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PHOTOGRAPHS

by Q SAKAMAKI & CHARLES GATEWOOD

161 Essex Street btwn Houston & Stanton | New York | September 11 to October 10, 2003
TAGGED: SAKAMAKI INFOSAKAMAKI REVIEW
GATEWOOD INFO | GATEWOOD REVIEW #1 | GATEWOOD REVIEW #2

Q SAKAMAKI: Graduated from Columbia University with a Masters degree of Master of International Affairs. In the area of both photography and journalism, based in New York, he has been covering the root causes of war, the issues on human rights and refugees, and many other aspects in war zones, such as Kosovo, Bosnia, Algeria, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Palestine, Cambodia, Haiti, for American, Japanese, and European media including Time and Life magazines. Q has won top international photo awards, and has had 2 books published on his work.We will feature photographs from Liberia. Get an up close frontline look at the war with little news coverage. The landmines of chaos. The Liberia war.

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CHARLES GATEWOOD: For more than three decades Charles Gatewood has been one of the most influential photographers documenting the outsider sexual and body arts underground. Mr. Gatewood was partially responsible for two books that helped change American body arts culture. He was the photographer for Spider Webb's classic book Pushing Ink, the most radical tattoo book printed in the 20th Century. Charles also introduced people at ReSearch publi-cation to Fakir Musafar, a meeting that produced Modern Primitives the revolutionary book about body modification/adornment.

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Q Sakamaki Show

Review in: The Villager, New York, September 15th, 2003

Q SAKAMAKI is a small, elflike man with a moustache and a twinkle in his eye. He’s unfailingly courteous. Though he might not fit the stereotype of the macho war photographer, he regularly puts himself in harm’s way in the planet’s most dangerous combat areas. And he’s quite good at what he does.

"For the last 10 years, I concentrate on conflict zones," Sakamaki said during an interview at an Avenue A café last Thursday. "I want to cover more how wars affect people, how people suffer. I prefer war zone, battle zone, because it concentrates human emotion."

An E. Fourth St. resident, Sakamaki, 45, was getting ready to go to the West Bank that weekend, his sixth time covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Other conflict zones and wars he has photographed include Bosnia/Kosovo, Northern Ireland, Lebanon, Angola, Cambodia, Algeria and most recently, Iraq and Liberia.

He considers the gang battles in Brazil’s favellas, or slums, that he photographed, also to be wars and among the most lethal situations he’s experienced. Every night, he saw a dead body in the street. In Sakamaki’s closest brush with death, while he was shooting portraits of young gang members, a teenager came up behind him and choked him unconscious. They stole his photo equipment, though expecting something to happen, he’d left his wallet and passport behind. He told the story smiling, as if amused at having survived.

He’s only been wounded once, in the West Bank during the Intifada. He found himself among a group of 300 Palestinian protestors when Israeli soldiers started shooting a mix of rubber bullets and live ammunition.

"I call it paranoia trigger," Sakamaki said of why the soldiers fired. "Sometimes they can’t figure out, is this danger or not? It happens everywhere, not just Israel."

The bullet ricocheted off a rock and glanced off his forearm, fracturing the bone.

The hellish war scenes of Liberia, where he recently photographed for three weeks, are still vivid in his Infory, though he seems completely unrattled.

"It’s maybe worst time I ever experienced," he said. "To die or survive is just luck." He calmly pointed to the wall behind him, three feet away, when asked how close bullets had come to him.

Sakamaki’s goal, as always, was to reach the front line.

"Any time, before moving, I look for the hiding place," he said. At other times, he followed behind government militia.

Using napkins on the tabletop to denote battle line positions, Sakamaki described the difference between the front line and the "second front line." On the front line, the soldiers accept the photojournalists’ presence. "We share same risk once we are on front line," Sakamaki explained. "We share same feeling, so they respect you. Except they don’t like you to photograph or talk to child soldiers," he added. "They know it’s not right."

Sakamaki saw small girls fighting in Liberia. He also saw child soldiers in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Angola.

"Too many child soldiers," he reflected.

On the second front line, at a distance from the fighting, the soldiers are often drinking or doing drugs and tell the photographers to beat it, he said.

Sakamaki was in Baghdad at the Palestine Hotel with other journalists in March and April during the Iraq war. He recalled the "decapitation strike" that started the war as being "like an earthquake. Air is orange and red. Then air blew me back one meter and floor is also moving. And how many Tomahawks, I don’t know."

His impression of the Iraqis’ initial reaction to the American’s invasion is not exactly the welcome party the Bush administration portrayed.

"They never seen the American soldiers," Sakamaki said. "People just getting panicked. They afraid. Most people in Iraq, they don’t like Saddam Hussein. But they don’t like America more — because they’re occupier, simple as that."

Sakamaki’s hotel room was on the floor below where two journalists were killed by an American tank shell fired into the hotel.

"U.S. soldiers said they saw R.P.G. [rocket-propelled grenade launcher]," he said. "I think the U.S. government definitely lying. The U.S. government doesn’t want to admit mistake."

Sakamaki attended press conferences with Iraqi information minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, a.k.a. "Baghdad Bob," who was derided for his inaccurate statements. But Sakamaki said Fox News and other media exaggerated the extent of the U.S.’s initital forays into Baghdad.

"He’s a nice guy, no seriously," Sakamaki said. "He has great humor. Fifty percent he’s correct; U.S. is half incorrect. We call it information war."

Before leaving for assignments, Sakamaki tends not to discuss them with his wife. Similarly, at the warfront the photojournalists tend to talk about other subjects.

"Usually people on my job, we don’t talk about war zone so much once we go over there," he said. "Talk about outside politics or we have nice food or something."

Sakamaki has seen more of war than most ever will. He feels he’s close to understanding it. As he sees it, war’s causes are several: ethnic conflict, religious conflict, territory and economics. The U.S., because of its role in globalization and protecting its interests abroad, is another chief cause of conflict, he feels.

"Since beginning of time, still people fighting," he said. "I want to know why people fight. I want to get the answer. I understand — almost."

A native of Osaka, Japan, after coming to the East Village, Sakamaki, in the mid-1980s and early ’90s, photographed the AIDS crisis, homelessness, the nightclubs and gay scenes and other various subjects that he described as "something weird" for lack of a better word.

In fact, ironically, one of the only times he was ever arrested while working was when he was covering a squatter eviction in 1989 in the East Village. The charges were later dropped because he was only shooting photos as a journalist, not refusing an order to vacate the building.

Sakamaki’s photographs have been published in The New York Times, Time, LIFE, various European magazines and The Villager, when he photographed the Tompkins Sq. Park homeless. He also writes political analysis for Japanese media.

© The Villager Review, New York, September 15, 2003

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Shocking Images From the American Underground
Charles Gatewood has an extraordinary photo exhibition at the Clayton Gallery
Review by Dave Kehr

The New York Times, September 12th, 2003

The look in Charles Gatewood's eyes - bright, open, as innocently avaricious as the proverbial kid in a candy store - is perfectly replicated in his photographs. His subjects, though, are not those that usually inspire childlike wonder: he is the chronicler of an American underground whose members run from garden-variety sadomasochists to practitioners of a radical form of surgical body modification that makes them resemble refugees from a distant planet.

It is hard to look at many of the images in Forbidden Photographs: The Life and Work of Charles Gatewood," a documentary directed by Bill Macdonald that opens today in New York. It is just as hard to turn away from them. The people shown in "Modern Primitives," as Mr. Gatewood titled one of his photo collections, are exhibitionists and seekers, individuals who use tattoos, piercings and elaborate forms of self-torture to call attention to themselves and to access a particular sort of spiritualism, as did the medieval Penitentes.

Mr. Gatewood's own photographs - with subjects ranging from Mardi Gras flashers to self-styled "radical sex pagans" — have an elegant matter-of-factness that Mr. Macdonald's film, a bit too ragged and eagerly sensational, never quite achieves.

"This is so mondo," says one commentator in the film, unconsciously echoing the title of the Italian exploitation film "Mondo Cane," a 1962 pseudodocumentary about bizarre human behavior that has become a touchstone of the pierced generation, as well as, apparently, a common adjective meaning cool.

While not quite "Mondo Gatewood," "Forbidden Photographs" happily lingers over images of young men pushing meat hooks through their flesh, suspending themselves from cables and turning themselves into rotating human mobiles. "It's more than just putting hooks in your skin and hanging," says one. "There's an art to it." In other words, don't try this at home.

The film also features that stock figure of old exploitation films, the "licensed psychologist," who spells out the redeeming social value of the shocking imagery - and who in this case bears an unfortunate resemblance to Eugene Levy.

Interviewed on camera, Mr. Gatewood describes his difficult childhood ("My parents were drunks — Mom heard radio signals in her head") and his journey through substance abuse and self-destructiveness. He speaks in a slow, deliberate manner that makes his remarks sound scripted, even if they are not. His images, however, are extremely articulate.

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Exposing a Dark Side
Charles Gatewoods 'Forbidden Photographs'
Invade Cinema Village and the Clayton Gallery
Review by Chris Macleod

in: New York Resident, The Week of September 15, 2003

Since the ‘60s, Charles Gatewood has photographed American subcultures. Through his lens, the Wall Street of the "go-go" years was no less a "tribe" than outlaw biker gangs. A degree in cultural anthropology from the University of Missouri prepared Gatewood to continue his studies in the field, so to speak.

Never judging his subjects, his combination of detachment and empathy engenders trust. Thus, Gatewood can burrow deep into the underground. Something of a cult figure, his reputation now precedes him as he seeks the fetish fringe.

Based in San Francisco for the last decade, a confluence of Gatewood events is raising his profile in New York.

The Museum of Sex presented a talk and slide show by the artist. More transgressive photographs are on view at the Clayton Gallery. At Cinema Village, Forbidden Photographs, a documentary directed by Bill MacDonald, has just opened.

It's a film that, to use the words of a fetish model who appears in it, "reaches out and grabs your balls." An early scene showing attendees at a Gatewood retrospective being flogged — a man even offers himself as a dartboard — sets the stage for the exhibitionism to come.

The players we meet are into "body modification" in a big way. One sexagenarian not only has had surgery to construct a fleshy love handle above his navel, he has tattooed his own penis.

A young man describes how he used a razor to split the head of his penis, doubling the number of rings he can wear through his piercings. That he displays his member like a work of art is key to the movement's sensibility.

Whether it involves branding, cutting, hot candle wax, blood sports, earthworms, diving into mounds of bread dough, or being hoisted by hooks through the back — one troupe creates aerial ballets in this position — the element of ritual and performance is paramount. It's not about sex: the presence of an "audience" is the turn-on.

Although the fetish scene emphasizes "safe, sane, and consensual," we asked the photographer if he ever felt the obligation to intervene in a potentially dangerous situation.

Yes," he allowed. "I've that little Sunday-school inside me, but people will be doing things whether I'm there or not."

Many participants say they're on a "new spiritual path"; others claim to be "empowered." But the most disturbing aspect of this mind-set is the conviction that self-modification (mutilation?) creates a unique identity. Believing that identity starts from the outside is both "primitive" and, sadly, "modern."

But it’s not Gatewood’s fault. He’s just along for the ride — the snapshot we see of him as a boy riding behind his stepfather on a Harley-Davidson seems prophetic. His early inspirations were Jack Kerouac and peripatetic photographer Robert Frank. William Burroughs wrote the text accompanying Gatewood’s first book of photos, Sidestepping.

More than once in Forbidden Photographs, Gatewood is referred to as heir to terrain staked out by Weegee and Diane Arbus. Considering the self-destructive pathology, Nan Goldin is a more apt analogy.

As to his own proclivities, Gatewood said, "I am a hetero male who likes 22-year-old girls ... and some light S&M" on occasion.

What’s the next big thing, fetish-wise?

Sploshing," he told us. "It's about food, smearing it all over, rolling around in it, whatever."

I'll take chocolate.

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