2007 Philadelphia Tattoo Arts Convention

Over 3 days in February 2007, more than two hundred leading tattoo artists from across the United States occupied the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Philadelphia. They came to tattoo, to study other artist's tattoos and to celebrate their craft. Hundreds more came to be tattooed in public booths and to show and see body art.

Young and older people with small and large tattoos filled the escalators, lobbies and corridors of the hotel. Body modifications were everywhere: face and nose piercings, tattooed eyebrows and eyeliner, liberty spikes and fanned mohawks, ear lobe inserts, body painting, scarification, embedded forehead horns, bifurcated tongues. Even in bad hotel lighting, the ancient and modern culture of body art was resplendent.


My daughter Lauren and I went to take pictures. We wanted to capture the strangeness of sustained physical intimacy on public display. People who like tattoos like to be photographed. Most artists and subjects welcomed our tight lens work, so long as we stayed clear of their proprietary tattoo style sheets.

Late in the afternoon, while I covered the tattoo competition, Lauren found a dark, steamy back room with a low-set stage. She burrowed close to photograph performing spark eaters, sword swallowers and suspension artists.

Beer cost $6 a bottle. Pins, hats, piercing jewelry and other souvenirs were priced to sell. I bought a $3 lapel pin that said TOP DAWG for my white physician's coat.

Afterwards, outside in the night, lit by street lights and window displays, the people we passed on our way home looked ordinary. Unenhanced.