The San Francisco Chronicle

Glen Friedman: photography show at Geary Gallery

Kimberly Chun

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Skateboarding and underground sounds were far from synonymous when Glen Friedman was starting out in the late ’70s, a 14-year-old skater intent on documenting the Dogtown skaters in Los Angeles. But he brought the two cultural forces together with his powerful, eloquent images: shots of gravity-defying teenage daredevils that beautifully illustrate Henri Cartier-Bresson’s “decisive moment” and later gritty, street-level coverage of American hard-core acts like Black Flag, Bad Brains and Minor Threat, as well as hip-hop performers such as the Beastie Boys, Run-DMC and Public Enemy.

It was all personal – and confrontational – which might be one reason the personable, talkative Friedman, 48, titled his photography volumes “F- You Heroes” and “F- You Too,” and his international touring exhibition, “F- You All,” the latter of which can be seen at 941 Geary, some 60 images strong.

Friedman’s eye, visible at a young age even with a borrowed Pentax, had, he recalls now from New York, “everything to do with the fact that I was a skateboarder myself and skateboarding was my life, and I was inspired by it constantly – these guys I hung out with and saw at the schoolyards. It was exhilarating and exciting. I knew what they were doing – I wasn’t as good as them, but it was my lifestyle and it needed to be portrayed in a real, honest way.”

Friedman – once the youngest staff photographer at Skateboarder Magazine and later the co-producer of the documentary “Dogtown and Z-Boys” – can hold forth at length on why so many creative people, accustomed to questioning authority and looking at sidewalks, railings and urban architecture as potential playthings, have come out of skateboarding.

“Skateboarding was done by guys who were rowdy, crazy people who were turning the sport upside down when people were trying to organize it and turn it into Little League,” says Friedman, who continues to turn down corporate commercial work because of his political principles. “But kids see what’s real and what’s fake, and most of the time they’ll be attracted to the radical guys.”

Punk and bands like the Dead Kennedys politicized him further, inspiring him to produce and manage Suicidal Tendencies around the time of “Institutionalized,” one of the first punk videos to break through on MTV. Says Friedman: “Punk rock opened my mind to seeing politics in a different way, from a radical perspective that schools didn’t give us back then.”

So it’s not a stretch that the longtime vegan who, during the 2004 Republican National Convention, organized the anti-war Liberty Street Protest near the Ground Zero site, has decided to show alongside Shepard Fairey for the latest iteration of “F- You All.”

The show highlights all Friedman’s collaborations with Fairey – the original photographs displayed alongside Fairey’s renditions for the first time. Pieces include their collaboration on an image of skateboarder Jim Muir. Also up will be images with a NorCal bent, like Friedman’s pics of Jello Biafra and onetime Thrasher magazine columnist Rick Blackhart.

Still, photography isn’t foremost in Friedman’s mind these days: He’s vowed to focus on parenthood since the birth of his first child, and he’s selective about what he shoots.

“I’m not a curmudgeon,” he says. “I was always critical; even back then, I didn’t bring my camera to shows all the time.

“But the stuff I saw going on in the ’70s and ’80s and early ’90s was really forcing me, telling me that there was something I had to portray and get the word out about. It was the people inspiring me that made me want to inspire others in the same way.”

Through Dec. 31. Noon-7 p.m. Tues.-Sat. 941 Geary, 941 Geary St., S.F.