Charles Gatewood is primarily a photojournalist. Yet during his 45-year career, he has strayed into fine art photography, and the two are not always distinct. Some of photography’s giants — Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander or Walker Evans, to name just a few — seamlessly combine both in their work.
In “Charles Gatewood’s Greatest Hits,” on view at Robert Tat Gallery through the weekend — this distinction stands out.
It begins with a large portrait of William Burroughs, which greets visitors immediately upon entering the gallery. With is stark directness, the striking photo clearly falls into the category of fine art.
But categorizing the images does not denigrate the art of the award-winning photographer, who worked on assignment for Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Harper’s, Time and other national publications from 1966-75 and won acclaim for his 1970s images of New York’s financial district in the photo essay “Wall Street.”
It was on an assignment in Paris he met Burroughs, and they became close friends; Burroughs appears in a variety of photos in the exhibition, as well as in a new limited-edition book, “Burroughs 23.”
While not all images in the show are standouts, many are distinctive and political, even stunning, such as “Naked Boy With Police at Mardis Gras.” Gatewood, known for documenting America’s emerging sexual underground, has called himself the “family photographer of America’s erotic underground.”
One part the exhibit is devoted to well-known entertainers, artists and writers — Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan and Carlos Santana, among others. With these photos, the composition is less interesting than the more engaging celebrity aspect of the works.
The last section of the exhibit, featuring images from the “Wall Street” series, stands apart. The works seem like photographic versions of abstract painting, showcasing dramatic contrasts of light and dark and iconic objects, individuals and environments. They represent photography at its most exciting and challenging.
IF YOU GO
Charles Gatewood’s Greatest Hits
Where: Robert Tat Gallery, 49 Geary St., suite 410, San Francisco
When: 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. today, Wednesday and Saturday
Tickets: Admission is free
Contact: (415) 781-1122, www.roberttat.com