Charles Robert Gatewood

Photographs by Charles Gatewood

Born in November of 1942 in Elgin, Illinois, Charles Robert Gatewood attended the University of Missouri, earning a degree in anthropology. It was during his first year of graduate work at the university that he began his photographic work. Studying sociology at the University of Stockholm, Gatewood apprenticed with a group of documentary photographers, worked as a darkroom technician, and began shooting photos of jazz artists on tour.

After returning to the United States in 1966, Gatewood settled in New York City, where he worked at the Jaffe-Smith photography studio in Greenwich Village. He was hired in 1969 as a staff photographer for the weekly The Manhattan Tribune, covering the upper West Side. It was at this time that he started freelancing assignments for Time magazine, The New York Times, and Rolling Stone magazine. Gatewood’s first major celebrity photograph “Dylan with Sunglasses and Cigarette” was taken at a 1966 Swedish news conference and syndicated to publications worldwide.

Gatewood continued to work as a freelancer for Rolling Stone, producing,, among other works, a series of portraits of the writer William S. Burroughs in the early 1970s, and covering political demonstrations, Gay Pride celebrations, and Manhattan’s downtown music and arts scene. He gravitated toward photographing extreme behavior, extreme people and extreme situations, with particular interest in the annual New Orleans’ Mardi Gras.

The gritty, often sexually explicit, photographs taken by Gatewood were rejected my many publishers  before the small New York publishing house Strawberry Hill agreed to publish his “Sidetripping” in 1975. The book’s photos are a first-hand account of the 1960s and 70s counter-couture with an introduction and narrative by William Burroughs. It was in the mid 1970s that the majority of his famous celebrity portraits were taken including Andy Warhol, Sly Stone, Etta James, Carlos Santana, and Bernado Berolucci. 

From 1978 to 1987, Gatewood lived near Woodstock, New York, working in Manhattan and elsewhere. His photos from this period include social protests, outlaw bikers, nature photos, and portraits, including Quentin Crisp and dark comedy writer Michael O’Donoghue. Gatewood was awarded a grant in 1984 by the New York State Arts Council to publish his book “Wall Street”, which was recieved  the Lieca Medal of Excellence for Outstanding Humanistic Photojournalism. In 1987, Gatewood relocated to San Francisco, spending the years from 1998 to 2010 as photographer for the tattoo magazine “Skin and Ink”.

Gatewood’s many photo collections include the 1977 “People in Focus”, “Primitives” in 1992, and the 1999 “Badlands”. He was the subject of two film documentaries: Mark and Dan Jury’s “Dances Sacred and Profane” in 1985, and Bill MacDonald’s “Forbidden Photographs: The Life and Work of Charles Gatewood” in 2003. Charles Gatewood died in San Francisco on April 28, 2016, at the age of seventy-three, after sustaining injuries in a fall from his balcony three weeks earlier. An apparent suicide, Gatewood left three notes behind.

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