American Counter-Culture Anthropologist’s Work Broke Ground on Photography & Videography of BDSM, Body Modification, Fringe Fetishes, & More
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. His collection of books may be seen at http://charlesgatewood.com/books/index.html.
“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:
1974-1977 — CAPS fellowships in Photography, NY State Arts Council
1975 — American Institute of Graphic Arts award
1976 — Artist in Residence, Light Work, Syracuse University
1980 — Awarded publishing grant by the New York State Arts Council
1983 — New York State Arts Council fellowship for “Wall Street”
1985 — Art Director’s Club Merit Award
1985 — Leica Medal of Excellence for Outstanding Humanistic Photojournalism
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 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lhq9IgeG_Nk. An additional six video interviews, where Gatewood discusses his works, are located on the Charles Gatewood channel on YouTube; to view, visit https://www.youtube.com/user/ACompleteUnknown1. (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.