RIP Charles Gatewood, Underground Photographer and Bernal Neighbor

Charles Gatewood (1942-2016)

Charles Gatewood (1942-2016)

Photographer Charles Gatewood passed away last week at age 74. He was a longtime resident of Mirabel Street.

Neighbor Charles built his career photographing rock music celebrities, but later in his career he took an interest in alternative culture and sexuality. Even if you never knew him, you probably know some of his work. This was the first photo Charles Gatewood ever published, in 1966:

gatewood.dylan

“Dylan With Sunglasses and Cigarette,” by Charles Gatewood

Writing for BoingBoing, former Bernal neighbor David Pescovitz summarized Charles Gatewood’s legacy:

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.

Tattoo Mike, by Charles Gatewood

Tattoo Mike, by Charles Gatewood

Neighbor Charles was close friends with Bernal Neighbor Annie Sprinkle, and she shared these thoughts about him:

Charles Gatewood was my close friend, photography mentor and sometimes collaborator since 1977. He was enormously talented, an influential photographer, and he lived his life on his own terms. A lot of folks in the body art, music, poetry, sex worker communities are sad today as he passed away, and also enormously grateful for the treasure trove of images he made of so many of us, which thank goodness are housed safely archived at UC Berkeley.

He was a sweet bad ass. Also fun to photograph. He made some of the best photos of me ever. Most too explicit for Facebook.

Its been an honor to be part of the last chapter of his life. He was in ICU for over two weeks, and I got to visit him, be part of the love fest surrounding him, and go to add my opinions at the three “ethics committee meetings” about his care. Finally the medical team took him off life support so that he could leave his broken body and find some peace.

A public ‘memorial celebration’ is being planned for the Center For Sex & Culture in about two months, to give folks time to travel. There might also be something in New York City if someone takes the lead. Details to come. Charles’ sister Betty lost her last family member and only brother. She donated his cornea to help someone see better. What a lucky person to get Charles Gatewoods cornea! Charles wanted to be cremated. All is well and as it should be now. Needless to say, I’m very sad, as well as relieved he is out of pain. He was an important person in my life to whom I shall always be grateful.

Big love to all those who are sad to see Charles go. See you at the memorial, and eventually at the big UC Berkeley Gatewood archive presentation one day, for a grand reunion. Stardust to stardust…

Sigh.

Here’s a (NSFW) video of Neighbor Charles giving a tour of his own archive in 2012, including a cameo of some photos he took of Neighbor Annie Sprinkle:

3 thoughts on “RIP Charles Gatewood, Underground Photographer and Bernal Neighbor

  1. Thank you Bernalwood for honoring this special neighbor and my friend with this report. Charles really loved Bernal. And his being here was one of the reasons I moved here myself. People came from around the world to his apartment, on the north side of the hill, to see and buy and curate his work. He was, you could say, one of our best tourist attractions. Hugs all around to those who knew him.

  2. PS– Charles was with his wonderful girlfriend Eva Marie when he passed. And his sister had a chance to visit in the ICU. SF General Hospital’s trauma team was incredible. So excellent.

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