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:
“Charles was in with the beat generation, not many can say that.” – Bill Macdonald, “Forbidden Photographs”, producer
“He was legendary for his photos of both ‘famous’ counterculture- Burroughs, Dylan, etc… but he was also a true believer in the REAL counterculture- which never makes the headlines- and he devoted his entire life to chronicling all of the gay rights struggles, feminist marches, and subcultural tendencies in in NY and SF, and he was lauded for it.” – Anthony Buchanan, filmmaker
“You will live on forever through your stories, artwork & vision of life. You were a game changer, my friend.” – Jean Jett, model and friend
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.
“I want to make photographs that kill.” – Charles Gatewood