Charles Gatewood & Paul King

The 2017 Body Piercing Archive exhibit at the Association of Professional Piercers annual Conference & Exposition in Las Vegas will feature the life’s work of the photographer and videographer Charles Gatewood. With over 250,000 images spanning more than 50 years, almost all of you are aware of his prolific work, whether you realize it or not.

Fakir Musafar Sundance Ceremony Wyoming-1982 photo by CG from PK private collection

Like most people, I was aware of his work long before I met him. It was in a bookstore in Long Beach, California in 1989, I first saw his photographs of Fakir Musafar’s O-kee-pa suspension and Jim Ward’s Sundance pull in Modern Primitives. Most are unaware that the book’s direction was largely influenced by Charles Gatewood’s contacts provided to V. Vale and Andrea Juno of ReSearch. Although I never personally identified as a “modern primitive,” the book formalized my desire for complete tattoo body coverage with coherent and graphic themes. This book’s influence cannot be overstated; it took fringe individuals and small communities and cohered them into a global movement with a far-reaching cultural impact.

Despite the inseparable association with Modern Primitives, these powerful ritual images of Fakir and Jim Ward were not created for the book. These were documentation from an earlier important film collaboration. The film Dances Sacred and Profane (a.k.a. Bizarre Rituals) was released in 1985. Originally, the documentary was to be focused on Charles Gatewood. However, in the process of making Dances Sacred and Profane, the film became much more a documentation of and promotion for Fakir Musafar. The 2003 film Forbidden Photographs is much more representative of Gatewood’s work and story.

Arguably, the photograph Charles took of Bob Dylan on tour in Sweden in 1966 was his most important. This photo showed Charles he could make money off of his photography. In fact, he continued to make many thousands of dollars in licensing from that single Dylan image over the next fifty years! The photo also opened doors. From this single image, Charles eventually became a staff photographer for Rolling Stone Magazine and made many contributions from 1972 through 1975. He photographed numerous celebrities including: Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Sly and the Family Stone, Carlos Santana, Alice Cooper, Liza Minnelli, Slade, Joan Baez, Stiv Bators and the Dead Boys, Al Green, Ella Fitzgerald, The Hermits, Helen Wheels, Quentin Crisp, Abbie Hoffman, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Jimmy Page, Robert Palmer, Brian Gysin, Nelson Rockefeller, etc. and he even landed a cover with Rod Stewart. Many of his photos reached iconic status, however, they usually did so without his name being associated with the image.

Copy of Jim Ward Does the Sundance Ritual at Devil_s Tower, Wyoming 1982 photo by CG from PK private collection

In the late 1970s, Gatewood’s friendships with the tattooist Spider Webb and porn star Annie Sprinkle propelled him into the world of fetish and body art. Both of these wild personalities opened Gatewood’s eyes, further fueling his passion for sexual kink, that at that place and time very much included tattooing and body piercing. Spider and Charles had several tattoo book collaborations and even created a book proposal in the 1980s for the next big trend – “body piercing” – that was rejected by all the publishing houses as ridiculous. Of course, they were ahead of the times. It was through Annie Sprinkle that Charles met Fakir Musafar and Jim Ward.

In 1984, Charles Gatewood published Wall Street, a book very uncharacteristic of his salacious and shocking subjects. This political photographic essay juxtaposes architecture against humans circulating the economic heart center of capitalism located in lower Manhattan. For Charles, the decade spent wandering the streets in the daytime capturing images of pedestrians and concrete angles was meditative, even therapeutic. These lone journeys offered some balance to the characters and experiences found in seedy bars, dark dungeons, and shooting galleries of the night. The wild success of the book gained Gatewood greater critical acclaim and prestigious awards as well as future book deals, exhibitions, and lecture opportunities.

In 1990, I was hanging out with Gauntlet piercers Dan Kopka and Elayne Angel at their condo in West Hollywood. One of them popped in an underground video. I still remember the grainy interview of a punk guy with a lip ring. At that time, such images were extremely rare and exciting stuff! Charles Gatewood’s videos will never be remembered for their crude production value, but rather for the rarity of the footage. Charles’ first piercing video, in 1986, Erotic Tattooing and Body Piercing, included a Jim Ward lecture in NYC. Upon release, Charles found there was a lucrative home video market.

Copy of Jack Yount San Francisco 1993 photo by CG from PK private collection

Full disclosure, although I had met Charles several times in the 1990s, I was not friendly towards him. At best I was indifferent, but often I was dismissive. In my twenties, I had a very low opinion of fetish photographers. I would see my friends poorly compensated for their modeling and then their images would unknowingly get turned into greeting cards or plastered on buses as advertisement for STD treatment! I viewed fetish and body art photographers as sexual predators and economic exploiters of my community and friends.

However, during one of my countless used bookstore searches for piercing history in the early 2000s, I stumbled upon Charles Gatewood’s fine art photography book Sidetripping from 1975. My mind was blown! All my preconceptions of who Charles Gatewood was as a person and an artist were challenged. This astonishing work rivaled that of my favorite photographer Diane Arbus, except Gatewood’s book was also in collaboration with William Burroughs, a tremendous writer that greatly influenced me in my younger life! A life lesson learned, I reached out to Charles.

He invited me into his home. We had a casual friendship, I would see him maybe four to six times a year and always one on one. He’d make us tea, show me his latest art projects, we’d catch up on news. I’d dig for history lessons and he’d usually sell me something, or at least try to!

We shared the experience of having degrees in anthropology. Something that became apparent to me was at a public level his degree in anthropology was often toted as a strategy to contextualize and legitimize his work, however, his motivations and methods would be viewed as highly problematic by today’s rigorous academic standards. Charles was an experience junkie. He craved thrills and excitement. In his own words, he was a “gonzo-journalist.” He wanted his pictures to go “POW!”

Copy of Erl circa early 1990s (original name of bridge piercing was Erl) photo by CG from PK private collection

He was a passionate man, whose art and pursuits were driven by his thirst for excitement found in the new, the unusual, and the sexual. The camera lens allowed him access, power and privilege. Photography seduces many subjects and as a recognized photographer the aphrodisiac of the camera grew stronger. Rather than granting permission, models would actively seek him out!

Like an old-time wheelin’ and dealin’ carnival barker, Charles drew in individuals and groups with his fantastic life stories and whispered back door offers of his photographic works at “below gallery prices.” He was a self-made and self-employed artist for 50 years! He prided himself on getting by without ever having to have a real job.

Charles hoarded and thank God for that. His inability to let things go meant he had crates of magazine and newspaper clippings with jokes, photos, pop culture reviews, etc. referencing body piercing and tattooing. Although far from properly preserved, still, he had them while most of us were throwing these ephemera away. Much of the later dated material, he simply donated to the APP/BPA.

Charles grew more familiar with my work and involvement with the APP. We agreed it would be amazing if we could put something together for the 20th anniversary of Modern Primitives. In 2009, Charles and V. Vale of ReSearch gave a well-received presentation at the APP Conference in Las Vegas.

The breadth and quantity of his late 1980s and early 1990s video work is staggering and unique to the body piercing community. He has hundreds of hours of footage that includes Sailor Sid, Jack Yount, Ron Athey, Elayne Angel, Hanky Panky, Allen Falkner, Erl, Annie Sprinkle, Mr. Sebastian, the founders of Body Manipulations, Al D. (yes, the same guy as the APP Scholarship), Raelyn Gallina, and many early Gauntlet piercers, some even before they were piercers. While Charles managed to sell his entire photography archive, including personal journals, to the U.C. Berkeley Bancroft Library, their archivists turned down his video catalog. They could not mentally offset the poor production value and the cost of digitization against the historical importance of these recorded histories. Had the APP Board of Directors not stepped in, much of our shared history would have been lost to the dump!

Copy of Michaela Grey San Francisco 1991 (before she became APP president) photo by CG from PK private collection

On December 8, 2015, Charles Gatewood donated the Flash Video collection to the APP and Body Piercing Archive (BPA). After he passed away, his estate turned over the remaining personal video archive, including interviews, recorded lectures, b-roll, unedited footage, etc. to the APP and BPA. To date, the APP and BPA have digitized nearly 250 consumer and professional grade tapes!

Charles and I discovered early on that we both had a history with alcohol and had sworn off the bottle decades before. However, Charles suffered from chronic back pain. He turned to prescription opioids and cannabinoids for relief. He started cancelling our rendezvous. Eventually, the opioids took over contributing to a growing depression and organic dementia. I expressed my concerns to him, perhaps too little and too late.

On April 8, 2016, he attempted to take his own life by jumping off his third story apartment balcony. The result was catastrophic injuries putting him in a coma and leading to his death on April 28. He did finally pass in peace, surrounded by folks that loved him. If the details of his death may seem too gruesome, please remember, this is a man that spent his entire career embracing the brutality of life. He would expect no less.

For further exploration of Charles’ career check out these retrospectives:
https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/05/arts/charles-gatewood-photographer-of-extremes-dies-at-73.html?_r=0
https://ww2.kqed.org/arts/2016/04/29/charles-gatewood-groundbreaking-photographer-dead-at-73/

Informative article, despite the author’s naiveté of body modification practices and communities: https://alumni.berkeley.edu/california-magazine/spring-2017-virtue-and-vice/finding-his-tribe-charles-gatewood-bancroft

#73 – Initial Piercing Jewelry, An American Timeline

In the beginning, there was one main manufacturer: Gauntlet. Originally, gold was the predominant material for jewelry used for initial body piercings. According to Jim Ward (Running the Gauntlet, pg. 35), “There was an interest in stainless steel as a material for piercing jewelry”, but due to his lack of knowledge or experience with it “every piece was either gold or silver”. Many people used standard earrings, but the sizes were limited. These were primarily ring styles – captive bead and fixed bead. There were other individuals making specialty jewelry, but acquiring a piece required knowing someone. The first jewelry catalogue from the Gauntlet is dated August 15,1976 and includes many styles of jewelry we still see in use today such as the aforementioned bead ring. In fact the currently popular septum retainer was also a Gauntlet innovation.

1977 “Whatever Rings” ad

In its early days, Gauntlet had one short-lived competitor called Whatever Rings. It was run by a couple of gay guys who were heavy S/M players. They operated out of their West Hollywood apartment and solicited business through ads in the local gay press and Drummer Magazine, a gay BDSM publication. The business was primarily a means to lure men into their playroom. The jewelry consisted solely of gold abutted rings with no closure.

At the time Gauntlet began business in 1975, the only stainless steel jewelry manufacturer of note was Spain’s Custom in Lawton, Oklahoma. It was the jewelry favored by early pioneer Sailor Sid. Although the quality was acceptable, at least by the standards of the time, some objected to the stiffness of the unannealed rings and chose not to offer these products to their customers. Spain’s barbells were also externally threaded. Spain’s Custom advertised in PFIQ until the time Gauntlet began manufacturing and offering stainless steel jewelry of its own in the early 1980s.

Ray Spain, the owner of Spain’s Custom, suffered from back problems which eventually became so severe that he was forced to close his business. Sailor Sid purchased the equipment and began manufacturing jewelry under the name Silver Anchor.

The internally threaded barbell is credited to Tattoo Samy from Frankfurt, Germany. Over the years, Jim Ward expanded on this, not only manufacturing straight, but also curved and circular barbells. Other companies came and went in the beginning, but Gauntlet remained the staple for many years. Early barbells had no countersink (see image a).

The ‘80s and ‘90s saw a rapid influx of jewelry manufacturers. According to Shawn Porter (SPC, BME), the ‘80s spawned companies like Pleasurable Piercing, Toucan (for gold), Wildcat in the UK, and Silver Anchor (formerly Spain’s Custom).
In the late ‘80s, John Donoghue founded Wildcat, a wholesale manufacturer out of Brighton, UK. During the ‘90s they were the largest supplier of body piercing jewelry in Europe.

In 1990, Josh Warner also brought us Good Art and their whimsical, sometimes over the top advertising. In 2002, they rolled out what was to be their fine jewelry line. By 2005, they rebranded themselves as Good Art HLYWD and ceased production of body jewelry.

Some of the manufacturers originating in the ‘90s have become staples for current piercings today. In 1991, Anatometal, Body Circle, and Industrial Strength were founded. 1991 also brought about “implant grade” materials from Anatometal and Industrial Strength, as well as countersunk ends on barbells.

Unfortunately, the ‘90s also brought us a proliferation of body jewelry from Asia and the birth of the “cheap piercing”.

In 1993 Venus by Maria Tash was brought into the mix. Originally only making steel and niobium captives, she moved on to gold designs in 1994.

In 1995 LeRoi opened its doors in upstate New York and Body Vision Los Angeles in, of course, Los Angeles, California.

1997 brought us two companies, Intrinsic Precision and NeoMetal. Intrinsic was opened in San Francisco, California and has been the sleeper of the body jewelry world. Putting out high quality jewelry, they have flown under the radar until recently. Now they are sought after with a long list of piercers waiting for the opportunity to buy their products. NeoMetal, a small company from Concord, California, created something that would eventually stand the piercing community on its proverbial ear: threadless jewelry. In February 2004 they moved to Washington and the threadless movement continued to grow and thrive.

In 1998 Glasswear Studios opened in Ashland, Oregon offering high quality glass jewelry.

1999 brought us Steel Skin, fusing implant grade steel and titanium with dental acrylic ends. In February 2007 Steel Skin was sold and moved to Louisville, Kentucky. They eventually closed in 2010.

In 2002 Gorilla Glass opened in Oaxaca, Mexico fusing traditional and modern designs in glass and obsidian.

While this is by no means a complete timeline of body jewelry manufacturers, it does however highlight, in my opinion, the top (American) companies that made significant contributions to the body piercing world. While I know this list could be MUCH longer, I chose to focus on the companies that produce(d) jewelry for initial piercings.

Authors note: I would like to thank Barry Blanchard, JD Lorenz, Josh Warner, Maria Tash, Sue from Neometal and Wickert Beasley for their prompt responses to my questions on dates. Also I would like to thank the rest of the companies that put a timeline on their websites that made my list much easier to compose.

Point 74: Communicating Effectively in the Digital Age

With the advent of the internet and World Wide Web, times are quickly changing for all. You literally have easy access to the entire world at your fingertips. Long gone are the days of AOL and slow dial-up connections.

In fact you don’t even need a computer or a laptop to access your email or the World Wide Web, and it is no longer necessary to hear the screeches and squeals from your modem just to find out “you’ve got mail.” It is all right at your fingertips on your nearest smart device. As the landscape of the World Wide Web started taking shape, turning to the internet for all your questions and needs quickly became the new norm. “Just Google it” is now the answer to any question that is posed and the internet is full of plenty of answers, both good and bad.

Along with the rise of the internet, new and different platforms have risen as a means for businesses to promote themselves. Shelling out hundreds of dollars for an ad in the YellowPages is no longer necessary when you can get free promotion through the internet. When an individual is seeking an establishment that offers a specific type of service, websites like Google, Yelp, and Facebook seem to be their first stop. Do a great job and offer the highest quality of service and people are quick to sing your praises, loud and proud, through digital reviews. However, along with the good comes the bad. If they are quick to be loud and proud with a review of an exceptional service, they’ll be even quicker and louder when the service that is offered does not meet their expectations. Having a strong social media presence has the power to either make or break businesses these days. In the case of a negative review, it is essential to be prepared to respond politely and professionally. You may be faced with a firestorm on social media, lashing out based on an inappropriate comment. Understanding the tool you are using is imperative to the integrity of your business.

First and foremost, it is absolutely imperative to understand, that once it goes out into the World Wide Web, it has been put out for all eyes to see and will become a permanent part of the recorded history, even if you delete it. The most common fallacy that I see and hear repeatedly is “but it’s my personal page. I’m free to do as I please with it.” While this is technically true, personal page or not, there is no disclaimer to let viewers know this. It is not shrouded by a safety web or warnings. By using your “personal” page as a means to promote yourself and your business, you are providing your viewers with a direct reflection of who you are and the nature of your business. In essence, the internet has made us our own bosses and masters of our own domain.

A perfect example of your personal page not being so personal and the rather serious ramifications that can result is the infamous screencap. How many times have you witnessed, in a public or private forum, a screencap of an image taken from a “personal” page or a “private” forum, used against someone maliciously? Not so personal or private anymore, huh?

Many of us, at one point or another in our life, have been told there are three things that you don’t talk about: religion, politics, and money. While this may not hold as much weight these days as in days of yore, there is still something to be taken from this. Personally, I think that freedom of speech is a wonderful thing, and having the privilege and ability to speak on topics that we are passionate about is what defines us. That being said, there is absolutely a time and place for this to happen, and a social media outlet used to promote a business is not the place to do so.

These days, we live in a society where people are very easily offended and feelings can get hurt. I’m a firm believer that the greatest thing the internet has given us is “butt-hurt”. That “friend” you thought was really cool and understood “where you’re coming from” may take offense to your thoughts and feelings on a particular topic that you may have felt was a non-issue. Not only have you lost a friend, but that person could’ve been your biggest supporter. The person that was initially quick to sing your praises is now telling the world how horrible of a person you are and telling others to no longer frequent your establishment, possibly over something as benign as not seeing eye to eye on whether New York style pizza is better than Chicago style pizza. Simple rule of thumb: if the topic has potential to offend and you can’t handle yourself in a manner that goes hand in hand with how you want your business to be perceived, don’t post it.

In Don Miguel Ruiz’s bestseller, The Four Agreements, one of the agreements was “be impeccable with your word.” While the meaning of this can be open to interpretation, I will apply it in a manner that is in line with what has been brought up thus far. When we are communicating with individuals directly in person (verbal communication), there are many things we can pick up on indirectly through the individual’s nonverbal communication: body language, eye contact, voice inflection, pause and timing, etc. The phrase “you’re not saying anything, but you’re telling me everything” will always come to mind when I think of the importance of nonverbal communication. At this point, if you haven’t caught on yet, you’re probably asking yourself what this has to do with internet etiquette and being impeccable with your word. It has absolutely everything to do with it! These nonverbal identifiers can not be translated through text on a screen. An individual reading your words and seeing your emojis has to infer the tone of the message you are trying to convey. It can be difficult to distinguish whether you are being serious, malicious, sarcastic, or genuinely concerned. The overall message is often left open and subject to interpretation by whomever’s eyes are reading it. This is where it is of utter importance to be clear and concise with the point you are trying to make; in other words, be impeccable with your word.

While I make no claims to be an expert in the field of internet communication, this is all based off of my personal observations and thoughts on the subject matter. My background is in speech communications with an emphasis on interpersonal communication. So naturally, communication, and the lack thereof, is something that I feel very strongly about. If you are touting and claiming yourself to be a professional, do so in a manner that is according to and in line with your claims in all aspects of your life, even the internet. Some people may say that the internet is not real life and should therefore not be taken too seriously. However, when it has the potential to impact your way of life, the internet should absolutely be taken seriously.

 

 

Miro Hernandez
APP Public Relations Director

 

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info@safepiercing.org
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