Issue #2 spring/summer 1999
Intro & Interview by Matthew C. Albanese
GLEN E. FRIEDMAN
"People Specialize in taking wack photos.
I specialize in taking dope photos."
Even if you know nothing about photographs or photographers you have no choice but to know the work of Glen E. Friedman. Whether it be on the T-shirt you bought on the Check Your Head tour, the cover of your sister's L.L. Cool J Bad tape, or when lookin through your older brother's Skateboarder magazines, it's all there. When you look at the body of this artist's work it almost seems impossible for one man to be a part of so much cool shit: skateboarding, punk rock, hardcore and hip hop. I'm talking about the real deal too, not some watered-down version. I'm talking Dogtown, Black Flag, Minor Threat, Bad Brains, Public Enemy, Beastie Boys, Run DMC, Fugazi, Busy Bee and a ton more. He was there for it all, and luckily for us he liked to take pictures.
I had the opportunity to talk to Glen over the phone a few months ago, right before his new book (The Idealist) was about to come out. It was one of the most intense, inspiring and sometimes aggravating conversations I have had in awhile. You could never accuse this man of not having an opinion, which is one of the things I liked the best about him. In today's society (especially with celebrities, artists, journalists, whatever) it is so refreshing to come across someone like Glen E. Friedman -
someone who's not afraid to speak his mind, someone who's not afraid to call you on your bullshit.
Here are some excerpts from that conversation...
$6.99/lb: A lot of photographers go on assignments, take their pictures and leave. Your photographs, on the other hand, really show how much of a part of that particular subject you are. It seems like, for you to take a photograph of anything, you've got to be kind of a fan of it.
GEF: Well, in most of the situations, I'm more than just the photographer on the shoot. Most of the people I am friends with, and most of the time I'm a fan of the people I'm shooting. I may be friends with them, but think about it, your friends - aren't you kind of fans of theirs? You like what they're doing and you like talking to them about it. So, you're kind of a fan of your own friends. It just so happens that some of the people I happen to be friends with happen to be famous and people wanna see pictures of them, or I think they should be famous or people should know what they're doing. I like what they're doing so, in my own way, I want to help spread the ideas and the ideals of what they're doing along to other people.
Now, with skateboarding, it's not necessarily so political or obviously political to some people, but to me it was in the way
people were skateboarding in a more aggressive, radical way. To expose that in a magazine and show it the way I wanna
see it in itself was a political act. You know what I'm saying? It's more personal obviously. When I started hanging out and
seeing bands, probably the first person I shot a music picture of was Ted Nugent. I just shot it because I was a fan. I shot it
from the audience, you know, I didn't have a special pass or nothing. I just snuck up there with my camera and snapped a
couple photos. It was just cool, 'cause I was a fan. Later on, it was kind of amazing, when I got into punk rock and you could go to a bar or a club to see a band and you're in the front row cause, like, everybody's in the front row. That's how it is in
a club, but when you're 17 you don't realize such a thing is possible. It's kind of like a mind blower to me.
Sometimes when I was working for Skateboarder they would say "Can you shoot this band cause we want to do an article on them?", but before that, or even at the same time, there were bands I was seeing that I thought, "I love what these guys are
saying, I love what they're doing, I want to shoot pictures of them and get them in the magazine so more people can find out about what incredible things they are doing and what incredible music there is."
You know, probably from the age of 9 years old I was calling radio stations requesting songs - why am I doing that? I probably own the record myself, but I wanted other people to hear songs that I liked. So, that's kind of what it's like taking pictures, I want other people to know about these things that I like and why I like them. If you photograph it, you get to show the person what it is you like about it. If I shot a picture of Henry Rollins' foot, it'd make people think I liked Henry Rollins' foot. If I take a picture of the whole band performing, Black Flag, and the intensity in it, and what's going on, and try to freeze the action to show you how radical the situation is - if you portray that, you show what you want to show, to relate the story to people the way you want them to see it.
Sometimes when people talk about you as a photographer, they say there is a certain amount of luck there. How would you respond to that?
People gotta realize, certainly I am lucky, because when I started I was living at home. It's not like I was being a bum, it's not like I was spoiled. I was a fucking 13 or 14 year old kid, it's not like I'm gonna have my own apartment on the lower east side. My point is this: I got to start, and I got to do these things, you know? I had the eye, so I was able to start getting published at a young age. And I got to travel around and do all these types of things, inbetween school vacation. Skate companies would fly me around. Or, when I'd visit my mother or my father on one coast or the other, I had these opportunities to shoot these bands. I didn't have many expenses, my parents didn't charge me rent. So, while most people have to develop what they're doing in their 20's or late teens when they are getting out of college or high school, I had already been past that stage.
The reality is, I did some wack jobs, photography-wise. I took some jobs in the beginning just to figure out what the fuck I was doing, and I certainly did need the money when I moved out of my house at 19 years old. I didn't need a lot, but I needed to see what I could do. So, a record company would see my pictures of a punk band somewhere and say "Let's hire this guy and see what he can do for us." So, I shot pictures once of some country guy, you know what I mean, for, like, Elektra records. Not knowing anything of Elektra, over on La Cieniga, other than that's where Iggy recorded his first Stooges album. I figured that's what I needed to do to get in.
I had only been shooting skateboarding photos and getting paid for it. My first album cover was for The Adolescents in 1981. I had shot music photos before that that were printed in Skateboarder and Action Now, but for The Adolescents cover I got like $50 or $55, and that was a very difficult job. It took me alot of days because they would never want to be together. I went to several shows and they knew that's why I was there to do, and those guys wouldn't pose together or they'd be too fucked up. So, I ended up having to use individual shots of them all.
I took pictures of the Go-Go's once even, for IRS records. The Go-Go's were at one time considered a punk band, believe it or not, cause the genre was so wide open in '79 or even '80. In '81 it started closing down more and they were more New Wave or Pop, but IRS had seen the work I had done with The Circle Jerks and Dead Kennedys. So, I figured, they're gonna pay me really good to do this. They liked my live stuff, maybe this is what I'm suppose to do as a photographer. Maybe I'm suppose to take these kinds of jobs. I don't even remember what I got paid - one hundred or a thousand dollars, I don't know. It must have been something pretty good, and I know the photos were wack, the whole thing was wack.
It's funny, I was just thinking, where are those negatives today? It didn't all happen automatically, you know. And I have done jobs, album covers for bands that I didn't think were great, but probably thought were good. Or probably like a friend of mine was in the band or something. So I shot that stuff, also I got to admit, maybe it's been a lot of luck, you know? Honestly, after this new book comes out I don't know what I'm going to be doing. I don't know. I've been living off my photography all this time and I probably will continue to, but there's no set plan really.
I've been very, very frugal with all the money that I make. I'm very careful and I just don't waste so that gives me the freedom to do the jobs I wanna do. Just because I get ten thousand dollars for a one day shoot, or even more sometimes, that might only happen only in like two years. Or it might happen five times in one year, it just depends on how things are going and where my interests are. But just because I did make a lot of money that day, or that year, it doesn't mean I'm gonna go out and buy a fucking car. It doesn't mean I'm gonna go out and do anything. Maybe I'll buy myself a new jacket or a nice dinner with a friend and that's all I'll do to celebrate, occasionally I'll get some new camera equipment, but that's so rare. I just don't spend the money. So if you make the money and you save it and you're just careful with what you do, then that gives you the opportunity to have your freedom later. I don't spend money on drugs, I don't spend money on alcohol - which, when I was young, all my peers were wasting their money on that. In the early pro skateboarding days whenever anyone got any money they would just have big parties.
How did the Mo'Wax thing come about?
Oh, the Mo'Wax visual sampler. Umm...well, by the way that thing is supposed to be out before my book, before The Idealist. It was supposed to be, it probably is not going to be because they're having problems at Mo'Wax, the whole record label deal and everything. I've actually seen a proof of it already and it's really cool. It's all done, they're just waiting to ship it. I don't know
what they're waiting for exactly, but the way that came up is that they did a visual sampler with some other artists, I think they've done a couple of them.
I've only seen the Mike Mills one.
I'd rather not mention people by name, especially if I don't have something positive to say about them. But they did come to me - well, they did my show at the Institute of Contemporary Art, they were the main sponsor, or one of the main sponsors who set up the whole thing. And they approached me at the show and were like "How would you like to do one of these visual samplers?", and you know they're such cool people, James Lavelle, Andy Holmes - I mean, they couldn't be cooler, and just really on top of it, really know their shit, and really nice people. So, of course I said yes, I'd be stoked to, but the only stipulation is, my idea is to do it in my format. Obviously we all want it to be cheap so everyone can afford it. And we want it to be something really special, at least I did 'cause I got the books out there and stuff.
The idea was to do this huge poster, cause we didn't get to do a poster, a big poster, for the show in London; they only did a small one. Originally the idea was to do like five double-sided posters and have my favorite shots from Fuck You Heroes and Fuck You, Too and just have them huge, like 40"x60", and with full color on one side and black and white on the other. And then on the tenth side we were going to do a collage of all unreleased photos, more leftovers from Fuck You Heroes and Fuck You, Too, a collage of like 60 photos, but in the end it cost way too much money to do this set of five posters. It wasn't the printing that was the problem, it was making the films that was the problem: they just cost, like, thousands of dollars.
So in the end we decided to do just one poster, printed on both sides, full color. So the one side is still the original side of that collage of sixty unreleased images, and the A side is just my favorite shots from Fuck You Heroes and Fuck You, Too, kinda like another collage on that side, and that side's horizontal while the other side's vertical, so depending on your wall space. And it's like �9.99 - well that's in England. It will probably be like $20 or $15 by the time it gets here.
So I'm pretty stoked on that, but at the same time, I wanted that out before The Idealist, because I don't want people to think I'm resting on my laurels, going back to what I'm known for. I'm just trying to clean the files, to be honest. I love doing that stuff and I never play it down, but as far as books are concerned and releasing big compilations of those types of images, I really thought that would be the end of that stuff and then work towards the stuff I'm doing now and concentrate on stuff that's more aestheticly motivated than personality motivated.
Tell me about the new book [The Idealist].
The new book is basically my aesthetic, you know, that's what it's about. It's twenty years of photography by me. It's all my photography though not just the stuff that I'm known for, just stuff that I like to take pictures of. This is much more aesthetically motivated work, as opposed to personality driven work. There are pictures of individuals that you will recognize, but in those it's not the individual that is important, it's the photograph. There are no captions, the only captions that are in the book are in the back and they are absolute minimalist. They're only to let you know the year they were taken, so you can see them in context of my growth as a photographer.
I think also I really wanted to do this because I just wanted to show people what I think good photographs are. I think most photography that's out there today sucks, it's bullshit and it's wack. People take wack photos all day long, they specialize in it. People specialize in taking wack photos; I specialize in taking dope photos, and I don't know too many people who do. So, that's why I wanted to release this book and show people that's how it should be done, in my opinion. There are certainly people who shoot good images every once in a while, and some people do it more often than that, but it's pretty rare and I personally don't know them.
Some of the big photographers, whether it be fashion, skating, or music, they all do get some good shots some of the time, but they all shoot a bunch of crap too. Maybe they're like me and have a collection of all amazing beautiful photographs of other stuff they like. Maybe they know how to do it then and are just not showing the whole world, but there's no one whose work impresses me that much that I want to even look that much deeper into their whole catalog. So, I'm not really giving them the benefit of the doubt.
When I do see people, see what they do and see what they get paid, you know, the big ones and even the small ones � even the skate photographers - you see how much film they waste and how crappy the results are and how lacking of personality and composition. The images are kind of, well, not depressing, but so unfortunate and unmotivational as far as photography's concerned. I mean sometimes I'll see pictures in Slap and I'll be stoked, you know, or I'll see pictures in a music magazine and think they're pretty cool, but generally most of that shit sucks. So, I just felt like I wanted to release these images before they got too old and stale. There are images in this book from 22 years ago and there are some from like, 2 years ago. The book covers '76 to '96 and it's basically taken that much time just to put it together, and probably a big portion of it is from the later years because such a big portion of what I shot when I was younger has already been shown. But even so, you'll see pictures of trees that I took in tenth grade in this book.
Do you take pictures everyday?
The reality is, I don't shoot much. I have film in my camera, to be honest with you, that I shot when I was in Italy. That was back in July ('98) and I'm still on frame four on the roll. I've been seeing some beautiful things that I may want to take shots of. Honestly, there's this one shot I want to shoot in this pizza place I go to - by the way, I don't eat cheese on the pizza; they serve it without cheese at this particular joint. I want to shoot this one picture, but I really want to shoot it with Kodochrome 200 and right now there's Tri-X in my camera, so I haven't even shot that one picture that I've been wanting to shoot, that one moment that motivated me. I don't know when I'll finish that roll, but if I do, I do. That's all.
What type of camera do you use?
Pentax K-1000, my favorite camera in the world. I buy them for friends when they tell me they wanna learn how to take pictures. Unfortunately, they just doubled in price in the last year. It's the most basic camera probably every Photography I teacher will tell you to get. It's a perfect camera. My recommendation for someone starting out is a Pentax K-1000 with a 2.8, 28mm lens, which you can find used for like $100-$150. The equipment is not that important. I use the same lens all the time.
I bought a 6x7 camera back in '86, when I was making some money off my rap work. I probably shot four rolls of film on it since then. One roll of film produced the L.L. Cool J Bad album cover. One of the other rolls produced the Oran Juice Jones album cover and back cover, on the same roll. The other two rolls got me Slick Rick's album cover and Davy D's album cover. But, after
that, it was just too bulky to use, so...
Do, you have an explanation or an opinion on why you think we are bombarded so much, everyday, with bad art. People seem so pleased with mediocrity.
Yeah, it's the dumbing down of America. Someone asked me, in a Japanese interview, what do you see as the biggest trend in America, and I said "Ignorance." I don't know how to explain why people are satisfied with bullshit. I guess very often they don't know any better. I think it definitely has something to do with TV where there's so many different channels and things you can watch. You just learn to focus your attention on that box. I watch TV sometimes. I'm not saying that TV is nessessearlily the worst thing in the world, but, just like with many other things you have to be careful in how you use it. You know, guns don't kill people, people kill people, right? Although, I don't believe in guns. Ummm...what would be an analogy? TV's don't dumb down people, remote controls do? It's the channels you watch, I don't know. I watch MTV sometimes, "Seinfeld" a lot of the time, I used to watch Letterman every night.
I read that you are very anti-fashion, yet I recently saw some promo shots you did for the Phat Farm clothing line. Could you talk a little about this, why you're so anti-fashion?
I think fashion is one of the worst capitalist things in this society. I think capitalism could be positive in some ways, and it does advance the society in many, many ways. But I don't think all those advances are good things, particularly fashion, is something that corporations use to get people to spend more money when they don't need to. The pants I'm wearing today fit
me as fine as they did 5 or 6 years ago. If they're not worn out, you don't need new fashion. Fashion is just a way to get people to waste money, I think. It's just ridiculous, I don't understand it. That's why I'm anti-fashion.
Of course I wear clothes, but I don't buy that much clothes. I may be lucky because companies will give me free clothes, you know, companies my friends work for or something like that. You know, people change new clothes and new sneakers every fucking month, that's just really negative. It's using up natural resources and also people's personal resources. They don't need to be wasting their money on fucking clothes, and fucking make-up that women seem to think they need. It's self-perpetuating, they create new styles every year just to keep themselves in business. I can't say that I've never been influenced by fashion, like in my early punk rock days, wearing a leather jacket. The degree that people let their lives be run by that stuff and the amount of money wasted on it, is what makes me anti-fashion.
Also, you've got all these companies out there making clothes, skate companies, and some musicians starting their own clothing companies, all they're doing is sewing in their tag into someone else's design. T-shirts, on top of that, I've got so many fucking T-shirts. I don't buy any. T-shirts are an advertising tool, whether it be a political idea or a particular company, that's up to you. I like a plain T-shirt, or if my friend's company is doing something that is cool, I'll wear the shirt to support them, but I am being a walking billboard. If a shirt's got a particular political slogan on it, I'll wear it to share my ideas with people. For some of these companies that just write their company name on a shirt in a different font, or have some wack drawings � of course it's all subjective - on a T-shirt, it's like "Why?" You call yourself a clothing company? No. It's just rude to sell these things at such crazy prices when it's nothing you couldn't find at Salvation Army or even The Gap, but it's got someone else's name on it. I think it's pathetic and rude.
Well, I agree, as far as the high prices and stuff, but I draw and I also make T-shirts...
Is that the best place to see your drawings? On people's chests? I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but is that what you wanna do? Do you wanna be in a gallery, or in a magazine, or is it just good to have it on a T-shirt now cause that promotes it?
Well yeah, it helps promote. I'm not saying all I want to do my whole life is make T-shirts!
To me, the bottom line comes down to this: What is your motivation? Are you drawing, are you taking pictures, are you skateboarding, are you in a band because you need to do it 'cause it's inside of you and it has to come out as a way of expressing yourself? Or are you doing it because you wanna be cool, you wanna have more friends, you want people to like you, you want people to admire you? Are you doing it because you wanna be famous? Are you doing it because you wanna make money? Which one of those things is it? You know, why do you wanna be an actor, why do you wanna be a photographer? I object to people doing creative things for anything other than their heart telling them they need to do it, that's my personal feelings. .
Yeah, I agree, but you're kind of doing the same thing as me trying to sell my T-shirts. You do your artwork, and you sell it, whether it be with books or whatever.
I'm making very little or no money off [the books], first of all, just so you know. Of course I do make money off of it when I'm shooting pictures of like Russel's company [Phat Farm], and making that money did pay for a good portion of the rest of the art I did all year that I don't get any money for. But, at the same time, it's for my friend's company, and I did enjoy doing it as an artist. It made me feel good to do it, 'cause I saw his company was lacking in good images. It's almost like my responsibility to help them out. I'm not saying it in a defensive way, I'm just trying to explain. When I shoot photos of The Make-Up, I don't know if those photos will ever be used, I just do it 'cause I wanna take the photos.
I see what you're saying, but...
Well, you're taking it kind of personally, but I appreciate that though. I don't mind arguing the point or discussing it further. I know not everyone has the opportunities that I did. I don't wanna be a struggling artist and a waiter my whole life. Sometimes it's hard to find that line of what you do with your art and what you don't. I think I've been much easier in the last year and a half of doing interviews than I used to be. I used to say "This is the only way, and that's it!" But, I've come to realize that, well, these are just things that you should be conscious of and think about.
You know, I was able to have that growth as an artist very young. If I got my first picture published at 19 it'd be a whole different story. Over many years I've learned how to use and exploit my talent without being exploited. Nowadays, the bottom line is to do what I do and not get exploited. The idea is do what you can without taking advantage of other people. I expect to get paid what I think is fair. If I can't make a living off of getting paid what's fair, then I gotta start doing other things. So far it's been able to support me all these years. It's a very good thing and I'm very lucky because of it. You just gotta hope to keep getting better as time goes on. The idea is to do the best you can while you're on this planet, in this world for yourself and those around you, without letting yourself be exploited or exploiting those around you and the environment around you.
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