There was once a time when London’s Tobacco Docks would have abounded with the shouts and cries of workers in overalls and flat caps as they unloaded fragrant crates of cigars from wooden ships and carted them off to the city’s coffee houses. But for three days this weekend, it was the constant high-pitched buzz of tattoo needles that filled the air as thousands descended for the annual London Tattoo Convention.
For those who like to ink their bodies, the convention is not just an opportunity to mingle with fellow tattoo fans. Some of the world’s top artists fly in for the occasion giving British tattoo fans a plethora of styles and attitudes to choose from. The Japanese and Chicano (Mexican-American) styles seemed to have the longest queues.
Forget "tramp stamps" or small butterflies tucked away discreetly on a barely visible part of the body. At the London Tattoo Convention big and bold is definitely in. The festival celebrates all things alternative, complete with the obligatory thrash metal bands and burlesque shows.
In one corner a small Japanese girl, seemingly oblivious to pain as an artist completes the lone un-inked part of her back, giggles with her friends. In another, an enormous biker flexes his muscles and shows a giant griffin that wraps around his torso to the collective sighs of approval from the gathered crowd.
Carly Barrett, 21, from Nottingham, travelled down to the show with the Suicide Girls – the alternative world’s answer to the lads-mag pin-ups of Nuts or Zoo (beautiful, barely dressed women with lots of tattoos and piercings).
She has been getting tattoos for the past 18 months and proudly shows off her latest piece of body art, a black and white sketch on her forearm which she got done on Friday. “I love it here because of the sheer variety and quality of the artists,” she says. “I want to get more tattoos done as soon as possible.”