For over 50 years, Charles Gatewood explored and documented the underbelly of U.S. culture. He started photographing professionally in the mid-sixties, and his career got a boost with the sale of a Bob Dylan photograph that become an iconic poster of the era. But it was his 1975 book Sidetripping (with its introduction by William S. Burroughs) that started his lifelong career as documentarian of the counterculture—and sexual subcultures in particular. Many of us were just budding modification artists when we first saw his photos and subsequently hunted down and bought copies of his many books. For not a few of us, these images would go on to define the look of our community, the faces—and modified, sexualized bodies—we presented to the world.
Even those in the piercing community who aren’t familiar with the full scope of Gatewood’s work recognize his singular images, many of which were included in the publication Modern Primitives: Annie Sprinkle and Fakir on the night they first met; Sailor Sid Diller; and the still photos taken during the filming of Dances Sacred and Profane with Jim Ward and Fakir. (The video is again available from Fakir’s site.) The image of Fakir, suspended by hooks, has become the iconic image of suspension.
Over the last several years, Charles was fixture at the annual APP Conference and Exposition, selling prints at his booth and participating in a culture that he helped to define for a generation of piercers. As we get ready for Conference this year, it’s sad to know we won’t see him there.
The world is poorer for his passing.