“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.'"
If someone you know exhibits warning signs of suicide: do not leave the person alone; remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt; and call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional.