A Complete Unknown

Cover: Design by Dana Smith, Copyright Charles GatewoodI sat in Charles Gatewood’s kitchen this morning with Dana Smith and Charles sipping tea and talking about his book, photography, bookmaking and celebrities. And viral marketing. Must’ve been something in the tea.

Charles Gatewood started me on the path of photography, and has accompanied and encouraged me along the way. But that’s another story. Over that time, Charles has talked about his long and varied career. While known today for his pioneering look at the sexual underground and fetish scene starting with the early ’70’s in New York to now. His photographs illustrated the early bible of the alternative scene Modern Primitives. But in the ’70’s he produced with William S. Burroughs the book Sidetripping, a look at the counterculture of the ’60’s and ’70’s.  A.D. Coleman, the first photography critic for the New York Times, wrote “Gatewood’s world is freakish, earthy, blunt, erotic – most of all, terribly and beautifully alive.”  His prescient Wall St. is a formal study of the desolation of New York’s financial capital.

Before all this there was Bob Dylan.

Gatewood Press Pass Stockholm1964, Charles hit Europe, bought a camera and got a gig with Text and Bilder, Sweden’s largest photo agency. Gatewood apprenticed with photojournalists on the beat in Stockholm. Photographing Martin Luther King receiving an award, Charles was disappointed with the results. It was on April 29, 1966 that Charles shot his first images that sang – and they were of Bob Dylan.

Of the same age, from the same country – Charles leaving his graduate program in Anthropology in Sweden, pursuing photography. Dylan talking of change (and shocking his fan base when he went electric). Charles a complete unknown, Dylan not long ago one.

Bob Dylan - Copyright Charles GatewoodDana Smith and Charles Gatewood have put together a book, A Complete Unknown, presenting Gatewood’s photos of Dylan at that time. The book is exquisitely hand printed and bound – it is less a book and more a fine bound portfolio of prints. Dana and Charles showed me a proof copy. It is certainly a joy to hold. Large, luscious, and beautiful.

Charles hit it big with his Dylan images, one of which saw worldwide circulation. On returning to the US, he began to document the counterculture of the ’60’s. While working on his edgy material for which he became known, he also became a photographer for Rolling Stone and other magazines of the time. This body of work is the subject of his current exhibition Celebrity! at Robert Tat Gallery on 49 Geary St. in San Francisco. You can see a copy of A Complete Unknown there, or you can contact Dana Smith.

During the release of Gatewood’s latest book, we were of course treated to the spectacle of Bob Dylan being questioned by police in New Jersey who had no idea who he was. A beautifully ironic coincidence. You seriously can’t make this stuff up!

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