“Alan Oversby, better known by his professional alias of Mr Sebastian (chosen, naturally, after the famously pierced Saint…) was born in Liverpool in 1933 and became enamoured with body piercing in the 1950s whilst working on a sugar plantation in British Guiana. He had seen nipple piercings on some field hands, and persuaded one of them, over a few glasses of rum, to pierce him. Returning to Britain, he trained as an art teacher in the Midlands, and became increasingly enamoured with modifying his own body, first by re-piercing his own nipples, then (imitating an illustration of an African man he had seen in an anthropology book) inserting a ring into his foreskin. Eventually, he got tattooed. Indeed, he first shows up in the press in the mid-1970s, as a customer of long-standing London tattoo artist George Bone, cited precisely to demonstrate the practices middle class credentials. ‘He is a teacher’, the article tells us, ‘ and as such one of the professional minority who frequents tattoo shops:
‘I thought about it all very carefully before I began. If you don’t you end up looking a mess.’ Alan is tattooed solidly from the tops of his arms down the front of his body to his legs with the designs placed in such a way that he can wear a short-sleeved, open-necked shirt without any of them being visible. This is not to avoid incurring opposition in the school where he teaches, but ‘to make sure my mother doesn’t find out. She would be terribly upset if she knew about it’ Continue reading
Excerpt from Painless Steel featuring Mr. Sebastian (Alan Oversby) performing an Ampallang piercing on Genesis P-Orridge of Throbbing Gristle/TOPY/Psychic TV.
Last year I wrote an article for a magazine called Best Intentions that, among other things, discussed the ephemeral nature of magnetic video tape; it’s limitations and my constant surprise when a VHS cassette that’s been stored in a rubbermaid bin for a few decades still has a little bit of life left in it.
Charles Gatewood’s FLASH VIDEOS never made it into the digital age and during the last conversation we had, Charles told me that some of the volumes in the Flash collection had production runs as low as 50 units. It’s incredibly humbling when you realize the impact his documentaries had on the Body Modification community despite the relative difficulty of getting those tapes out in the days before uploads and shares and likes.
My Flash collection is far from complete and some of the tapes have, regrettably, become unwatchable, but I’m making progress converting and archiving as much footage as possible. This clip, while short, features influential UK body piercer/tattooist Alan Oversby (Mr. Sebastian) performing an ampallang piercing on cultural engineer Genesis Breyer P-Orridge. Alan’s voice appeared on the song Message from the Temple on the 1982 Psychic TV album Force the Hand of Chance.
Flash Video Content © Charles Gatewood.
While mostly known for his contributions to the world of photography, the late Charles Gatewood produced a series of films documenting the various subcultures he had become renowned for photographing. Under the FLASH VIDEO banner he released a library of incredibly rare films on VHS tape that included the Erotic Tattooing & Body Piercing series, the Painless Steel Series, the “Weird” series that included visits to San Francisco, New York and Thailand (his best seller) and an impressive assortment of fetish one-offs.
Friends, family, loved ones and admirers of the legendary Charles Gatewood will be meeting on Sunday July 3rd 2016 at the Center for Sex and Culture in San Francisco, California to celebrate his life and legacy. The Facebook RSVP will be your main source of up to date information: https://www.facebook.com/events/1573260856305045 with general details to follow:
“San Francisco’s Family Fetish Photographer”, Anthropologist, Author, True Believer, Beloved Friend and Brother
WHEN: Sunday, July 3rd, 2016
Gather: 4:30 PM
Memorial: 5:30 – 7:30
Afrerglow: 7:30 – 10pm
WHO IS INVITED: Everyone who would like to attend and remember and/or pay tribute to Charles Gatewood; old and new friends, fans, colleagues, admirers, lovers, as well as anyone who has been inspired by Charles’ work…..YOU!
PLEASE BRING: Memories, stories, art, performances, show and tell items, photos, altar items…There will be some open mic time for those that want to say or present something short. Be creative!
WHERE: Center for Sex and Culture, 1349 Mission Street (Between 9th and 10th streets), San Franciso, CA.
WHAT TO WEAR: Please come as you are or dress up if you like. Charles was an artist and loved toys, props, and accessories! Feel free to don your favorite fetish outfit or best costume.
CAMERAS: We will be documenting parts of the memorial for CSC and the Charles Gatewood archive. Those who choose not to be in any photos or videos will be honored.
I’ve been sitting on this post for weeks; every now and then I’d go into my drafts queue and tinker with it a little bit here and there, adding new photos or blurbs from suspension practitioners that were influenced by the film but never quite finished it up. Earlier this morning, iconic photographer, anthropologist and counterculture icon Charles Gatewood- the subject of the film- passed away. Dances has taken on a life of it’s own in the suspension community but ultimately is a documentary on Gatewood’s photography and is a great snapshot of one of the most important photoanthopologists of our time. We’ve screened it several times at the Overground Cinema in Philadelphia, with each screening converting a new fan. Rest in Peace, Charles- and thank you.
Charles Gatewood, November 8th 1942-April 28th 2016.
Canadian speculative science fiction author William Gibson first introduced me to the term ‘Nodal Points’ in his 1996 novel IDORU; the book’s protagonist Colin Laney sifts through vast amounts of data looking for points of particular relevance 1 and since I’ve always wanted to be a protagonist in a cyberpunk novel I tend to use the term quite often here on SD when talking about particularly influential moments in body modification history.
For the hook suspension community, the 1985 release of Dan and Mark Jury’s Dances Sacred and Profane was one such point. A documentary on photoanthropologist Charles Gatewood, who’s Forbidden Photographs would go on to help define the Modern Primitives era of the late 1980s/early 1990s body modification scene, DS&P has gained a cult following thanks to it’s admittedly brief footage of Fakir Musafar and Jim Ward performing their interpretation of a Sun Dance ritual and Fakir’s chest suspension from a cottonwood tree.
Thirty years after it’s initial release, Dances, which was retitled Bizarre Rituals by Gorgon Video 2 in 1985 when it was release on home video, has become a classic, influencing the pioneers of the modern hook suspension revival.
I saw Dances Sacred and Profane for the first time after I had already been into suspension for some years; somebody shared a link to it online, after the second Dallas SusCon I attended in 2010. After watching it I gained a different perspective, and appreciation for not just the history of modification, but also body suspension as ritual. I suddenly felt a certain reverence for suspension, and wanted to revisit its history with this new point of view. I have always been drawn more to the artistic and technical aspects of the form, and am heavily driven by the urban roots by which I was introduced to it. With Gatewood’s coverage of all the intersecting scenes, and the climactic, crazy, deep tissue chest suspension at the end, I had the realization that ritual and art were co-dependent, and that understanding suspension’s place in other environments would be the only logical way to make progress towards something unique with this medium. I guess nobody had ever explained suspension to me in that context before. It was either science and art, as with Stelarc’s body of work; ritualistic, as with Fakir’s approach; or purely recreational, which defines the majority of the modern state of body suspension. After DSP, the consideration was there that all of these things were somewhat co-dependent, and make for a more wholesome experience. In short, DSP was the trigger for my fascination with just how far we can go with our minds and bodies, with suspension as the carrier. It made me approach suspension with more reverence, respect, and patience. I would not want to insult those that came before us. – Orb Ism, Anchors Aweigh
I started my piercing apprenticeship in the spring of 1994 and soon after read Modern Primitives, which led me to Dances Sacred and Profane. To put it lightly, I was overwhelmingly intrigued. But being from a smaller city in the midwest, where simply having a few facial piercings was enough to get you publicly ridiculed, I remember thinking that would probably be something I only ever got to read about. But the imagery and the ritual and the way the flesh looked being stretched and used to lift the human body were things that stayed with me. Fast forward to 2004 and I finally got my chance to swing from hooks. There was no ritual, no tree, no epic scenery, just me and some friends and some hooks. It was at that point that intrigue turned into a drving passion, to not only do it again, but to share it with others. In 2014 this all culminated with me getting to work with Fakir at a performance during Dallas SusCon 2014. Suspension has been nothing short of life-changing for me. Being a part of the suspension community has made me the man I am today. And I owe it all to seeing this amazing film- Mike Coons, HOOKED
In 2004 the film was released on DVD by the Jury Brothers under the title Dances, Sacred and Profane Redux. This new digital version included footage of Fakir and Mark Jury reconnecting ten years after the completion of the film.
If you’re interested in purchasing a copy, visit Fakir Musafar’s site for more information: http://www.fakir.org/store/index.html
- A nodal point is also a photographic term: noun, Optics. 1. either of two points on the axis of a lens or other optical system, determined by extending an incident oblique ray and the corresponding refracted ray to the axis for the pair of rays that are parallel outside the optical system. Also called node.- Source Dictionary.com ↩
- Gorgon Video is a film production and distribution company focusing on the subgenre of extreme horror and “dark documentaries” based in the United States and Spain. The company is best known for the film Devil Doll (1964) and the Faces of Death series.- Source: Wikipedia. ↩
I’ve been lucky in my life to have met a great number of people that I would consider to be a “big influence” on me; for the most part I’ve kept my cool when our paths finally crossed- after all they’re just regular folks despite their accomplishments and I try not to get too star struck or fanboy-y.
On May 5th 2009 I found myself pacing in the hallway at the Tropicana hotel in Las Vegas, for once honest to goodness nervous, about introducing myself to Charles Gatewood. More than ‘just’ a photographer, Gatewood has been a documentarian and anthropologist without rival for the last five decades, capturing emerging subcultures before anyone else even knows they exist. Bikers, Mardi Gras revelers, Nudists, Wall Street stooges, Leathermen, Rock’n’Rollers and Modern Primitives- his cameras were always there to capture a time and place that few others dared to go.
How could I not be nervous?
A few seconds after a mumbled “Mister Gatewood, do you have a minute?” greeting, I was put instantly at ease by his charm, kindness and humor. We chatted, nothing serious, and I finally girded up the stones to ask him- the man who did a book with Burroughs and introduced Fakir Musafar to the Re/Search folks- if I could ask to take his picture. He smiled and said “of course,”
I snapped the shot, we chatted a few more minutes and went our separate ways. The next day I told him that I blew the shot- poor lighting, slightly out of focus and he smiled- again that smile- and said “well, that’s photography for you!”
On April 8th 2016 Charles suffered a fall from a third floor balcony. He’s been placed in palliative care and is in the care of an amazing Hospital team as well as his friends and family. His longtime friend Annie Sprinkle had this to say:
He’s in the best ICU in California, his nurses, doctors, and the palliative care team is excellent. Charles even has some nurses who know him personally. We were all sad, but also relieved he was on his way to freedom from suffering. So now is the time to send him lots of LOVE and support, pray if you pray, dance if you dance, or do whatever it is you do, and let him know energetically that you care. I personally believe he will feel it. It just might help. The medical team can’t predict how long Charles will be in this world; perhaps hours, perhaps days, weeks.. no one knows…It’s strange to tell you this on FB. But a consensus of a few of Charles’ friends agreed that the energetic support is more important than being super private right now. Also taking into consideration how Charles publicly shared intimate details of his personal life through his art. Plus we felt that his many friends and colleagues around the world might want to know to be part of this next chapter and this process.
At 12:30am on April 28th, 2016 Charles Gatewood passed away. He was 73 years old. His partner Eva was holding his hand as he passed. Rest in Peace, Charles, and thank you.