Photos by Larry Hirshowitz

The 12th annual Inkslingers Ball attracted tattoo enthusiasts to the Hollywood Palladium from L.A. County and beyond for three days of tattooing and contests. The customary chaos prevailed: The noise of tattoo guns grinding, AC/DC blasting, an annoying MC alternately hosting the tattoo contests and chucking promo gifts into the audience. The stage was set, most curiously, with shag-a-licious moderne furniture, complete with an Austin Powers cardboard cutout. The crowd was the usual clash of gangbangers (real and self-imagined), bikers, Bob’s Big Boy motherfuckers, death-metal rockers and bod-mod freaks. There were even a few standup colored Mohawks. It was a younger crowd than found at the bigger conventions, but some living folk history was in the house with the presence of Las Vegas’ Jack Armstrong, who’s known as the oldest tattoo artist in the world (he started tattooing in 1928). Examining his back piece Prophets of the Lord, I didn’t recognize the men in the portraits. Armstrong explained they were “the last 15 presidents of the Mormon Church.” While he talked, I fixated on the skulls tattooed in the conchs of both ears. In tattoo narrations, there’s always something untold, secret and deeply personal. I asked a few tattoo devotees about their most meaningful or sentimental tattoos.

From left: Natacha Fontinha
Lisbon, Portugal
Owns Bad Luck boutique and Bad to the Bone piercing/tattoo shop:
“My tattoos are the story of my life. Here is one for my son, this one my husband, and here is me.”

Wayne Brawner,
Atlanta, Georgia
Hair salon owner:
“My most meaningful piece is on my left thigh, which marks the death of a friend. It’s a memorial for him.”

Johnny Kastelic,
San Francisco,
“I’m tattooed with the logo of my dad’s ship that he served on during World War II, the USS Kid. He was on it from 1942 to 1945.”

Mike Bergfalk (left)
Tempe, Arizona
Tattoo artist at Two Kats Tats
“My facial work is the ultimate expression of who I am. Everybody that I meet, it is the first thing they see.”

Randy Rodriguez,
West Covina,
“On my left side, there’s an old man sitting. He has a rock in his hand and he’s just waiting to get persecuted. He’s waiting for them, but he’s not going to let them take him — he’s going to find them out.”

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