'Anthropologist of the Forbidden' Charles Gatewood Passes Away

Apr 28, 2016 12:28 PM PST

SAN FRANCISCO — Famed photographer, videographer and cultural anthropologist Charles Gatewood passed away peacefully this morning at 12:30 a.m. (PST) at San Francisco General Hospital. The prolific 73-year-old was known as the "anthropologist of the forbidden" for his exploration of subcultures like BDSM, body modification, fringe fetishes and more. 

Gatewood photographed numerous celebrities like Martin Luther King, Jr., Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Andy Warhol and Allen Ginsberg. He also worked on assignment for publications including the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Harper's, Business Week, Time and other magazines. Among his more erotic works, Gatewood produced "Tales of Submission" and his photos were also frequently exhibited

“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,” said Kelly Shibari, an adult star, publicist and the first-ever plus-size Penthouse model. “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.” 

Annie Sprinkle, a sex educator, former sex worker and adult film producer, said, “Chaz was a close friend, mentor and sometimes collaborator since 1982. 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.”

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, while also creating a number of nude studies.

Fetish newsletter “TheFetishistas" explained, “Charles Gatewood, the man known as ‘the anthropologist of the forbidden,' has been documenting America’s sexual underground and alternative subcultures since the 1960s. 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,” TheFetishistas continued. “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.”

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.

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.

“Charles Gatewood has been my best friend, mentor and closest confidant,” said Eva Marie, his girlfriend. “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.”

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.

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