Am Jam, Syracuse - 2012

Published: 06 March, 2012 - Featured in Skin Deep 209, March, 2012

To be honest, there aren’t a lot of tattoo conventions that continue to capture my attention after a few years, but one in particular tends to call me back with it’s siren song year after year.

Don’t get me wrong, but upstate New York is a beautiful winter wonderland (yep – sarcasm). But in all honesty the AM-JAM Tattoo Expo can be a beaming light, casting a warm glow to help sooth the winter doldrums here.

This year’s event marks the 26th year since the AM-JAM family first brought some excitement to the citizens of New York and beyond. As a tattoo expo, this has a lineage that can make most conventions show their green-eyed jealousy. With the likes of Paul Booth, Shotsy Gorman, Stephen Lanphear, Jack Rudy, and Jonathan Shaw making appearances in the past, this show has been one that catches the interest of anyone following the tattoo circuit.

Like most shows, AM-JAM has had its share of growing pains and yet somehow continues to evolve. Battling changing venues, a new city and a change in promoters, it continues to grow and get just a little better every year. In the old days it was held in a cold National Guard armory building in Schenectady, NY, but after 2001 (because of security) they decided to move it to a bigger city – Syracuse. After 26 years of bringing the public some of the best tattoo work and entertainment to be found in the upstate area, AM-JAM continues to set new standards, not just for itself, but also the tattoo art community in general. Wow… 26 years. I guess that also makes this one of the longest running conventions in America.

Jean Aldous, the current show promoter, is someone who’s really in tune with what the artists and convention goers’ needs are. She and her staff seem to have their fingers on the pulse to know what people want and need from a show. And always open to new ideas, Jean has been the driving force that has managed to keep this show alive and flourishing in a world full of cookie-cutter conventions.

Even after all these years, AM-JAM continues to attract such tattoo luminaries such as, Amy Nicoletto from the TV series, LA Ink, Phillip Spearman, Sam Cachon, Payne (working in conjunction with Tommy’s Tattoo Supply as their resident artist) – the list goes on, but I only have so many words to work with here.

After admitting to Amy Nicoletto that I’m not a regular viewer of the show and I actually know her more from her tattoo work, she forgave me and allowed me the privilege to come into the booth and photograph her and the rocking portrait she was doing. Being a well-rounded tattoo artist, I do have to say that Amy’s portraiture work is definitely a strong point; I can’t wait to see more of the new stuff that will be coming down the pike from this lovely lady. I do have to give special thanks, not just to her, but to Michael, the man from Ink-Eeze, for inviting me into their space and making me feel welcome.

Knowing Phillip Spearman for as long as I have and having the honor of photographing him many times, it wasn’t that hard sneaking into his booth and spending a little time talking and photographing one of the coolest people in the tattoo community. What made this even more special was that he was halfway through an all-day dragon sitting, which made for a fantastic photo op. Phil has to be one of the coolest, most laid-back people one can come across out on the floor at a convention; even with all the hustle and bustle going on around him, he always has time to answer a few questions or pop his head up to give the crowd gathered around his booth a quick smile.

Sam Cachon managed to make the trip to Syracuse from sunny southern California to be part of the show this year. That must say something considering that where he left, the temperature was in the 80s and sunny, while here, it’s in the 30s and cloudy with occasional snow. It just goes to show the dedication some have to this convention. Sam’s style is an amazing blend of L.A. fine line melded perfectly with a classic American flair, making him someone to keep an eye on for the future. It’s also a great thing he didn’t come alone; Sam brought another amazing artist from California, named Carlos, who works out of Cryptic Tattoo.

Carlos was cranking out tattoos like a mad man on a mission; his work was top shelf and was whipped  out at such blazing speeds, that I actually thought I was away from his booth for far longer than I actually was. Sam and Carlos’ booths being right next to each other made it one of the coolest spots to be at this show. And everyone working those booths were not only extremely talented, but some of the funniest and nicest people at the show – Carlos and his frontman, Junior, are another two we should be keeping an eye on, so much so that I’m even going to drop a link to his site here…

Another person worth mentioning is the man they call, Payne – the resident tattoo artist for Tommy’s Tattoo Supply. A great artist in his own right and an all-round nice guy. He was putting out some great portrait work this weekend making the artists around him a little envious of his talent.

Seeing as I just opened a new studio in Boston, I wasn’t going to go to this show: money, time and distance all being a factor, but Jean and the whole AM-JAM family weren’t having any of that. I’m glad I went, especially considering I’ve only missed one of the last 20 years of this convention. I got the chance to see some old friends and to meet some new ones. AM-JAM has always been a kind of oasis in the dead of winter bringing artists from all over to show what they can do.

Sure this show has a reputation of being a gritty, no frills wild west type of tattoo convention, but it’s also a no bullshit, down to business show, that can leave the uninitiated person’s head spinning. With some great artists (both up-and-coming and well-known) making the scene, along with entertainment from the Lizardman and his partner-in-crime, comedian Joel Dixon Keith, this show has proven that it’s the little show that can. Through all the growing pains and problems that impact most conventions, AM-JAM carries on.

Bring on number 27.

Until then, cheers from the colonies my friends…


Text & Photography: David Marden