While Charles Gatewood is primarily known as a photographer, his contributions as an anthropologist/sociologist and cultural engineer shouldn’t be overlooked. For every iconic image he captured on 35mm film (and printed, fetishistically, in silver gelatin) there was a story behind it, and with his FLASH VIDEO boutique label of films he was able to chronicle the behind the scenes experience as well as create an unprecedented time capsule of the subcultures he documented in print.
I asked him once how many copies he’d produce of his Flash titles; “Hey! I used to run 50 VHS and more if necessary. WEIRD THAILAND was my best-seller and the PAINLESS STEEL series sold a few hundred of each title” – which is mind-blowing; particularly the, “more if necessary” as it could mean that certain titles sold fifty or less units/had less than fifty sets of eyes on them in their prime, much less thirty years after their release.The amount of passion it took to have created these films for such a niche audience shouldn’t be overlooked.
The last message I got from Charles, in December of 2015, sums it up nicely: “Some people laughed at my strange documentaries. Who’s laughing now?”
We launched our new print zine project at this year’s APP Conference and Expo with issue #1 of NODAL POINTS; 100 pages of body modification history and culture culled from twenty five years of archival that includes:
A. Viking Navaro polaroids/prints.
Evolution of a subculture: Modcon 1.
Subtracting. (Voluntary Amputation)
BSTA: Blake Perlingieri.
Correspondence with Bud Larsen.
Annie Sprinkle/Fakir Musafar.
Ari and I are hard at work on Issue #3 1 but for folks who didn’t get a chance to grab a copy in Las Vegas- we’re stocked up at Hex Appeal.
Along with Steve Haworth, Ron Garza stands out as one of the most influential artists who’s work contributed to the popularization of aesthetic scarification in the post 1990s body modification scene; with a style informed by time spent piercing at tattoo shops (as well as innate artistic talent) Ron was able to bridge the gap between basic geometric shape cuttings/branding and larger, more intricate representational designs.
Ron was photographed by his friend and TSD collaborator Allen Falkner in Philadelphia at the first Scar Wars event back in May of 2005.
Since I spaced on writing something special for the twentieth anniversary of ModCon last month, I figured I’d at least celebrate the anniversary of this gentleman’s birth; one of the more memorable guests of the first MC event in Toronto, Erik Sprague (then Spidergod5, now the Lizard Man) was already on his way to lizarddom with implants, a split tongue, filed teeth, and the beginnings of his scale tattoo designs.
This photo, taken by ModCon (and Scarwars) photographer Philip Barbosa, appeared on the original Modcon CD-Rom.
The Golden Age of adult cinema 1 (and it’s siblings, adult magazines) was, despite it’s often lurid and prurient content, conservative. It traded in archetype- the perky blonde, the intense brunette, the fiery redhead-all American good looks and not much in the way of self-expression. When you did see a tattoo, it was small or discrete. Performers with large tattoos were anomalous, 2 with producers fearing that it would ruin the “girl next door” fantasy that their 8mm loops (the VHS tapes) promised.
Phil Barbosa was the event photographer for all of the ModCon (and the first Scarwars) events; shooting on analog film he captured modified subjects in a studio atmosphere right in the heart of the chaos that was an underground surgical convention.
Occasionally he’d step in front of the camera in between documenting the goings on. Here he is alongside Blair at ModCon 4, 2003. Images from MC4 never appeared in the books or media associated with the events, so this is a rare glimpse inside the penultimate Toronto modification gathering.
Charles Gatewood, iconic photographer and counterculture anthropologist, released somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 documentary films through his boutique FLASH VIDEO label. Films that ranged from profound to prurient with titles like Fangs of Steel, Messy Girls and the Erotic Tattooing and Body Piercing series, the Flash Videos were niche content at it’s most niche. When I spoke to Charles about production runs in 2015, he told me that the average title started with a run of 50 units, with more being duplicated if needed. Twenty five years later it’s no surprise that an entire generation of body artists and admirers have come up that have never seen the Gatewood films.
The good news is that the Body Piercing Archive- the archival wing of the Association of Professional Piercers- was gifted the rights to the archive and plans are in place to capture and preserve these lost treasures; something I’ve been doing as well with my personal copies.
For my money, the best of Flash was the fifth volume of the Erotic Tattooing and Body Piercing series; released in 1992 or 93 and filmed at the Meadowlands Tattoo Convention, #5 features Jack Yount, Emil, Mr. X and a host of other luminaries. The photos taken of Jack that day are among my favorite images of him and he often spoke of being photographed by Charles. This brief clip, filmed the same day as his photoshoot in 1992, was shot on Jack’s 8mm camcorder, with a show and tell with a client of Fred Corbin’s. This is the first time this footage has been seen in 25 years.
Trying to write anything aobut Pat Tidwell without resorting to superlatives is proving impossible. Respected body piercer is a given; when I asked a few mutual friends to describe Tid in one word I got back legend and iconic a few times- but I think I’m going to go with psychedelic sherpa and leave it at that.
This photo was taken in 2006 at the Southern California SCARWARS2 event- either by Atom Moore or Rachel Larratt. (It was in a folder labeled ‘lost disc’ so…)