The blog of photographer and musician, Kim Ayres

Runners up in the Scottish Tattoo Convention Thumb-Twiddling Competition.

I’d like to say taking out a stall to do portrait and tattoo photography at the Scottish Tattoo Convention was an unprecedented success.

I’d like to say we had people queuing round the block to finally get a better photo of their body-art than the one on their phone taken in a poor yellow light.

I’d like to say Rogan and I were rushed off our feet servicing a tattooed public that were grateful someone was able to make them look as cool as they wanted to look when they went through all that pain and expense to be permanently marked with ink.

Unfortunately, I can’t say any of these things without lying through my teeth.

Things didn’t get off to a good start when we turned up on Friday evening to check out our space and discovered it didn’t exist where it was marked on the floor plan in the Convention Guide. We managed to find one of the organisers who apologised but showed us a couple of other places we could use instead, which were not ideal. We eventually settled on a space located between the fire exit and the toilets at the opposite corner of the hall to where we were marked in the brochure – but at least it was still in the main hall.

After an appallingly bad night’s sleep, we turned up in plenty of time on Saturday morning to set up the backdrop and studio lights. It took a while to track down the passcode for the wi-fi internet access, but soon the doors opened and we eagerly awaited our first customer of the day.

If you talk to pretty much anyone with tattoos and ask them about photos of their body-art, you discover that despite paying hundreds (or more) of pounds/dollars/euros for their tattoos, the best photos they have are taken with a phone, or on a cheap camera in poor lighting with a flash that obscures half of the image. Ask them if they’d like a professional photo of their tattoo(s) and they all say yes, without hesitation. What mostly stops them is fear of the cost, and the opportunity.

So the premise was quite simple. Set up a photo stall at a tattoo convention and offer very reasonably priced professional photography. And with the camera tethered to the laptop, and the laptop able to access the internet, the photos could be taken, edited and emailed to the customers quickly and simply. They could even pay via Paypal if they wished.

Surely there would be ink-adorned customers falling over themselves for such an offer.

Apparently not.

The few who did take up the offer weren’t enough to cover the costs of going, and the majority of them wanted a good headshot rather than their tattoos photographed. Across the weekend I had more photographers stopping by for a chat than I did customers wanting a photo.

Quite apart from the financial side, another major frustration was not being able to photograph all these amazing looking people. I couldn’t do it for free, as that would have undermined the entire point of being there, but I’m a portrait photographer because I love photographing people. So to sit there, watching all these people with colourful skin, radical hairstyles and multiple piercings, just walking around without being able to lift my camera, was particularly disappointing.

Towards the end of the 2nd day, I left Rogan holding the fort for 20 minutes while I went for a stroll around the stalls and took photographs just for my own enjoyment, and felt much the better for it.

Feel free to click on the images for larger versions:

Ruby Shoes

Seul Contre Tous


Capturing the image




For all the thumb-twiddling boredom, however, I felt sorriest for the guy selling insurance for tattoo artists sitting at his wee table nestled between us and some big hairy bikers who were promoting their chapter and a forthcoming bike show. I didn’t see more than about 3 people approach his stall the entire weekend. I don’t know whether he just wasn’t prominent enough, or the big hairy bikers kept scaring off potential customers.

Over the next few days we’ll be dissecting why it didn’t work and trying to decide whether there were things we could have done differently that would have brought in the crowds, or whether the whole concept was fundamentally flawed and it’s never likely to be a money-making enterprise.

Tired and exhausted we arrived home late on Sunday evening to be confronted with one last unexpected hassle – another crow had found its way down the flue and was trapped in the logburner. Unlike last time (see Noises in the Log-Burner), this bird didn’t want to cooperate. The only remaining solution was to put on a pair of gardening gloves and reach in and grab it.

I tried talking Rogan into doing this, but he said he couldn’t be sure he’d be able to hold it right and not damage it. I asked him why he thought I had any more chance of getting it right than he did, to which he replied, “Because you’re Dad.”

Damn you, job description!

So I donned the gloves and carefully reached in, and as soon as the bird realised it was time to panic, I lunged and grabbed it.

It was not happy and started screeching loudly and angrily. I hadn’t got hold of it in the best way, so it had one wing free, which it flapped madly. Fortunately my hands were about half an inch out of pecking range.

Rogan opened the back door and I took a few paces out into the back garden and released it into a bush. It was dark, so I didn’t see what condition it was in. It wasn’t there this morning though, so either it flew away or we’ll be watching the neighbour’s cat spitting black feathers out.


savannah said...

what about advertising in the tattoo shops? might be a good way to gauge the level of interest/desire for your service before you sign up for anther convention. perhaps the shop owners and/or artists would be interested in having professional shots taken? or have you already thought of both of these ideas? xoxooxo

mapstew said...

That's a bit of a bollix after all the effort! Nothing as queer as folk eh?
Still, if nothing else it was a bit of an adventure for 'Ayres & Son'!
(My tattoos are SO tame in comparison to what you shot, it wouldn't be worth your while getting the camera out!

I don't like crows, in or out of my house. Well done Dad! :¬)

Charlie said...

Well beginnings are delicate times, being from a sales background i know all to well how it can feel, and then one day it all just clicks.
As to the crow, my grandpa came back as one and took a crap all over our new carpet, which my parents refused to get while he was still alive.

hope said...

I'm sorry things didn't go as hoped for. But on the other hand, Rogan saying it was your job to catch the crow was just a teenage boy's way of pointing out that you're the Hero of the House. :)

a small player in God's plan. said...

At the very least I think it was a good idea. Maybe some you guys should've taken some free shots, and the next time you could showcase how much better it looks in comparison; people might be more influenced to pay for it to be done.

An interesting thing to consider is the market for such a service -- I have 4 tattoos and you're right, the best pics I have of them are with a phone, but I have occasionally taken the time to photograph them with an HD camera I have. The flash is often overwhelming though, given that I have pale skin. Anyways, I love looking at others' tattoos and getting them myself, but my question is, what would I do with a picture of it, because put it on the Facebook I don't have. I'm not trying to be mean, I'm just trying to look at it from an economical standpoint in terms of supply and demand (taking microeconomics right now in college, pardon me if it's boring).

Regardless, the idea of a gallery of yours, or anyone else's, showcasing a bunch of other people's tattoos and their stories would be awesome! I love seeing the other work that people have had done. Can't wait to get some more ink.

Anonymous said...

Jeez. I feel bad now for looking forward to these photographs, which by the way still are cool despite the difficulties you bore. And...although I felt your pain as I read the post I admired your writing.

Anonymous said...

well double drat...I thought the tattooed folks would be flocking to your camera like flies to honey! so it's art on the body but any old photo will do! interesting! looking forward to the outcome of your critique of the event!

I'd keep an eye out for that cat ;-)
You are a great Dad and of course know how to do anything!

Pat said...

Oh Kim - what a bummer! I can't imagine why when they see the ones you have taken -they wouldn't want their own recorded for posterity.
Savannah's idea seems a good one.
Re the crow - you are SO brave.

Kim Ayres said...

Savannah - It's a good idea and one I think I might look into - thank you :)

Mapstew - it doesn't matter what you're tattoo, or how many you have, at these conventions, there are always more intimidating ones on show. If you have one on your arm, you'll see the shoulder pieces. If you have a shoulder piece, you'll notice the sleeves and back pieces. I saw one guy who was completely covered except for a small patch on his face.

Charlie - I don't blame your grandpa - I'd be tempted to do the same thing :)

Hope - well that's a nice take on it, but I think it was just a teenager's way of getting out of doing anything useful...

ASPIGH - you might not have a Facebook account, but half the population of the UK does, so I figure there has to be a reasonable percentage who would be interested :)

Allen - if you felt my pain, then I guess my writing must be conveying the mood reasonably well :)

Theanne - still not come to any firm conclusions yet. I can think of a couple of things which would improve the conversion rate, but I don't know whether they would make enough difference to make it worthwhile doing another convention.

Pat - I didn't feel brave with the crow - just a bit sick, to be honest...

nmj said...

I just love Ruby Shoes photo!

And well done with the crow rescue, it all sounds quite traumatic.

Kim Ayres said...

Thanks Nasim :)

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