By JoJo Ackermann
“Tattoos are my life!” That is a bold statement. I have heard it from beginners with less than five years and from veteran tattooers with more than 20 years in the craft... Hell, I have even said it myself. It would seem that most people who begin their journey into the world of tattooing understand that it is a lifetime commitment, which reaches far beyond the ability to just apply a tattoo. Listening and being respectful while the older veteran tattooers speak about stories and reflect on experiences, or even share tips and advise is almost like hearing tribal elders pass on the secrets of a world that is still closed off to most...
Some are wise, some are asses and some are just wise-asses, but nonetheless they offer a younger more misinformed generation a look into their past, present and possible future, if we can all stop and just be quiet and listen long enough to figure it out. I'll never forget my first few tattoo conventions. The Hollywood Ink Slingers Ball 1 and 2! It was unreal to me, having been collecting and reading Tattootime books, magazines and other pre-internet forms of tattoo culture, it seemed like the characters in my favorite story books were coming to life.
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="The Grand Poobah of tattoo, Don Ed Hardy."][/caption]
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="With my good friends Junii and Bill Salmon, National Convention 2011."][/caption]
I’ll always remember being at the National Convention in San Francisco in 1994 with Mike Pike. I stood there not really knowing what to do, then I turned and saw Junii and Bill Salmon walk into the welcome dinner and Filip and Titine Leu were right behind them, Greg James was there, Horiwaka, Dr. Lakra, Cap Szumzki and Brian Everett, Jack Rudy, Shauhn Anderson, Kari Barba, Bob Vessells, Hanky Panky, all in attendence, and Ed Hardy gave a great speech at the awards banquet! I truly was felt like I was among my people. It was magic, and that feeling is one I won't ever forget.
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="The late, great Mike Brown. (RIP)"][/caption]
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="Fip Buchanan, Jack Rudy, me and Mike Pike."][/caption]
I guess the reason I am writing this is because with the clock ticking away I feel it is important to be attentive and respectful to those who came before us... Giants on whose shoulders we stand on.
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="With Master Horitoshi I at the Diamond Club, 2001."][/caption]
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="Henning Jorgensen and me in Seattle, 2007."][/caption]
It has been said that if your going to do something for the rest of your life you had better know something about it. Most of the fond memories I have from time spent with these veteran tattooers has consisted of being tattooed by them, buying some flash or even a machine, but also just stopping in to say hello when I was in their area. The conversations and the stories are crazy, funny, sometimes sad but it's such a great way to absorb the culture that I love so much.
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="256" caption="With Zeke Owen, 1999."][/caption]
On occasion, I have had my portfolio and my paintings critiqued by people I have the utmost respect for. This experience can sometimes be about as painful as being tattooed by them, but just like a tattoo it heals, and you have the memory of their words and criticism for the rest of your days.
[caption id="attachment_8980" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="Getting tattooed by Bill Salmon, Diamond Club Tattoo, 1999."][/caption]
I like to think that I have been lucky enough to be standing in the right place at the right time to hear jokes, stories and general thoughts being passed around by some of the giants of tattooing and with that I took the golden opportunity to tune in, shut up and listen because you never know when that will happen again. I have always felt that there is much to be learned from the tattooers that came before myself and at times I am insulted and embarrassed by the behavior demonstrated towards them by younger tattooers.
[caption id="attachment_8981" align="alignnone" width="260" caption="Josh Arment, Shahn Anderson and me at Shahn's shop Electric Dragonland, Hopkins, Minnesota."][/caption]
We never know when the tattoo gods will request them to return to the next life and the memory and memorabilia will be all that remains. I am glad I got the opportunity to meet some of the coolest tattooers for the short time I did, enough though they are no longer here with us, I will always remember those times.
I made the effort to create those moments and continue to do so by being humble and respectful when meeting or greeting these giants that walk among us...
(JoJo Ackermann is a tattooer and contributing blogger for Tattoo Artist Magazine. JoJo can be found here: American Made Tattoo in Rosamond, CA.)
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