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Forbidden Photographs

Postcards from the Edge

One look at a Charles Gatewood photograph and you are riveted. Maybe it's the subject matter - a tattooed, pierced and naked self-described pagan - or the beautifully developed black and white print. Either way it's difficult to tear your eyes away, and once you do manage it, it's unlikely that you'll forget what you've seen (the image seared into your memory).

Director Bill Macdonald turns the camera around in Forbidden Photographs: The Life and Work of Charles Gatewood, a documentary on the esteemed San Francisco icon and award-winning cultural anthropologist.

For decades he has been devoutly documenting oft over-looked subcultures like nudist colonies, radical pagans and, yes, Wall Street brokers. This film captures the scope of Gatewood's lifework while also exploring his turbulent past (filled with alcohol and drug use or, as he calls it, "craziness"). Shots of photograph after photograph are interspersed with scenes of colleagues raving and Gatewood demurely telling stories.

While the doc functions as a kind of celluloid retrospective, there are a couple of contrived scenes - one in particular in which Gatewood looks to be "chatting" with an admirer of his work as they peruse one of his portfolios - that smacks of an info-mercial; you're just waiting for George Foreman to jump in and give them a piece of chicken fresh off his grill. Furthermore, Gatewood's disarming cadence throws you off (is he reading cue cards or does he really talk like that?).

It doesn't take a genius to figure out that this film is a labor of love on the part of Bill Macdonald; the production values are low and the music, which plays incessantly throughout, seems to have been taken off the soundtrack from some eighties' porn. However, Forbidden Photographs has a lot of heart. And that says a lot.

If you are a fan of his work, then this documentary is a dream come true, and even if you have no idea who Charles Gatewood is, this film provides enough eye candy to keep you fascinated. The Bottom Line: Worth the money.


Forbidden Photographs
1 hours 30 minutes

A documentary by Bill Macdonald
about the life & art of Charles Gatewood