Charles Gatewood's Legendary Images of America's Seedy Underbelly

Elizabeth Renstrom

Elizabeth Renstrom

In advance of an exhibition of his work in San Francisco, here's a selection of photos from one of America's preeminent documentarians of the weird.

"I want to make photographs that kill." - Charles Gatewood

For over 50 years, Charles Gatewood explored and documented the underbelly of the United States. His early work presents an artist who is deeply entrenched in the activity of the streets, whether it's Bourbon Street or Wall Street. With Leica in hand, Gatewood cleverly navigated the chaos and cacophony of the ever-present moment and delivered to the viewer a mud-strewn and elegant anthropological study of modern life.

As a young journalist, Gatewood's coverage of inner-city poverty, social protests, and pollution were widely published, as were also his portraits of musicians, activists, writers, artists, and celebrities. His documentation of body modification, fetish, and radical sex communities is unmatched. Along the way he's exhibited work all over the US and Europe and racked up awards; he is the three-time recipient of the New York State Arts Council fellowship and was also awarded the Leica Medal of Excellence for Outstanding Humanistic Photojournalism.

Over the past few years Gatewood has transitioned his focus toward creating collages at his apartment in San Francisco. Some of these new works will be included in a show at San Francisco's Ladybug House that opens this Thursday (the opening reception is from 5 to 9 PM). Curated by Justin C. Rhody, the exhibition will feature vintage prints from Gatewood's classic works Sidetripping (with William S. Burroughs, 1975), Forbidden Photographs (1981), and Wall Street (1984) will be on display, as well as previously un-exhibited work.

To get you in the mood for that show, here's a sampling of Gatewood's photos:

Justin Rhody is a photographer and curator. You can follow his work here.