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.
“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 “Alan Oversby”→
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.
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. Continue reading “Erotic Tattooing and Body Piercing IV: Cutting by Esther”→
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
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.
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. ↩