rise in women sporting tattoos and the ascendancy of women artists taking tattooing into their own hands in what used to be a male dominated industry.
Indeed, for the second year in a row, I’d guess there were more women artists than men at the show. Being such an intimate business, perhaps it’s no surprise that a feminine touch is more appealing, not just physically, but artistically as well.
And just as last year, a female hand was responsible for my favourite tattoo of the show. In 2022, Sarah Lu’s stunning bison backpiece was hands down the best work I saw being done and this time round the most impressive inking at the show was a full leg being completed by Russian artist Mira Paramonova. Of course, what makes a great work is a matter of opinion. For me, the best tattoos are the ones that are fully thought through designs with each element the work of a single artist.
Back in 2019 I was drawn to Mira’s photo-realistic tiger tattoo, this time she was putting the finishing touches to a colourful comic book piece based around the Kick-Ass character, which playfully featured the word ‘Ouch!’
Despite there being hundreds of artists at the show, I have to say few others this year caught my eye. Whilst I didn’t get to see anything truly innovative, the nature of a big tattoo convention is you have to be in the right place at the right time. It’s all too easy to miss something special being worked on, or not seeing a stand out face because you happen to be somewhere else at the time.
It goes without saying that to stay interesting, an event like this has to keep evolving and introduce new features.
A welcome new addition this year was the Femme Fatale area, a predominantly pink-adorned space filled mostly with female artists.
With a DJ providing the music, it had a vibe that I felt was missing in the main auditorium, with its aisle after aisle of artist booths. There’s something to be said for creating these distinctive smaller spaces and grouping artists together thematically.
Personally, I’d like to see a series of short interviews with renowned artists talking about their favourite pieces and their approach and style commentators assessing the latest trends in designs, as well as innovation talks from those on the tattoo equipment side. Speaking of which, I noticed numerous artists using wireless tattoo machines at the show.
What I didn’t see however was any really outstanding faces. Having photographed the convention for a dozen years or so, the truth is my bar is set high and it takes something special to get my attention.
Something I did notice this year that I can’t say I’ve ever seen before, were two occasions when two artists — who just happened to be women — were both working on the same piece at the same time. In the world of tattooing, that’s quite a rarity.
What isn’t is getting one’s body adorned with ink. Sporting tattoos is more popular now than it’s ever been, and there’s no question that Brighton is the UK’s best showcase for those who want to make a lasting impression.
Behind the shot: These portraits were taken handheld using my trusty 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. As always, the challenge was to come away with a set of interesting images that were different from those taken by the many others shooting the convention. Photographing tattoo artists working a busy convention is tricky as they’re usually looking down, their booths are cluttered and there are always loads of people in the way. I focused on seeking out the most eye-catching individuals and then getting an equally eye-catching portrait of them. Photographed in Brighton on 25 February 2023.
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 creating 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, not forgetting an array of automotive exotica.
On the writing side, he has used his research skills to author deep dives into some noteworthy songs beginning with Bryan Ferry’s ‘These Foolish Things’ ‘Ghost Town’ by The Specials and ‘All The Young Dudes’ by Mott the Hoople.
He has also written a biography of Robert Palmer and the stories behind Whitesnake’s blatant Led Zep rip-off, ‘Still Of The Night’ and Harry Styles’ anthem to positivity, ‘Treat People With Kindness’.
Most recently, Gary has penned the fascinating story behind George Orwell’s dystopian novel ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four.’
All these can be found here on Medium, along with his reviews of gigs and events and chats with musicians including the likes of Royal Blood, Joe Satriani and Wolf Alice.