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Charles Gatewood, photographer of fringe culture, RIP
By David Pescovitz
Published in: ►boingboing, on April 28, 2016
Charles Gatewood, a pioneering photographer of the underground for nearly 50 years, died today from injuries sustained in a fall from his third-floor balcony. He was 74.
From documenting the Beats and the dark alleys of 1970s Mardi Gras to extreme body modification practitioners and sexual fetishists, Charles lived his life as a curious, open-minded photographic anthropologist at the fringes of culture.
I first encountered Charles's work in the 1980s through the groundbreaking RE/Search book Modern Primitives and a grainy VHS dub of the documentary Dances Sacred and Profane about his quest for individuals breaking the bounds of convention. We first met in 1993 and I always looked forward to the terrific stories of his travels through the interzones that he happily shared with me. Charles was warm, generous, witty, and very grounded. I feel fortunate that hanging in my home is his marvelous portrait of William Burroughs and Brion Gysin gazing into their dreamachine, an image that inspires me every day.
Charles's photography provided a glimpse of the sometimes shocking, always fascinating, and strangely seductive scenes that are waiting for us if we just know where to look. He relentlessly challenged us to open our eyes and minds. I'll miss him.
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Legendary Photographer Charles Gatewood 1942-2016
Posted by Hi-Fructose Staff
Published in: ► HI FRUCTOSE, Richmond/CA, on April 28, 2016
Charles Gatewood, the prolific San Francisco based visionary and photographer who was called “the family photographer of America’s erotic underground” died early this Thursday morning, April 28th. He had been in the ICU at SF General Hospital after suffering complications from a three-story fall that tragically ended his life at age 74.
News of his death falls on the eve of the date he took his first published picture of rock musician Bob Dylan, on April 29th, 1966. Gatewood would later say, “Taking the Bob Dylan photo gave me faith I could actually be a professional photographer.” He built his career documenting the antics of the beat generation with Dylan, Ginsberg, and Burroughs, and legends alike, including Martin Luther King, Jr., Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins, Joan Baez, Duke Ellington, and Ella Fitzgerald. His documentation of body modification, fetish, and radical sex communities also paved the way for those subcultures and sex-positive players like Annie Sprinkle to enter into the mainstream.
Family, friends, and fellow artists from around the world are taking to social media to offer their respects and memories of the great photographer:
In his later years, Gatewood was a photographer for Skin and Ink magazine in San Francisco. During this time, he also produced over thirty documentary videos about body modification, fetish fashion, and other alternative interests. San Francisco subjects include the Folsom Fair, Dadafest, and Burning Man, and Gatewood’s documentation of alternative culture in the city is considered unmatched. His most recent celebrity portraits have included Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Herb Gold, Charles Henri Ford, Carol Queen, Ron Turner, Ruth Bernard, and many others.
Gatewood leaves behind an incredible archive, recently purchased by the Bancroft Library at U.C. Berkeley, and plans for a 2017 retrospective are now underway by the APP, Association of Professional Piercers.
ABOUT Hi-Fructose: It is a quarterly print art magazine, founded by artists, Attaboy and Annie Owens in 2005. Hi-Fructose focuses squarely on the art which transcends genre and trend, assuring readers thorough coverage and content that is informative and original. Hi-Fructose showcases an amalgamation of new contemporary, emerging as well distinguished artists, with a spotlight on awe inspiring spectacles from round the world.
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Obituary: Charles Gatewood (1942 – 2016)
American Counter-Culture Anthropologist's Work Broke Ground on Photography & Videography of BDSM, Body Modification, Fringe Fetishes, & More
Published in: ►The PRSM Group, San Francisco, on April 28, 2016
Charles Gatewood ►http://charlesgatewood.com passed away peacefully this morning at 12:30am at San Francisco General Hospital. The famed photographer, videographer, and cultural anthropologist, Gatewood was 73 years old.
"Charles Gatewood has been my best friend, mentor, and closest confidant," said his girlfriend, Eva Marie. "He believed in me always, offering support and encouragement with unconditional love and kindness. Thank you, Charles, for every laugh, story, smile, and most of all, thank you for loving me."
Charles Gatewood was born November 8, 1942 in Elgin, Illinois. His family then moved near Dallas, Texas, then Rolla, Missouri, finally ending in Springfield, Missouri, where Charles attended J.P Study Jr. High and Parkview High School.
From 1960 to 1964, Gatewood attended the University of Missouri, majoring in Anthropology. He graduated in 1963 with a B.A. in Anthropology and a minor in art history. In 1964, as he was finishing his first year of graduate work, Gatewood met George W. Gardner, a gifted student photographer. Gatewood credits George Gardner's work and a Museum of Modern Art photography book, “The Family of Man,' as influences that helped him choose a career in photography.
From 1964 to 1966, Gatewood lived and worked in Stockholm, Sweden. He enrolled at the University of Stockholm to study sociology and apprenticed with a group of documentary photographers. In 1965, after exploring Europe, Gatewood returned to Sweden and found work as a darkroom technician for AB Text & Bilder, a Stockholm news agency. At night, Gatewood took advantage of his press pass and the agency's sophisticated equipment to photograph jazz concerts and happenings.
On April 29, 1966, Gatewood photographed the press conference and concert of musician Bob Dylan. One photograph, Dylan With Sunglasses and Cigarette, was syndicated and received worldwide publication; it was Gatewood's first sale and first published picture. "Taking the Bob Dylan photo gave me faith I could actually be a professional photographer," said Gatewood. Other celebrity photos by Gatewood during this time include Martin Luther King, Jr., Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins, Joan Baez, Duke Ellington, and Ella Fitzgerald.
In June 1966, Gatewood returned to America and found work as second assistant at Jaffe-Smith photography studio in Greenwich Village. Ten months later, after learning studio photography techniques and advanced darkroom skills, Gatewood quit Jaffee-Smith and began his career as a freelance photographer. From 1970 to 1974, Gatewood worked as staff photographer for the Manhattan Tribune. He also photographed on assignment for the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Harper's, Business Week, Time, and other magazines.
In 1972 and 1976, Gatewood was awarded CAPS fellowships by the New York State Arts Council. Gatewood's first photography book, Sidetripping, was published in 1975, with text by William S. Burroughs. The book was widely praised: A.D. Coleman, writing in the New York Times, said, "Gatewood's work is freakish, earthy, blunt, erotic–most of all, terribly and beautifully alive."
Gatewood's work during this period included Mardi Gras in New Orleans (12 times), Gay Pride celebrations, and Manhattan's downtown music and art scene. Celebrities photographed include Andy Warhol, Allen Ginsberg, Sly Stone, Luis Buñuel, Bernardo Bertolucci, Ron Wood, Carlos Santana, Abbie Hoffman, Etta James, Gil Evans, and Nelson Rockefeller.
From 1978 to 1987, Gatewood lived near Woodstock, NY, and worked in Manhattan and elsewhere. Photos from this period include social protests, rock festivals, Mardi Gras in New Orleans, body modification, outlaw bikers, and nature photos. Celebrities include Larry Clark, Annie Sprinkle, Michael O'Donoghue, Ira Cohen, Quentin Crisp, and many others.
"Chaz was a close friend, mentor, and sometimes collaborator since 1982," says Annie Sprinkle. "He was enormously talented, a very influential photographer, and he lived his life as art. A lot of folks in the tattooing, piercing, music, BDSM, and sex worker communities are enormously grateful for the treasure trove of images he made of us, and are much relieved that UC Berkeley will preserve his archive. He will live on in my heart and my clit."
In 1984 the New York State Arts Council awarded Gatewood a grant to publish Wall Street photographs, and in 1985 the book Wall Street was awarded the Leica Medal of Excellence for Outstanding Humanistic Photojournalism. In 1985, a feature film, Dances Sacred and Profane, premiered at the Antwerp Film Festival and was screened at American theaters to critical acclaim.
From 1987 Gatewood lived and worked in San Francisco, California. From 1998 to 2010, he was a photographer for Skin and Ink magazine. During this period, Gatewood produced over thirty documentary videos about body modification, fetish fashion, and other alternative interests. San Francisco subjects include the Folsom Fair (15 times), Dadafest (4 times), and Burning Man (4 times). Gatewood also photographed a number of nude studies during this period.
Gatewood's documentation of alternative culture in San Francisco is unmatched. His photo books from this period include A Complete Unknown, Burroughs 23, Badlands, True Blood, The Body and Beyond, and Primitives. Pocket Books also published Hellfire, a novel, in 1986.
"I worked with Chaz from 2008 to 2010, but you couldn't really call it work – our interaction was always full of fun and play," says Kelly Shibari. "I'm forever grateful to him for all he has taught me about the nature of entertainment, of baring your soul, of throwing everything against the wall and seeing what sticks, and having no regrets. I will always love you, Chaz – the industry has lost a great cultural icon and trailblazer today, but you will live on forever in your work, and in our hearts."
"Charles Gatewood, the man known as the anthropologist of the forbidden, has been documenting America's sexual underground and alternative subcultures since the 1960s," explains Fetish newsletter TheFetishistas. "And though his name may not be that familiar to some younger pervs whose knowledge of fetish history is not that broad, the chances are that even these people will instantly recognize some of his best known images… Gatewood's work can be traced back to photographs that appeared in the late '80s ReSearch publication Modern Primitives, the seminal work on body modification cults and characters, which introduced the original Modern Primitive, San Francisco's Fakir Musafar, to a much wider audience."
"Much of the activity that Gatewood documented on the margins of society in the '70s, '80s and early '90s is now part of contemporary youth culture," continues TheFetishistas. "Today, tattooing is commonplace, and pop stars regularly appear in SM-influenced attire. As sexual and body modification practices once seen as radical and taboo become increasingly accepted by the mainstream consciousness, Gatewood's photography can be seen as showing the way."
Over his expansive career, Charles Gatewood received numerous awards, including:
In addition to numerous private collections, Charles Gatewood's images have been archived in over a dozen libraries and universities across the United States. The Gatewood Archive is currently curated at the Bancroft Library at University of California, Berkeley; the Bancroft is the university's primary special-collections library.
Charles Gatewood posted a video about his archive on YouTube in 2012 prior to its curation at the Bancroft; to view, visit ►Charles Gatewood Archive. An additional six video interviews, where Gatewood discusses his works, are located on the Charles Gatewood channel on YouTube; to view, visit ►A Complete Unknown 1. (Note: A Complete Unknown is in reference to a Bob Dylan quote, not Gatewood.)
The Gatewood Archive contains several thousand vintage and modern silver prints, 250,000 slides and negatives, plus contact sheets, proof prints, personal papers, correspondence, over a thousand books, and special collections. The archive also contains master edits of 36 Gatewood videos, plus three films (including a copy of Dances Sacred and Profane,) and a selection of prints by other fine art photographers.
Of his work, Charles Gatewood said in 2009, "I'm kind of restless, in that I want to try all of the different styles, different subjects…then let history sort it out. I don't know what some future historian might think is my best work, and I don't care. It's my job to make it…let somebody else sort it all out later."
A memorial service is currently being scheduled to be held at the Center for Sex and Culture in San Francisco; more information will be forthcoming.
Media May Contact: ►Kelly@ThePRSMGroup.com
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Charles Gatewood, Groundbreaking Photographer, Dead at 73By Kevin L. Jones
Published in: ►KQED, San Francisco, on April 29, 2016
► Charles Gatewood, an ►award-winning photographer who shot both celebrities and counter culture figures, including the Hell's Angels and erotic performance artists like Annie Sprinkle, died Thursday from injuries after he fell off his third-story balcony several weeks before. He was 73.
Born in Illinois in 1942 and raised mostly in Missouri, Gatewood began pursuing a career in photography ►while in his first year of graduate school at the University of Missouri. While living in Stockholm, Sweden, attending school and traveling around Europe, Gatewood landed a job with AB Text & Bilder, a Swedish news wire, as a darkroom technician. The position provided him a press pass and equipment, which he used to photograph jazz concerts and other events.
In 1966, Gatewood had his first big break when he photographed Bob Dylan at a press conference. The photograph, titled Dylan With Sunglasses and Cigarette was picked up for syndication and published around the world.
“Taking the Bob Dylan photo gave me faith I could actually be a professional photographer,' Gatewood would later say.
Gatewood went on to shoot several celebrities and other notable figures over the next 50 years, including Beat writers William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsburg; musicians such as Ella Fitzgerald, Rod Stewart and David Bowie; and even legendary civil rights activists such as Martin Luther King Jr. His work would appear in publications such as the New York Times, Time and Rolling Stone.
But celebrities weren't his only subjects — Gatewood was a dedicated documentarian of underground subcultures. He entrenched himself in subjects others would see as dark and off-limits, such as the debauchery of 1970s New Orleans during Mardi Gras and the sex positive communities in San Francisco, which helped bring those previously underground groups into the mainstream. He would later say that he wanted to take photographs that kill.
Gatewood moved to San Francisco in 1987, and would cover events such as the Folsom Street Fair and Burning Man. From 1998 to 2010, Gatewood would do most of his work for Skin and Ink magazine, and later concentrated on photo collages that he created in his apartment.
After the fall from his third-floor balcony, Gatewood was hospitalized for several weeks. When he finally died on April 28, he was surrounded by friends.
“Well, Charles took the last train out at 12:30 this morning,' Last Gasp publisher Ron Turner, one of Gatewood's last portrait subjects, wrote on Facebook after Gatewood died. “I marveled at Charles' wakefulness yesterday evening. It was as if he was taking in as much as he could, like a child being ushered out of the amusement park as it was shutting down. I treasure the smile I got from him as I left.'
UC Berkeley's Bancroft Library recently bought Gatewood's massive photo archive and there are plans for a retrospective in 2017. A memorial was being organized as of Thursday, which is expected to be held at the Center for Sex and Culture in San Francisco.
Watch a perspective of Gatewood and his work below.
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Published in: ►Light Work on May 2, 2016
It is with a heavy heart that we announce the passing of dear friend, multi-faceted artist, and photographer Charles Gatewood.
“Having friends like you is what it's all about…,' wrote Charles Gatewood in 1976, upon reflection of his time in Syracuse as Light Work's very first Artist-in-Residence. A self taught photographer, Gatewood led a wonderfully accomplished career, publishing seven acclaimed monographs, including A Complete Unknown , a 32-page handmade artist's book featuring photographs Gatewood made of Bob Dylan in Stockholm, Sweden in 1966.'Taking the Bob Dylan photo gave me faith I could actually be a professional photographer,' said Gatewood. Occasionally doing work for magazines like Rolling Stone, his commercial work allowed him to photograph the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr., Joan Baez, Etta James, Andy Warhol, Annie Sprinkles, and many more.
Gatewood was the recipient of the NY State Arts Council CAPS Fellowships in Photography, the Art Director's Club Merit Award, and the Leica Medal of Excellence for Outstanding Humanistic Photojournalism.
From a press release precluding his 1976 residency:
It was Gatewood's generous donation of several prints that began what is now the Light Work Collection. Now an integral part of the history of the program, his gesture kickstarted a collection of photographs spanning over 40 years of artists that Light Work has had the pleasure of working with.
We extend our condolences to the family and friends of Gatewood.—
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Published in: ►New York Times on May 4, 2016
Charles Gatewood, a boundary-pushing photographer who mapped, provocatively and disturbingly, the subcultures of strippers, sex-club devotees, bikers, body piercers and fetishists, died on Thursday in San Francisco. He was 73.
The cause was complications of injuries he sustained after plunging from the balcony of his third-floor apartment on April 8, said his sister, Betty Gatewood. She added, “There is no doubt that his death was the result of a suicide attempt, as he left several notes behind.”
Mr. Gatewood earned his first paycheck as a photographer when, working for a Swedish news agency, he photographed Bob Dylan at a 1966 news conference in Stockholm. The photograph, “Dylan With Sunglasses and Cigarette,” was syndicated to publications around the world, and Mr. Gatewood was on his way.
He went on to work as a freelancer for Rolling Stone, producing a series of portraits of the writer William S. Burroughs in the early 1970s, and covered political demonstrations, gay pride parades and the downtown music and arts scenes in New York. He gravitated toward extreme behavior, extreme people and extreme situations, epitomized by his annual expeditions to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, which he recorded as a Dionysian rite of drunkenness, nudity and sexual excess.
“For my personal work, I preferred strange, edgy subjects,” he wrote in his 1975 monograph “Sidetripping,” sometimes described as a countercultural answer to the landmark work “The Americans,” by Robert Frank. These subjects included “naked beer hippies, sadistic cops, hollow-eyed strippers, preening transvestites, punks, drunks, weenie-waggers, militant Jesus freaks and dope-crazed protestors.”
Charles Robert Gatewood was born on Nov. 8, 1942, in Elgin, Ill., and grew up in Springfield, Mo. After graduating from Parkview High School, he earned a degree in anthropology from the University of Missouri in 1963.
He began taking photographs in his first year of graduate school at the University of Missouri and, while studying sociology at the University of Stockholm, apprenticed with a group of documentary photographers. He found work as a darkroom technician at a news agency and began taking pictures of jazz artists on tour.
After returning to the United States in 1966, Mr. Gatewood moved to New York, where he worked as an assistant at the Jaffe-Smith photography studio in Greenwich Village. In 1969, he was hired as a staff photographer for The Manhattan Tribune, a weekly newspaper on the Upper West Side, and he began picking up freelance assignments for Time, The New York Times and Rolling Stone. Over the years, his work for Rolling Stone included portraits of David Bowie, Rod Stewart and Ron Wood.
The worlds of tattooing and body modification provided him with some of his most memorable images. He struck up a friendship with the New York tattoo artist Spider Webb and photographed him as he inscribed an X on 1,000 subjects and one large X, made up of 999 small X’s, on a single subject. He documented the project in the 1977 book “X-1000.”
At the same time, he showed a sober, restrained dimension in a documentary series on workers in the financial district, collected in “Wall Street” (1984).
Forty publishers rejected Mr. Gatewood’s gritty, often sexually explicit photographs before Strawberry Hill, a small New York house, agreed to publish “Sidetripping,” with an introduction by Burroughs.
“Charles Gatewood shoots life not only ‘in the raw’ but also flat on its back, masturbating in front of a mixed audience,” the critic Jack Schofield wrote of the book in the reference work Contemporary Photographers, alluding to one of Mr. Gatewood’s more arresting images. “He must have the sort of instinct for sex that Weegee had for crime and death. It draws him, as a moth is drawn to a naked candle flame.”
After moving to San Francisco in the late 1980s, Mr. Gatewood focused on the subcultures of tattooing, body piercing and extreme sexual practices. He produced more than 30 documentary videos about body modification and fetish fashion, and for many years he was a photographer for Skin & Ink magazine.
Mr. Gatewood’s only marriage ended in divorce. In addition to his sister, he is survived by his partner, Eva Marie Mohrman.
His many photo collections included “People in Focus” (1977), “Primitives” (1992) and “Badlands” (1999). He was the subject of two film documentaries: “Dances Sacred and Profane” (1985) and “Forbidden Photographs: The Life and Work of Charles Gatewood” (2003).
Mr. Gatewood often described himself as an anthropologist with a camera, venturing forth into forbidden territory and gathering evidence of strange, wonderful, ecstatic practices.
At the same time, he recognized that his work was not for everyone.
“I’m bringing back images of things that people don’t want to look at, don’t want to deal with,” he told Popular Photography in 1985. “That makes them uncomfortable. It hits too close to home.”
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RIP Charles Gatewood, Photographer Of 'Strange,
Published in: ►SFist, San Francisco, on May 6, 2016
“For my personal work, I preferred strange, edgy subjects,' Charles Gatewood wrote in his 1975 monograph “Sidetripping,' published with text from his friend and collaborator William S. Burroughs. Gatewood, a renowned photographer who passed away last week at SF General, might have proudly declared himself a member of any such "strange" or "edgy" group, and at the least, he was granted honorary status and plenty of access to the subcultures he studied.
As website ►BoingBoing observes, Gatewood's first published pictures, of the musician Bob Dylan, may still be his most famous. In particular, one highly-syndicated image, “Dylan With Sunglasses and Cigarette,' led to the beginning of his long career with Rolling Stone magazine.
Gatewood later extended his subjects, in his words on "Sidetripping," to “naked beer hippies, sadistic cops, hollow-eyed strippers, preening transvestites, punks, drunks, weenie-waggers, militant Jesus freaks and dope-crazed protestors.' You know the types.
According to ►an obituary in the New York Times, Gatewood, who was 73, died as a result of injuries sustained when he threw himself from his Bernal Heights balcony. “There is no doubt that his death was the result of a suicide attempt, as he left several notes behind," his sister, Betty Gatewood, said. He received palliative care until his death on April 28th.
Born in Illinois and raised and educated in Missouri — his degree from the University of Missouri was in anthropology, a field in which he would always see himself— Gatewood began taking photographs in Stockholm, Sweden. There, in graduate school, he captured touring jazz musicians, and in 1966, he moved to New York's Greenwich Village.
Gatewood's photos of David Bowie and Rod Stewart, or his works studying tattoo artists and body manipulators, focused on the underground and fetishistic. He was known for his portraits of 1970's Mardi Gras, too, and starting in the 80's, when he moved to the Bay, he studied general San Francisco deviance. But Gatewood knew danger and derangement wherever he saw it: Consider his 1984 book of photographs of financial workers, called ►Wall Street.
"I want to make photographs that kill," ►Vice quoted Gatewood this January, as he prepared what would be one of his last shows. “I'm bringing back images of things that people don't want to look at, don't want to deal with,' Gatewood told Popular Photography in 1985. “That makes them uncomfortable. It hits too close to home.'
In his honor, ►OTHER Cinema of Valencia Street will host the US premiere of Carl Abrahamsson's documentary about Gatewood, "Once the Toothpaste is Out of the Tube." That screening takes place tomorrow, and is "an hour's worth of tributes and shorts, including clips from his self-released VHS 'Weird San Francisco.'"
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Walking Woodstock: Charles GatewoodBy Michael Perkins
Published in: Woodstock Times on May 9, 2016
By default, I am the keeper of the R.Mutt Press pencil. This is a responsibility that will weigh heavily on me until I can arrange to have it delivered to the Bancroft Library at Berkeley. I know they will want it, because it belongs in their Charles Gatewood archive, which houses several thousand of his vintage and modern silver prints, 250,000 slides and negatives, plus his videos and films — Chaz was a prolific artist.
Internationally known photographer Charles Gatewood died last week at 73, in San Francisco. He had lived in Europe and New York before settling in the Woodstock area 1978-87. But California is where he prospered and was happiest — or as happy as a guy who grew up in Missouri can be. He came to Woodstock in 1975 to give a talk at the Catskill Center For Photography — as it was called then. He was selling copies of his first photography book, Sidetripping, with text by William S. Burroughs, out of the trunk of his car. I offered him a bed, and that was the beginning of a friendship that lasted over 40 years, strengthened by frequent visits and a lively, voluminous correspondence.
The R.Mutt pencil is all that remains of a curious literary experiment that took place on Pine Lane in isolated Saugerties, where Charles bought a house near rock star John Hall. (“I think I was too disreputable for John' Charles said.). In those days — the early eighties — winters were cold, and snow still fell, leaving six foot drifts. People stayed home.
Isolated and lonely, Charles came up with a plan to get his friends to come to him. He announced the formation of a small cooperative press that would publish the work of members. He called it R.Mutt, the monicker Marcel Duchamp affixed to his famous urinal. There were to be just two mottoes for member Mutts: “the truth well told' and (don't just talk) “put the book on the table.' The atmosphere was Pickwickian as the cenacle formed at Charles' long wooden table near the fireplace: Marco Vassi, erotic avatar, acclaimed by Norman Mailer as the country's leading erotic writer; Annie Sprinkle, erotic performance artist; Spider Webb, tattoo artist extraordinaire; V.K. McCarty, dominatrix and Penthouse Forum editor; and Michael Perkins, poet without portfolio. Looking on at these coop meetings were Sondra Howell, Executive Director of the Woodstock Guild; Ivory Robinson, philosopher; and, by speaker phone from California, V.Vale of Re/search Publications. Sometimes members would bring guests, like photographer and film director Larry Clark.
It was a hip group, and at its center was mild-mannered Charles Gatewood, the hippest of us all. Everyone brought a dish, and after a pot luck dinner, Chaz might show his latest photos, some of which would go into his classic bookForbidden Photographs.
We had a lot of fun with R.Mutt, and it got us through a cold Winter; but the only Mutts who put their books on the table were the two of us. Charles putForbidden down, and the rest is cultural history. The combination of pictures and text is so powerful that the book's impact should have rivaled that ofNaked Lunch. It didn't, at least not in Woodstock. A show at the trendy Robert Samuels Gallery in New York got him noticed, but didn't make him famous. Photography was moving away from realism into the narcissism of abstraction.
One day he announced that he was burning his long johns, selling his house, and moving to San Francisco. I didn't see him again until 1989, when I rode Greyhound cross country to San Francisco. I found my friend productive and happy. He had gone 12 Step, and kicked a bad booze habit. He had a girlfriend.
He had shows and was being recognized. Dubbed “the family photographer to the erotic underground,' his subjects were raffish and colorful exhibitionists — people who expressed themselves by removing their clothing and putting on tattoos and piercings. Charles's taste for the bizarre was boundless. He'd majored in Anthropology in college, and he would go to great lengths to observe — and shoot — a new subculture.
I had a chance to observe him on a daily basis when I began spending Octobers with him through the Nineties. By then his Flash Video business (“Weird San Francisco,' etc.) enabled him to rent a penthouse above the Mission with panoramic views. When I visited, he might give a lecture to a college class, or go out for coffee with his artist friends. Sometimes we went to church. As bona fide pagans, we felt an obligation to keep up with what good Christians might be doing. One memorable Sunday we attended services at the mostly black John Coltrane Church, and when we emerged from a hell and damnation sermon the previously sunny skies were dark. It was the great Oakland fire. “I guess the Christian God is not happy with us,' Charles commented dryly.
We released a torrent — a cataract of laughter — that went on and on as we saw ourselves in Clem's eyes: we were everything America feared. Kathy Acker, rich girl turned stripper turned famous avant-garde novelist; Charles, family photographer to the sexual underground; and me, most recently called by a leading critic “America's answer to Sade.'
Like Weegee, like Robert Frank, Charles Gatewood focused his camera on the dispossessed and the alienated; he searched out those who walk in darkness. The sexual outcasts and outlaws who are both pariahs and prophets found their chronicler in Gatewood. His wide compassionate vision captured the neglected, the defiant, and the overlooked. The future will be glad he was here. Bolder than Frank, more shocking than Mapplethorpe, Gatewood is one of the few artists Woodstock can point to with pride to justify its arts colony reputation.
At the end of his life he was in great pain from a bad back, but he was kept happily busy by the pretty girls who came to be immortalized in one of his photos. He wrote to me that he had done everything he wanted to do with his life.
Come to think of it, I'm going to keep the R.Mutt pencil. When Chaz asked Mutts to cough up dues money, I was the only one who put cash on the table. As a joke, he bought the official pencil, and gave it to me.
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Published in: ►Photocritic International on May 12, 2016
Photographer Charles Gatewood died on Thursday, April 28, 2016 in San Francisco. According to his ►KQED obituary, the hospital attributed his death to “injuries after he fell off his third-story balcony several weeks before.' The ► New York Times obituary quotes his sister, Betty Gatewood, as saying, “There is no doubt that his death was the result of a suicide attempt, as he left several notes behind.' (Sources who knew him well tell me that he'd been taking medications for severe physical pain for years.)
Starting in the 1970s I reviewed a number of Gatewood's books and shows, including one of the earliest. (The 1972 New York Times review quoted below appeared later in my 1979 book Light Readings.) I also included a selection of Gatewood's images in my 1977 survey The Grotesque in Photography. He enjoyed those responses enough to invite me to write the introductions to two of his monographs: Wall Street (R. Mutt Press, 1984), and Charles Gatewood Photographs: The Body and Beyond (Flash Publications, 1993).
In between those two commissions I conducted a lengthy interview with him that remains unpublished in its complete form. (Portions of it made their way into Clichés, a Belgian magazine, in 1989, and then into my 1993 monograph introduction. ►Click here for a PDF of that interview.
Over time Charles added color to black & white for his still photography, and began making videos of the underground scenes to which he had access. He leaves behind an enormous archive of invaluable material about pockets of western and Asian culture that, once hidden from sight, went increasingly mainstream in his lifetime — due, in some part, to Gatewood's bringing them into the light of day in his celebratory images.
Click here for the 1985 feature film about his work by Mark and Dan Jury
Click here for a trailer for the 2015 film about Gatewood by Carl Abrahamsson,
Click here for ►a 1996 interview with him by Joe Donohoe.
And click here for an excerpt from Gatewood's unpublished ►Dirty Old Man, a Memoir.
To commemorate Charles's life and work, I'm publishing here my 1993 introduction to his retrospective monograph. Part 1 appears below; part 2 will appear shortly. — A. D. C.
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How, exactly, are we to understand the work of Charles Gatewood?
One way is to say that Gatewood has spent the past thirty years photographing the secret life of North America: the eccentricities, the kinks, the excesses, the rebellions, the general weirdness of what lies beneath the surface of everyday life in the U.S.A. He has brought us face to face, indeed nose to nose, with an astonishing assortment of men, women, and undefinable gender-mixes, costumed, tattooed, pierced, whipped and chained, acting out in private and in public their insistent nonconformities — displaying their marvelously varied idiosyncracies, their creative lunacies, forthrightly, proudly showing off their otherness to the rest of us through the transforming system of Gatewood's camera and consciousness.
This encourages us to think of Gatewood as a mix of artist and voyeur, and while neither he nor I would deny the applicability of those descriptors they ultimately prove — as this survey of his life's work demonstrates — insufficient. A richer view of Gatewood's achievement accompanies the recognition that for those three decades this photographer, whose background is in anthropology (he studied at the University of Missouri and the University of Stockholm), has worked as a visual anthropologist, attending closely to a variety of U.S. subcultures. His explorations have taken him deep into the sexual underground and the related social matrix of elaborately pierced and tattooed men and women, in whose apparent extremes he has found clear connections to shamanism, mortification of the flesh, transcendence of pain and other spiritual concerns and ancient rituals.
The cumulative result is a body of work that's at once fascinating and startling for many reasons, some obvious and some not. One is its implicit proposal that, like charity, anthropology begins at home. Another is that most of us haven't spent much time around others who involve themselves in complex sexual theater, who make holes in their own flesh anywhere save their earlobes, who treat their skins as blank canvasses awaiting the brush, and are willing to display the results unabashedly. So far as we know, that is.
This microcosm of Gatewood's is inhabited by cheerful, wholesome, outgoing folks of all ethnicities, most of them clearly middle-class types; his images can make you wonder what's really under your stock broker's jacket and tie, or beneath the blouse of that bright-eyed teller at the bank, can lead you to ask what your lover's parents — or even your own — might get up to at night when they're alone, or among intimate friends, or out on the town.
When he began his work, Gatewood was taken by many to be little more than an eccentric whose concerns were marginal. Nowadays, it seems that half of teenage America is pierced in nose, lip, ear and elsewhere; tattoos, even ornate ones, are no longer uncommon, on women as well as men; black leather and metal chains are haute couture; and celebrities like Madonna regularly appear in S&M drag. As a result, Gatewood looks more and more like a prophet.
Yet what he was foreseeing, or intuiting, needs to be understood less as a coming fashion that will inevitably pass than as a return to or resurfacing of something enduring. What's essential to understand about his work is that no matter how eccentric or bizarre a number of the specific rituals portrayed appear, they are all tied to traditions, in most cases ancient traditions. Considered in that light, things that might at first strike one as lunatic fringe, or social eccentricity, suddenly start to seem very central, connected to a continuum of the primitive that courses just beneath the surface of culture.
Thus there's a certain shock of recognition in one's encounter with Gatewood's subjects: after all, who among us is not of aboriginal descent? The resulting fascination has supported Gatewood's work over the years and brought him increasing respect and visibility, along with an international audience. Countless periodicals have published his images; they've been featured in many exhibitions; and he's even been the subject of a powerful, widely distributed feature-length film by Mark and Dan Jury, Dances Sacred and Profane, in which the cohesiveness and substance of his concerns finally are made apparent.
As Gatewood himself says, “What I'm really doing in my work is going into American subcultures in the same way an anthropologist would go into different cultures or subcultures around the world. Now, I think of myself as a visual artist; that part of my work is very important — the way I present material in a black & white still photograph. I think some of the best stills can be taken as art, in a fine-art context. But I'm also a reporter — a witness, or a mirror, if you will — of unusual behavior. Maybe it could be called artistic reporting. I want to do more than just describe. I want to get inside and bring back some of the spirit of what's going on. When I go out, I don't know what I'm going to bring back. I don't want to know. I want to go into the mystery; I want to go into the unknown, and maybe bring back a piece of unknown. I want to be surprised.'
Almost by definition, anthropology as a discipline scrutinizes cultures that are not the anthropologists' own. Gatewood, contrarily, has concentrated on microcultures thriving within the borders of his own country and (for the most part) firmly established in the urban environments where he himself resides. Anthropologists, traditionally, also maintain a distance between their subjects, whereas with Gatewood — as with the anthropologist Carlos Casteneda, who worked for years with the Yaqui wizard he called Don Juan — the line between observer and participant is frequently blurred, if not actually erased.
For that reason, and because he refers to his work as “personal anthropology,' it's essential to understand the connections between Gatewood's biography and his imagery. Born Charles Robert Gatewood on November 8, 1942 in Chicago, he grew up in Missouri, in the Ozarks, in an alcoholic family — “never knowing,' he recalls, “what ‘normal' was. I think that's important. I knew that my family was different, and I always knew that I was different. But I still never understood exactly why.'
He left there to go to school and become an anthropologist, but realized quickly, as he puts it, that “an academic career through a university in a standard way was not my cup of tea. So I bought a Leica, went to Europe for a couple of years, travelled around, came back to New York in 1966, and the '60s were exploding. I knew immediately what my subject matter was — it was all around me. From that point on, I never questioned what my work was about or what my subject matter was.'
A little more than twenty-one years ago as of the date of this writing, in March of 1972, I walked into the prestigious Light Gallery on Fifth Avenue to see an extensive selection of Gatewood's work in order to review it for the New York Times. Before that I'd seen only tantalizing bits and pieces, in group shows and occasional publications; this exhibit was my first opportunity to get a sense of the nature and scope of his project. The gallery had juxtaposed his work with that of another picture-maker, one who epitomized a burgeoning academic-art tendency in U.S. photography.
On that occasion, I wrote (concerning Gatewood's co-exhibitor), “One cannot make love by following a textbook — nor, for that matter, by merely violating its instructions.' I then went on to say the following about Gatewood's own work:
The subject matter of all these photographers is people; their concern is the social landscape, specifically that of America, and their approach is simply to seek out the most extreme manifestations of our cultural consciousness — those places and events where we let it all hang out — and record it. Their art is Stendhal's: “A mirror held up along the highway.' And they may, in fact, represent the only form of “pure' photography still vital today.
While all these photographers are excellent craftsmen, their involvement with the print is not directed toward the creation of a precious object but with the amplification of the content. It is not accidental that several of them prefer to make enormous prints, nor that most have gravitated towards such vehicles for reproduction and dissemination as … books … produced on a mass scale. The image, not the print, is the message.
… Mardi Gras … serves well as a central metaphor for Gatewood — an event in which the rules are suspended and people are free to act out their personal realities, which may be anything from drunken costumed bliss in the streets to a transvestite mooning the camera in a bar. Gatewood's world is freakish, earthy, blunt, erotic — most of all, terribly and beautifully alive. (New York Times, March 26, 1972)
(To be continued.)
Note: All statements by Gatewood throughout this essay come from an unpublished interview with him conducted by the author in 1987. ►Click here for a PDF of that interview.