There's a vaguely chemical scent of ink and running machinery at Electric Ladyland Tattoo (610 Frenchmen St., 504-947-8286; www. electricladylandtattoo.com). Tattoo machines hum like doll-size chainsaws inside the semi-private booths, but otherwise it's fairly quiet, free of abrasive music or brash cross-talk.
This atmosphere underlines the seriousness with which owner Ed Dieringer treats the shop.
"[Electric Ladyland] is where people come to get married to New Orleans; they get their fleur de lis, or they get something that means something to them," he says. "It has a personality ... and just like anything, it has a soul."
Previous owner Annette LaRue sold the store last year to Dieringer, a longtime friend and veteran employee. He made a few minor changes, but he's most concerned with maintaining the shop's reputation. As the Marigny and Bywater areas continue to be revitalized by what Dieringer calls pioneering artists, he wants its recognizable yellow-and-red storefront to remain an anchor for Frenchmen Street.
He also strives to maintain the shop's reputation for professionalism and diverse tattoo styles. He selects staff for their skills in different areas, including large-scale Japanese-style tattooing, traditional Americana and black-and-white photorealism. This stylistic diversity meshes with the shop's eclectic clientele, which ranges from curious tourists to local bartenders looking for touch-ups to their full sleeves.
"[A tattoo from Electric Ladyland] might be the only tattoo [clients] get in their life, so you have to get them to trust you. It's a relationship," he says.
Dieringer became interested in tattooing more than 20 years ago as an art school student. His peers laughed at him when he said he wanted to work as a tattoo artist, but he connected with its long history as a "visceral folk art." He was fascinated by the global history of tattooing, which goes back thousands of years and often indicated class or social position. Tattoos became fashionable among the British gentry in the 19th century, while other groups, like the Maori of New Zealand, had their own traditions.
Today, what's most important to Dieringer is the interaction between artist and client, and the idea that tattoos alter lives and bodies forever. Often, people get tattooed at a personal crossroads or to mark an important event, and Dieringer is sensitive to that.
He puts it this way: He used to tattoo for himself, but he now tattoos for the clients. After years as a tattoo artist, Dieringer has a strong sense of responsibility toward the shop's patrons.
"If you don't feel lucky for that, if you don't feel blessed for people trusting you with that responsibility ... I didn't when I was younger, but now I do," he says. "It's a pretty cool job."