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The Man Who Photographed Wall Street and the Sexual Underground (NSFW)

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Gay cruise party in NY harbor, 1973. © Charles Gatewood, courtesy Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley and Robert Tat Gallery

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Wall Street © Charles Gatewood, courtesy Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley and Robert Tat Gallery

“He was very anxious that his work be seen and preserved,” says San Francisco gallerist Robert Tat of the late photojournalist Charles Gatewood (1942-2016).

It’s just two weeks since the photographer’s death, and he still remembers vividly the first time they met over the phone:

“I think my photos would be perfect for your gallery,” said a voice from the other end.

It was a spiel Tat had heard a thousand times, and he’d never heard of the man who called himself Charles Gatewood, but something about him convinced the gallerist to take a meeting.

Gatewood was already quite the phenomenon, renowned for his behind-the-scenes documentation of fetishism during the Sexual Revolution. He had started his career in Stockholm and moved to Manhattan in 1966, though he traveled a great deal. He settled down San Francisco in 1988, and when he first met with Tat nearly a decade ago, the gallerist admits that the artist, who proudly sported the title of “family photographer of America’s erotic underground,” didn’t immediately seem to fit cleanly into his Modernist wheelhouse.

It was Gatewood’s photographs of the Manhattan financial district that truly captivated Tat, and he opened his first Charles Gatewood exhibition in 2007. The Wall Street series, shot in the early 1970s, at approximately the same time as the fetish pictures, won Gatewood Leica Medal of Excellence for Outstanding Humanistic Photojournalism.

The apparent disparity between the New York suits and the underground sexual fantasists was met with its fair share of surprise and delight. Critic and curator AD Coleman would be quoted many times over the years for his quip about the Wall Street images: “These may just be the dirtiest pictures Charles Gatewood has ever made.”

For Tat, the through line tying the two bodies of work is the photographer’s fixation with understanding people and society. The artist named himself the “urban aborigine,” and his intention never was to poke fun at or sensationalize his subjects. His goal, explains Tat, was never to say, “Look at these weird people!” Instead, he longed to preserve and make sense of all he discovered about human desire.

In some ways, there seems to be an inversion in Gatewood’s approach to the underground and the financial district. Whereas the financier strives to project an air of straightforward transparency, the fetishist might be assumed to keep his proclivities a secret. In Gatewood’s eye, however, it’s the alternatives who put everything out in the open and the clean-cut businessmen who seem to lurk in the shadows of the clandestine, hidden from view.

The life’s work of Charles Gatewood belongs to The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

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From the book Sidetripping © Charles Gatewood, courtesy Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley and Robert Tat Gallery

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Wall Street © Charles Gatewood, courtesy Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley and Robert Tat Gallery

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Folsom Steet Fair, San Francisco, 1994 © Charles Gatewood, courtesy Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley and Robert Tat Gallery

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Wall Street © Charles Gatewood, courtesy Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley and Robert Tat Gallery

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Mardi Gras, 1973 © Charles Gatewood, courtesy Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley and Robert Tat Gallery

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Fakir (Godfather of Modern Primitives), 1982. Fakir is a well-known figure in the body manipulation community. © Charles Gatewood, courtesy Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley and Robert Tat Gallery

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Wall Street © Charles Gatewood, courtesy Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley and Robert Tat Gallery

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Odalisque. 1982. © Charles Gatewood, courtesy Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley and Robert Tat Gallery

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Wall Street © Charles Gatewood, courtesy Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley and Robert Tat Gallery

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Woman on a Waterbed, NYC, 1970 © Charles Gatewood, courtesy Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley and Robert Tat Gallery

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Wall Street © Charles Gatewood, courtesy Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley and Robert Tat Gallery

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Rolling Stones Penis, Hollywood. 1978 © Charles Gatewood, courtesy Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley and Robert Tat Gallery

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Wall Street © Charles Gatewood, courtesy Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley and Robert Tat Gallery

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Untitled (boy with clothespins on nipples), 1974 © Charles Gatewood, courtesy Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley and Robert Tat Gallery

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Wall Street © Charles Gatewood, courtesy Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley and Robert Tat Gallery

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