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Charles Gatewood, Groundbreaking Photographer, Dead at 73

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Charles Gatewood  (Photo: Courtesy of the PRSM Group)

Charles Gatewood, an award-winning photographer who shot both celebrities and counter culture figures, including the Hell’s Angels and erotic performance artists like Annie Sprinkle, died Thursday from injuries after he fell off his third-story balcony several weeks before. He was 73.

Born in Illinois in 1942 and raised mostly in Missouri, Gatewood began pursuing a career in photography while in his first year of graduate school at the University of Missouri. While living in Stockholm, Sweden, attending school and traveling around Europe, Gatewood landed a job with AB Text & Bilder, a Swedish news wire, as a darkroom technician. The position provided him a press pass and equipment, which he used to photograph jazz concerts and other events.

Dylan With Sunglasses and Cigarette
Dylan With Sunglasses and Cigarette (Photo: Charles Gatewood)

In 1966, Gatewood had his first big break when he photographed Bob Dylan at a press conference. The photograph, titled “Dylan With Sunglasses and Cigarette” was picked up for syndication and published around the world.

“Taking the Bob Dylan photo gave me faith I could actually be a professional photographer,” Gatewood would later say.

Gatewood went on to shoot several celebrities and other notable figures over the next 50 years, including Beat writers William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsburg; musicians such as Ella Fitzgerald, Rod Stewart and David Bowie; and even legendary civil rights activists such as Martin Luther King Jr. His work would appear in publications such as the New York Times, Time and Rolling Stone.


But celebrities weren’t his only subjects — Gatewood was a dedicated documentarian of underground subcultures. He entrenched himself in subjects others would see as dark and off-limits, such as the debauchery of 1970s New Orleans during Mardi Gras and the sex positive communities in San Francisco, which helped bring those previously underground groups into the mainstream. He would later say that he wanted to “take photographs that kill.”

Guitarist Jimmy Page and author William S. Burroughs
Guitarist Jimmy Page and author William S. Burroughs (Photo: Charles Gatewood)

Gatewood moved to San Francisco in 1987, and would cover events such as the Folsom Street Fair and Burning Man. From 1998 to 2010, Gatewood would do most of his work for Skin and Ink magazine, and later concentrated on photo collages that he created in his apartment.

After the fall from his third-floor balcony, Gatewood was hospitalized for several weeks. When he finally died on April 28, he was surrounded by friends.

“Well, Charles took the last train out at 12:30 this morning,” Last Gasp publisher Ron Turner, one of Gatewood’s last portrait subjects, wrote on Facebook after Gatewood died. “I marveled at Charles’ wakefulness yesterday evening. It was as if he was taking in as much as he could, like a child being ushered out of the amusement park as it was shutting down. I treasure the smile I got from him as I left.”

UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library recently bought Gatewood’s massive photo archive and there are plans for a retrospective in 2017. A memorial was being organized as of Thursday, which is expected to be held at the Center for Sex and Culture in San Francisco.

Watch a perspective of Gatewood and his work below. Warning: some images are NSFW.


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