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Pictures from a 1986 San Diego Tattoo Expo

Tattoos in the 80s were still somewhat unique to alternative lifestyles.
February 19, 2015, 12:04am

All photos by the author

It's 1986 and tattoos are still somewhat unique to alternative lifestyles. I'm at a tattoo expo in a hotel/convention center in San Diego, by the bay. I have a couple of small tattoos under my shirt. My grandfather had snakes twisting up, down, and around both arms. My uncle had a red valentine over his heart that read Betty in a cursive font like I Love Lucy. I was impressed.

I walk around the big room and take a couple of pictures but don't see anything of immediate interest, so I go outside to smoke a joint on the beach. I watch a seagull dance around a half-discarded Hostess Twinkie. I spy a tattooed woman in a low-cut black dress with a high slit, alone and smoking a butt. "Hi," I say. "How's it going?"

She checks me out up and down. I blow smoke and she tells me if I'm going to smoke grass, I should be aware I'm in San Diego and the cops patrol the beach on bicycles.

"That's OK, I'm immune. But thanks for the warning. Can I take your picture?"


"I'm not immune and yes you can take a picture but get rid of that joint first," she says.

I douse the roach on my tongue and then put it in my wallet. "Let's go over here with the water in the background." She's older than I am and taller than I am and I want to crawl up her dress and check for secret tattoos. I take a few pictures and flirt but to no avail. She's nice and enjoys being in front of the camera but I'm not her type. I make about ten exposures and tell her thank you. She goes back inside and I stoke up the roach.

Back inside I see a girl I know lifting her short skirt and exposing her bedazzled snatch to a couple of guys who seem enthralled. I photographed her last year at an offbeat gathering of cults in the Angeles Mountains. Her name is Jill and the guy she's with is holding a riding crop in case she proves to be a naughty girl. She has a tattoo branded on her butt, a heart with the word SLAVE.

I go to say hello and ask if I can take some pictures. She introduces me to her boyfriend and he tells me yes, I can take a few pictures, but he needs to chaperone. We take the elevator up to their room where he has a table of S&M toys.

She asks me will I be publishing these pictures and I say I hope so. She says in that case she wants to wear a blindfold like a censor strip. She puts on a blindfold and even though she has pale and sexy blue eyes, she's more picturesque this way. I ask her boyfriend if he would like to be in a few of the pictures, maybe some action shots. He tells me no and no more pictures of Jill, I'm all done.

Back in the convention center I find the catch of the day: a young black woman wearing a sleeveless black-leather motorcycle jacket with shiny zippered pockets. Her arms are inked with skulls and fire-breathing dragons. Her hair is bleached white. She tells me her name is Laura Lee and that she is the most tattooed black woman in North America. She invites me up to her room for a photo session. We get on the elevator with a little middle-American family, Dad, Mom, daughter, son. They are here on vacation and they look like Republicans and when they see us, they squeeze into a corner as a unit. Laura Lee says motherfucker this and cocksucker that and fuck shit piss cunt and she says it loudly. I contain giggles and when we get out of the elevator she tells the gaggle of dorks, "You all have a nice motherfuckin' day!"

In the room she strips to her skivvies and we make a bunch of pictures. She's charming and funny and I have a really nice time. I give her a hug goodbye and take her business card and promise to send her some pictures. A week later I develop the film but I've misplaced Laura Lee's card and forgotten her name. I think she would have liked the pictures we made and I'm a dick for never sending her any.