Porn, best stud and orgasm-contests and still family orientated? The Tattoo Body Art Expo in San Francisco is just one of seven on the tour of Megaproductions gigantic shows in the American tattoo world and its goal is to be big, varied and weird…
"You should go to the convention in Pomona. It’s better. It’s even bigger than this one!”
As the guy in the smoking area outside the Cow Palace points out, big is a key word when talking about this specific chain of conventions that are held twice annually in San Francisco and Pomona, and once a year in Arizona, San Diego and Houston. One of three, actually. At least according to Baba at Vintage Tattoo in Los Angeles, the main sponsor of the show:
“It all started in July 2003”, he says. “Megaproductions is a company who puts on large productions of any kind and they wanted a large scale tattoo convention. So they called Skin ‘n’ Ink Magazine. At the time I had a column called “The Gospel According To Baba” in the magazine so they turned Megaproductions on to me since I’ve been tattooing since the 80’s. The idea is to show off many different styles on a large scale.” Which brings us key word number two, variety. At least within certain boundaries.
“We always try to give the customer as much value for his or her money as possible, but it’s all tattoo related. Other conventions have burlesque shows, concerts, hot rod shows and so on, but not us. We do, however, have competitions to hype up the crowd before the tattoo contests… ‘Hey Crazy! What’s the weird thing we have today?’” Down one of the aisles comes a man in shades and long white, braided hair underneath a bandana and a black top hat. He presents himself as “Crazy” and he’s the presenter during the contests; “I think it’s Best Stud today”, he says. “Let me have a look. Yes, it is.” Key word number three, weird.
“Usually a kid wins the contest for Best Stud”, Baba says with a smile. “Some parent will put him up there. We also have the contests for Best Ass and Best Orgasm where people come up and fake orgasms. The guys from China love that and it works well here in San Francisco. In Chicago, however, where we used to have a convention as well, they didn’t get it at all. In San Francisco they’re more open to all that perverted stuff.”
In the booth next to Vintage Tattoo sits Joanna Angel, the owner of one of the tattoo related companies that attends many of these conventions. Burning Angel is a porn company where most employees are tattooed. At the conventions she sells movies, posters, photos, and she sees a clear connection between her line of work and tattoos.
“First of all, I think tattoos are sexy and two cultures have many similarities. People who are into tattoos are normally exhibitionists. If you look around at a convention you see people walking around in their underwear or with their tops off. They feel free to show off their bodies.”
Despite the presence of Burning Angel and the Best Orgasm contest, Baba still feels it’s a convention for the whole family:
“It’s very family orientated”, he tells me. “We black out the porn and we just want to show that nowadays tattoos are for everybody, not just sailors. We also have clothing companies, often started by wives or girlfriends of tattoo artists.”
Other tattoo related businesses at the different shows includes after care companies and, maybe more unexpected, lawyers.
“We’ve had lawyers who strictly defend tattoo companies”, Baba tells me. “Some of them look down on tattooed people so we invite tattooed lawyers. We’ve also had tattooed travel agents. Sometimes, you can go into a place and people often think “Who’s this guy?”, but if the lawyer or travel agent has tattoos, he’s going to be cooler about it.”
Unfortunately there are no lawyers present at the Cow Palace this time – or travel agents, for that matter.
The Cow Palace is never really packed with people. Saturday is the most crowded day, but it never gets unbearable like at some other shows. The style of tattoos varies a lot, as Baba pointed out, but one of the contests on Saturday attracts a surprising amount of participants, Best Black and Grey Big. Suddenly the area around the stage is filled with bare male backs, mostly covered in realistic tattoos. As it turns out, one of the first tattoo artist to start doing portraits is at the convention, namely Freddy Negretti at Mark Mahoney’s Shamrock Social Club in Hollywood.
“Jack Rudy and I introduced black and grey portrait tattooing to the world in 1977. I remember going to a convention in Sacramento in 1980. Back then, there was like one convention per year. We both did portraits there and blew everyone away. Nowadays it’s the main style. It’s amazing what’s happened, especially in the last five to ten years. It’s really taken off.”
Dean Dennis from Dean’s Tattoo Headquarter, another veteran at the show, was one of the impressed ones.
“I was really blown away to see them hold up a photo next to the tattoo and see how the picture on the arm looked better.”
According to Freddy Negretti, European tattoo artists were the first to adapt this new style.
“Europe was first to get illustrators into tattooing, in the 90’s, and their favourite style was black and grey, like portraits and realism.”
One of the main portrait practitioners in California seems to be Juan Gonzalez at Exclusive Ink in Salinas. Especially if you consider the fact that he wins 1st and 2nd prize in Best Movie Character, 1st prize in Best Leg, 2nd and 3rd place in Best Portrait and 1st prize in Best Black and Grey Small. Even more dominant in the Best Colour Big category is Troy Harless at Triple R Tattoo in San Bruno. He has no less than seven entries - more than half of the contestants. Even so he doesn’t win the category. That title goes to Ambre Vale at Studio 66 in Porterville. He does, however, claim both runner up and second runner up.
Another studio with a lot of talent seems to be Fallen Angel in Sacramento. Three different artists at the studio take home one prize each in the Best Colour Small category. The 1st prize went to Brandon Bracamonte who also claimed 1st prize in Best Sleeve and 3rd prize in Best Unusual.
The Streets of San Francisco
San Francisco - officially the City and County of San Francisco - is the fourth most populated city in California and the 13th most populated city in the United States, with an estimated population of 805,235.
In 1776, the Spanish established a fort at the Golden Gate and a mission named for Francis of Assisi on the site. The California Gold Rush in 1848 propelled the city into a period of rapid growth, increasing the population in one year from 1,000 to 25,000, and thus transforming it into the largest city on the West Coast at the time. After three-quarters of the city was destroyed by the 1906 earthquake and fire, San Francisco was quickly rebuilt, hosting the Panama-Pacific International Expositionnine years later.
After the war, the confluence of returning servicemen, massive immigration, liberalising attitudes, and other factors led to the Summer of Love and the gay rights movement, cementing San Francisco as a centre of liberal activism in the United States.
In recent years, the wealth resulting from the IT boom from the nearby Silicon Valley, as well as from the recent Dot-Com booms has created a high standard of living in San Francisco, attracting white-collar workers to San Francisco from all over the world. Many neighborhoods that were once blue-collar, middle, and lower class have been gentrifying, as many of the city's traditional business and industrial districts have experienced a renaissance driven by the redevelopment of the Embarcadero, including the neighborhoods South Beach and Mission Bay.
The city's property values and household income have risen to among the highest in the nation, creating a large, and upscale restaurant, retail, and entertainment scene. According to a 2008 quality of life survey of global cities, San Francisco has the second highest quality of living of any U.S. city. Due to the exceptionally high cost of living, many of the city's middle and lower class families have been leaving the city for the outer suburbs of the Bay Area, or for California's Central Valley.
The city's large gay population has created and sustained a politically and culturally active community over many decades, developing a powerful presence in San Francisco's civic life. The most popular destination for gay tourists internationally, the city hosts San Francisco Pride, the largest and oldest of the world's pride parades.
The major daily newspaper in San Francisco is the San Francisco Chronicle, which is currently Northern California's most widely circulated newspaper. The Chronicle is most famous for a former columnist, the late Herb Caen, whose daily musings attracted critical acclaim and represented the "voice of San Francisco." The San Francisco Examiner, once the cornerstone of William Randolph Hearst's media empire and the home of Ambrose Bierce, declined in circulation over the years and now takes the form of a free daily tabloid. Sing Tao Daily claims to be the largest of several Chinese language dailies that serve the Bay Area.
Alternative weekly newspapers include the San Francisco Bay Guardian and SF Weekly. San Francisco Magazine and 7x7 are major glossy magazines about San Francisco. The national newsmagazine Mother Jones is also based in San Francisco.
The San Francisco Bay Area is the sixth-largest TV market and the fourth-largest radio market in the U.S. The city's oldest radio station, KCBS (AM), began as an experimental station in San Jose in 1909. KALW was the city's first FM radio station when it signed on the air in 1941. All major U.S. television networks have affiliates serving the region, with most of them based in the city. There also are several unaffiliated stations, and BBC, CNN and ESPN have regional news bureaus in San Francisco. The city's first television station was KPIX, which began broadcasting in 1948.
Public broadcasting outlets include both a television station and a radio station, both broadcasting under the call letters KQED from a facility near the Potrero Hill neighborhood. KQED-FM is the most-listened-to National Public Radio affiliate in the country. San Francisco–based CNET and Salon.com pioneered the use of the Internet as a media outlet.