by Sonny Mayugba
Washington D.C, February 1999: I'm standing in the infamous Dischord house. Surrounding me are three of the most historically important photographers of the late 20th century. Cynthia Connolly, Bud Fawcett and Glen E. Friedman all have two things in common: the first, they were each present to document the beginning of scenes that would later (now) become landmark movements symbolizing a generation and an era. The second thing in common is they are all still shooting.
Cynthia Connolly grew up in Los Angeles and moved to DC where she witnessed the birth of Bad Brains, Minor Threat and many other seminal punk bands. She spent several years booking bands as a promoter. As well, she was integral in the evolution of the world's archetype of the DIY ethic, Dischord Records. She has self published a book, Banned In DC.
Bud Fawcett moved to Lake Tahoe from North Carolina when snowboarding was an illegal activity. Bud became a staff photographer for the first ever snowboard magazine, International Snowboard Magazine. His images of snowboarding became icons of the sport. He, along with other founding fathers of snowboarding, has photographed many first descents, mountains never before ridden. His photos have been published in books and magazines worldwide. Currently, he works as the art director for Palmer Snowboards.
Glen E. Friedman has been shooting skateboarding since his early teens. Having grown up in Dogtown (Santa Monica), he witnessed the birth of aggressive skateboarding. He also was the first to document LA's punk scene and more dangerously, the birth of hardcore hip hop. He has self published three critically acclaimed hard cover books entitled Fuck You Heroes, Fuck You Too, and The Idealist.
Getting these three artists together for one conversation was no easy feat. They are all very busy and live on different coasts. Once it happened, what took place that evening in DC was a historical event and a phenomenal experience. By bringing these people together, I wanted to bridge the gap between consumer magazine and art gallery show. This is the document from the historians of the cultural underground.
Sonny: You've all witnessed many firsts. What comes to mind when thinking back to witnessing and documenting things that happened first?
Glen: Well, I got a lot of them. I could talk about the first time I saw someone get hit in the head by a police officer, the first time I saw Tony Alva do a frontside air, it was the first time anyone had ever done an aerial. The first time seeing Stacy Peralta do a kickturn on vertical, how could anyone do a kickturn on vertical? That was radical to me. First time, man I've seen a lot of fuckin' things that blow me away first time. What about everyone else?
Bud: First time I was watching all these snowboarders load into Tahoe and try to live "the life," cramming into one house, like 12 people, and just destroying a house. The first half pipe in the snow, that was cheesy compared to today's half pipes in the snow.
S: Did you actually see the first one ever made?
B: No. Not the very, very first. The first year or two of half pipes in the Tahoe scene. My background as far as California goes and the first time I ever saw a Glen Friedman photo was when I was working for Sims Skateboards back in '77.
G: I got one of those first Sims boards they ever made, you know the big plastic ones. I just got it recently out of my grandfather's basement.
Cynthia: Well, some of my first things is the first time going to a punk show in L.A., but it wasn't a punk show. I went with my brother, John Connolly, which Glen, the coincidence with me and Glen is that it turned out we grew up in the same neighborhood and we never knew each other. I didn't know Glen until I moved to D.C., and the connection was my brother. My brother took me to a show, but it turned out not to be a punk show at all, it was at The Starwood in Los Angeles, and it was terrible. But then I figured out that's where I needed to go to go to punk shows. To me, that was like a really big first thing for me.
S: Can you guys tell me about how each of you got involved in photography?
C: I got involved because when I moved from L.A. to D.C. in 1981, I saw the scene, the sort of music scene here is so different than that of L.A. L.A. was so huge and sort of seperated, and D.C. was so focused and really small and for some reason I thought it was something really important; that there was something going on, and I had no idea what it was. I couldn't believe that nobody was taking pictures at the time and I just took somebody's camera and flash and just tried to take photos of stuff because I thought that something should be documented even though I don't think I was doing a very good job. To me it was so full of energy and there was something there that just had to be done. That's how I started.
B: I have little experiences of photography from high school and college, but the first time I really strived to do something with photography was documenting, starting to document snowboarding because it was new and people weren't doing it, weren't documenting what was going on and it wasn't really planned, that's just the way it worked out. That's where I really learned a lot of my technical ability, was shooting snowboarding. And so most of my photos in my first year of shooting snowboarding are kinda bogus, because they're either over-exposed, under-exposed, or out of focus (laughter). And I finally figured that out after a couple of years, but it's unfortunate that some of my best images are pretty cheesy.
G: Just like everyone else, I always loved pictures. Everyone loves looking at pictures from the time they're little, but I got a Polaroid camera when I was 10 years old, took a couple pictures with it; they came out perfect. And I just thought, "Okay maybe one day I'll try taking pictures again." About 3 years later I asked for a real camera for my birthday or something like that, got one, it got stolen. But before that, I took a class in 7th grade at Paul Revere, which was [also] a really cool skate spot. I actually went to school at Paul Revere and I took a photography class because the typing class was too crowded. I was like, okay, I'm just going to transfer and take photography, sounded okay. Took that with a pocket Instamatic 110. I was in the class and they said you could use it, and I really thought there was no reason to use a bigger camera. But why use a big camera if I can have one that fits in my pocket? I didn't understand that there was a difference in the focus and that you could switch lenses and stuff like that. In the class, I learned about lenses and how to develop and print film, and proceeded to get a "D" in photography at Paul Revere Junior High. The reason I got a "D" was because I only shot pictures of my friends skateboarding and stuff like that. Everyone around me was getting really famous for skateboarding, or famous in my eyes. The whole crew, the whole Santa Monica Dogtown crew of people, and everyone I would see every weekend down at Kenter or Paul Revere was getting in magazines, and I wasn't really a good enough skater to get in the magazines. I said, "I got to get in the fuckin' magazine somehow!?" So I started taking pictures of them. And I also thought I could do a better job than what I saw in the magazines, 'cause I was seeing guys do stuff that I didn't see in the magazines. I found this pool and brought Jay Adams there. I borrowed a camera and I got slide film and I got black and white film, and I shot pictures there with the right stuff one day, and the shit came out really cool. I sent it to Skateboarder. Finally I had the film, what they needed, and the first time I sent them photos, they published them, and it was a full page, a Jay Adams for a subscription ad. That's kind of how I got started. Once I got that, and I got a credit in a magazine and a full page with my name on it for a subscription for Skateboarder when it was only $6.00 a year, and it was bi-annual, I was just stoked beyond belief. I was 14 years old, and I got the check, and I was like, this is the greatest thing that could ever happen to me.
S: Let's talk about what it takes to be a photographer, both physically and mentally?
C: For me, mentally, it takes a lot. I have to be into what I'm taking photos of, I can't take photos of stuff someone asks me to do and I'm not into it. I can't do topics or people or anything I'm not into at all, 'cause mentally I'm not there, the focus isn't there, and it just doesn't work at all. It's terrible, it's torture, it's the worst thing. Mentally it's really hard. You have to understand what it is that you really like and what you don't like, and understanding it sometimes is hard to know, until you're already in that position and you realize that this just sucks, this is not what I want to do at all. And the focus, I don't think a lot of people understand that you really need to concentrate a lot of times and people think it's just taking a picture; it just happens. But I think there's more to it than that.
B: I think physically, it's a real interesting story. When I first started taking photos, I didn't have many cameras, so it was just a matter of throwing the camera in a bag, going up on the mountain and going around. Then I went to my first contest and Mt. Baker, I had a 200mm, and Wow! I put it on a camera, put it in my bag, and I was in a mogul field, I slammed, broke the lens off the camera and it was an unusable camera in my bag. And as the years went by, more and more equipment was added, and I got this Lowe Pro pack that weighs 40 pounds, and I'm hauling that around on my back, and believe me, I started streamlining a little bit and getting less and less equipment again, because you have to be able to move fast. What was the other part of the question? Mentally, I'm the type of person that's slow production, because I always take a lot of time to find the right spot or the right light, or the right person, usually the right spot, or just the right look. So I don't produce a lot of different work. More specific.
G: I think that to be a really good photographer, it takes a lot of sincerity. I think what everyone's talking about, that's one of the things that probably ties us all together, maybe more than anything else, we shoot things that we live, that we're interested in. That really is what it takes to be a good photographer. After that, you need to learn and you need to have a little bit of technical ability and understand the medium and your equpiment that you're working with. I think if you're just shooting a lot of stuff that you're not really interested in, it's obviously not going to produce anything with any character or content or really interest other people. I mean, you can fake it, people do it all the time, for their job, people shoot things that they don't want to shoot, but in my opinion, generally those photos suck. And even people who do care, just 'cause you care a lot doesn't mean you're going to take a good photo, either. I'm looking at magazines every day that every picture sucks, and maybe these people care about it. I'm sure anyone who's shooting pictures for a skateboard magazine or a snowboard magazine, they love what they're doing, they got to, I'm sure. 'Cause I have that much faith in most skateboarders and snowboarders, and people involved in those cultures. They must love what they do, but it takes a little something extra; a little more intensity to really know how to capture the character of the people that are in the images. It's more than just catching the action. The idea to me is to get the shot and also show some character, show something interesting about what's going on at the same time. And that's with the action even, I really try and concentrate and see people's face, even when I'm shooting skateboarding. I would shoot people doing backside wheelers and kickturns from inside the pool, not from the coping, just so you could see the expression on the person's face and get more of an idea of the style. And when I'm shooting music stuff, anyone can shoot a band with a fuckin' microphone stuck right in the person's face. And especially lately, or the last ten years for me, it's more about showing the band with the audience, and how they relate to the audience. If you're standing in the front row like I used to do, all during the early days when I would shoot punk rock photos, you see the band, and that's great, but after a while what's the difference between that shot and one that someone may have taken during sound check? You can't really tell unless you're using a really wide angle lens and you get a particular angle where you see everything that's going on. And God knows, I don't want my photos to look like they were taken at a sound check, I want my shit to have the real action, the real intensity, what's really going on. I think that that's what's important about photos, that they express a certain amount of reality to people.
C: So many photographers can't do that. I'm not saying that I do, I don't know, but, for example, I work at Dischord Records and I get a lot of live band photographs that people just send in, and so many of them are not... there's something missing. And all of a sudden you get something, it's probably like 1 in 50 or 60 photos that you get, and you just know this person is into the music, there's something about it, they're really into it, they're focused on it, and they're understanding what's going on, and they're actually wanting to express what their music or the band is through their photograph, which is something that's really hard to do.
G: It's definitely not easy. I don't think you can get a camera and just fuckin' be a photographer. But at the same time, you don't need a good camera to be a photgrapher. It's something that you really have in your heart, and even if you have it in your heart doesn't mean you're gonna do it, you really gotta fuckin' practice and just deal with it. I think shooting skateboarding since I was fuckin' twelve years old really helped me learn a lot about capturing intensity in that particular moment and showing it in just the right way 'cause skating was so fast, and moves were so minute compared to what they are now. I really learned to get my sense of timing from that. Also being the younger person in the whole crowd, there would be days at the pool where fuckin' Tony and Jay would be just like trying to do flyaways and hit me in the head with their board! Just 'cause they're all a bunch of fuckin' wise asses and I'm just a little squirt, you know, you learn how to hang out with the tough guys, you gotta fuckin' really prove yourself. I had a real proving ground and I know a lot of people don't have those opportunities or have those tough guys pushing them, but I think that I was really pushed in a lot of ways by the people who were around me. And then again, like Cynthia or anyone else, when you're around people that you respect and they respect you, it also helps you get good photos because you have this appreciation for each other and it helps you express yourself that much more clearly. If someone starts talking to me about photos, or about photography, or about art, or about music, and they haven't seen my books, or they never heard of Black Flag or Tony Alva, or whoever, it's like, I can't talk to this person. It's frustrating, it's really fuckin' difficult. I can try and do it and I can try and be polite, but generally speaking, I'm not that social. I've got a real fuckin' specific interest, and I'm gonna go for that, and I'm gonna try to share it with other people, and you really gotta believe it in your heart, you gotta really feel it, and then you really gotta fuckin' practice it. I was fuckin' devoted to the people that I shot. I wanted to help them share their ideas. It wasn't about me. Early on, I did want to get in a magazine, but at the same time, I wanted to fuckin' share with the world. I thought I was the fuckin' man to fuckin' do this. I fuckin' had to fuckin' bring it to the people. It's how I really felt, like a fuckin' missionary, man. I wanted fuckin' people in Sports Illustrated to see what Tony Alva did; I wanted people in Rolling Stone to see what fuckin' Black Flag and Minor Threat were doing. I wanted people in the rock magazines, in the mainstream press to see what fuckin' Run DMC and Public Enemy were doing. I started shooting those people before they had any white press. I got them their first white press. Again, from the heart, I wanted to show other people that something special is going on here, and it's something I fuckin' really love. I loved it so much, I had to fuckin' do it justice. I had to do my subjects justice, and that fuckin' motivated the hell out of me.
B: Oh yeah, totally. When I started shooting snowboarding, it was more about the athlete than it was me at any one time. It was about what they were doing. I was learning photography, to me it was, I was secondary. I wanted to get these guys in front of the magazines, 'cause I had always admired other photographer's work, and I was actually trying to copy their abilities. Finally I started getting published, and it was just stuff that I had in the can already. But I think it's very important that the person in the photograph be rewarded by being published.
S: When you're shooting photos and getting your photos published, what percentage of the motivation is for you personally, and what percentage is for an audience?
C: I don't even care if I get published. For me, it's just for me, and somehow for me to teach myself or to understand how to express whatever it is I'm taking a picture of to think that I'm doing it rightfully to show who the person is, or what the thing is, or what it is I'm seeing. So I can take a photo and print it and know that it's how I remembered it. I don't actually concern myself about the publishing part of it.
G: Nowadays, it's definitely much more for myself, but everything I shoot I do for myself, I shoot it because I want to do it. But, early on when those movements and cultures I was so involved in were just spurting up, I took the photos for myself, but it was equally important at the time, that I'm doing it for other people to see. I want to share these images with other people. I created them in a way that I would appreciate, that I was always very selfish in the way of thinking if I appreciate it, other people will appreciate it. If I do it this way, the way I think is right, it is right. And this is what I need people to know. It was definitely a little bit self-centered or egotistical to think, "I know what the fuckin' shit is, and I'm gonna force it down everyone's throat, 'cause this is what's right." It is because of the subjects that I did it, because the subjects were so important; I think they deserved the coverage, I think they deserved to be portrayed in a real way, in the way that they really were, that perhaps other people hadn't done yet. That was my biggest motivation, even in the hip hop music in particular, 'cause all the photos I had seen in hip hop were whack, there were never any good shots of rappers before I took them. I mean, other people eventually came along, as hip hop got bigger, more and more people started taking photos. Before that, it was like, they would take rappers and photograph them in studios and with makeup and just all stupid shit. I knew, just like everything else that I did, if you show people the hardcore souls of things, no matter what the fuck you do, if it's hardcore, people can relate to it. If it's emotional, if it shows character, you don't have to know what fuckin' hip hop is, you don't even have to know what skateboarding is, you don't have to know what a frontside grind is, you don't even have to know who Minor Threat was, you could look at a picture, and feel the emotion, or the character, and if you're fuckin' 80 years old, you could appreciate that image.
B: Everything from the beginning was totally for me because there wasn't a market for snowboard photos. There wasn't anybody really publishing too much snowboarding.
G: Let me interrupt for one second, just so you know. When I shot punk rock photos, there was no market for them originally. And even hip hop photos, these were things I believed in, I had to force it on people, believe it or not. Now people hear about Minor Threat and Black Flag. Years before anyone ever talked about them in the press, I was sending pictures of these bands. And even skateboarding, I sent skateboard pictures to Sports Illustrated, thinking I gotta expose it to other people. So really, I didn't want to interrupt you, but I just want people to know that there wasn't the opportunities that there are now for stuff to be published. It wasn't easy. When I started getting published in 1976, there weren't so many magazines as there are now.
B: That's for sure!
G: There are way too many magazines now and most all of 'em suck. And let me make a point, Bud sorry to interrupt, but fuckin' 99% of not just the magazines, every page in magazines is just filler to put in between fuckin' advertisers. Half of what is in magazines is necessary to be printed even, it's just bullshit. But people are so used to getting their fuckin' monthly paychecks, they want to put out a magazine every month, 'cause that's what everyone else does. Who said you have to put out a magazine every month? 'Cause God knows, I don't read something every month that's interesting in every one of these magazines, or maybe one thing in a whole magazine. So they should maybe wait more months, but it's about fuckin' destroying the environment by printing these fuckin' things just so they can fill the space in between the fuckin' tobacco and alcoholic beverage companies, and it makes me fuckin' sick.
G: Bud, I apologize.
B: Well, in the beginning it was totally for me because like I say, I was learning and it was interesting. It was interesting just being out with people snowboarding and learning how to take photographs, and then later it was for an audience. Mainly because those guys, or girls, should be in the magazines.
C: Did you snowboard?
B: Yeah, I snowboarded. All the time.
C: So you were snowboarding with these people anyway.
B: Yes, yes. Actually, snowboarding for me, as a photographer carrying a bunch of equipment on the mountain, it was less about snowboarding than just keeping up with most of the people I shot.
G: You were a snowboarder beforehand anyway. That's what you already loved.
C: That makes a big difference.
B: Yeah, it coincided with my photography, though. Almost the first day I went out to snowboard, I had a camera with me.
C: So you really just wanted to document what was going on?
B: That's why I took the camera.
C: That's true, because in L.A. I never took any photos of anything. I took some photos of my friends hanging out, which I thought was, I thought hanging out in L.A. was more important than the actual bands, partly because of the same fact that I didn't have the nerve to do it, and then going to D.C., it was like now or never, you know? You're a loser if you just don't do it!
S: Tell me about the dark side of shooting photos?
C: Sometimes I take photos of people and I say it's for something, and all of a sudden somebody else wants to use it for something and then I have this sort of like, well, I told this person it's for X,Y, and Z, and then it's gonna be used for something else. I have this really intense sort of guilt or something about having things used where they're not supposed to be used, and it's almost too over the top or something.
G: I think there's disappointments in photography. Especially when people don't use the shots you want them to, and they use shots that you don't like instead that you know aren't good. For example, I threatened to scratch the fuckin' front cover photo for Public Enemy's second album cover. The shot they used, I was really bummed. I had scissors right on the negative. They told me that if I did that, they would never use me again. So I didn't cut it and I let them use it. It's funny when people appreciate shit that you don't. Or when they miss the point of your photo. It's kind of a bummer, but it's nice if people say, "Oh, it's beautiful and this and that and that and this," but you know what, they almost never see exactly what you see, so that's the dark side right there.
B: I think maybe missing a shot that you really wanted to get. Or maybe having so much material in your files, that you know that you'll never get caught up and go back to some of the images that you really wanted to print. I mean, that for me personally is probably the hardest 2 things.
C: How about when you have something, and you develop it, and for some bizarre reason it's the part where the negative is like, something fucked up because of whatever processing happened. I swear, some of my most favorite photos are just destroyed.
B: Like Glen said, it's really nice having the face in shots because you get the emotion, and sometimes you'll take a photo and you know it's perfect, and then you find out that the face is hidden. You've just missed an important element of the photograph. That can be a dark side.
S: Tell me about your feelings the first time you were published?
B: First time I was published, my photo credit wasn't put on the photo, and I don't know if that was imporant or not. I guess it was as far as having a little pride in the photo. The second time I was published, the second photo ended up being published in 3 different places at the same time, which was a nightmare because one was an ad, and one was an editorial usage, and boy, you learn quickly how you're supposed to do business in photography when a mistake happens early in your career. I think it was a shot of Shaun Palmer. One was in a Sims ad, and one was in a magazine, full page in Thrasher, and then another was somewhere else. I can't even remember.
C: I actually really don't remember that clearly, but I know that it was in Flipside. I used to do a scene report, and I would just send them the photos and they would print them. I think that the only time after Flipside that I remember is the book, the Banned in D.C. book that I did. That was like 2 years of my life pretty much, devoted to making that book and when that thing came out I was terrified to see what it looked like and what thing had been created, and how the whole thing was. I had no idea. It was a really big deal for me.
S: Discuss the sacrifices that you guys made to enable yourself available to photograph the scenes that you guys were each involved in.
B: As far as snowboarding goes, I got to move to a really great place, so it wasn't really a sacrifice.
G: Well, I'll tell you, I sacrificed a lot. I feel like going to shows carrying a camera is a sacrifice.
B: Yeah, that's true. On some of those snowboarding days, it's a big sacrifice, those powder days, for sure.
G: That's right, there you go. There's a sacrifice. I don't like carrying a camera. I fuckin' don't like it. I don't like being a nerd with a camera. (laughter) I sacrifice being cool, just being a fuckin' loser carrying a camera. And I sacrificed being able to slam dance a lot of the times 'cause I had a camera. And that's the truth. I sacrificed not skating, because I had to worry about my camera equipment. I sacrificed not having a lot of fun at a lot of shows 'cause I had to carry my camera around. I also sacrificed a good part of my childhood getting published as young as I did, 'cause all of a sudden I was up in this business world at fuckin' 14 years old, worrying about getting my check. I didn't really worry about the money, I just worried about being taken advantage of. And as soon as I started getting popular, people started treating me differently 'cause I was so young getting this stuff published. All of a sudden, I obviously wasn't a fuckin' rock star, professional skateboarder, professional snowboarder, but you ask anyone who's been in any of those things, you sacrifice some privacy, and you sacrifice weird different little things, like knowing who your real friends are and shit. At fuckin' 14, people wanted to hang out with me 'cause they wanted to get in a magazine! Who knows who really likes you? I lost a certain kind of innocence, 'cause I had to make sure I wasn't being exploited, or taken advantage of. I had to always be wary of people who are nice to me. I feel that if I didn't take pictures, I wouldn't have had to do that. I could have been just a normal fuck, but I feel it did affect me in that way. I know it did. Now when I don't bring my camera, I think, "Damn! I missed some good shots."
B: Yeah, you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't. If you make a choice not to take a camera out, you're sorry that you didn't, and if you make a choice to take the camera out, then you're sometimes at a disadvantage of having a good time, or being worried all night, or whatever. But that's just part of the game that you have to play to capture the moment.
S: What are your personal philosophies and choices of camera equipment, specific brands, and what types of film you guys shoot?
C: I used to use a Canon, now I use a Leica L5. I'm just printing a lot of stuff. For me, I'm really into the 3200 ASA T-Max film, and I like sort of large grain, and I like the grain to be in focus. There's a huge difference between anything shot with a Canon and a Leica and the Leica is way more clear.
G: Do you think that's because you learned how to focus better, or...
C: No, it's the camera, the lens, the Canon lens is fucked up. (laughter) It's like a toy camera, the past two weeks printing stuff, I've been printing 16 X 20 and the 24 mm Canon lens is a piece of shit, it's like it has an irregular amount of blur on the edges, it's out of focus. With a 16 X 20 print, it's like an inch in from the edge on the left and right, it's just out of focus. The 24 mm lens is like that, it's just fucked up. Either just low quality, or it wasn't made to blow up that big. But the Leica camera is incredible. I got a really good lens for my enlarger and that makes a huge difference. I really like the grain to be in focus and that's what I need.
B: I've been using Canon equipment since I first started. Ever since they came out with their EOS Auto Focus camera, I've been really amazed with the precision that camera can follow focus an image. So with any long lenses, like 300, so to utilize EOS obviously, and my favorite lens is a 20 to 35 zoom, and an 85, real fast 85mm. T-Max 3200 is film of choice for lifestyle. I'm generally happy with any slide film. I used to be a big Kodachrome buff, and I still go back to those slides and look at 'em, and when they're scanned, they just look a lot cleaner and crisper than the E-6 films, but the E-6 films are more colorful. I'm generally happy with all Kodak products, as far as that goes.
G: Yeah, I believe in the minimalist thing. I said it earlier before, I use exclusively Pentex stuff. K1000 is my favorite camera. I have a couple of Pentax MX's, too. That's how I started on Pentex, with the MX, 'cause where I came from after the fuckin' pocket Instamatic. MX is the smallest single lens reflex 35mm camera made, and also had a motor drive. I got that when I was really young, and I still have that first one, and I still use it sometimes, but I use the K1000 because it's a little more durable. It's a little bit bigger, but it's just so solid and so simple. I've never used an automatic focus lens in my life. I think it probably makes sense for the surfing, and the stuff that Bud talks about when people are really far away. But, I couldn't even imagine someone else focusing, a machine focusing the camera on what I want it to be in focus. It's just hard for me to believe that it actually works. I like just lining up the needle on the inside of the camera, and focus, and composing the image all on my own. It's like as manual as you can get, the better is. I don't recommend an automatic camera to anyone. Unfortunately, there aren't many manual cameras left. I don't like the Leica's that Cynthia works with, either. Certain people know how to use them, and obviously Cynthia does. I think overall, it's kind of a trendy thing now to have those cameras. If they can't take an in-focus picture with any camera, why the fuck are they going to do it with a Leica? Most cameras come with a 50 mm and people say that's the average. To me, 50 is a telephoto. An average lens for me is a 28. A lot of my earlier punk rock stuff was done with a 28, 'cause it was still kind of compact, and it could work well. But the standard lens I use all the time is a 20. And even, my favorite lens of all is a 15 ultrawide angle. I became well-known for using fish-eyes and brought that into music and stuff pretty early on. But I use a fish-eye pretty much never anymore. If I was shooting skateboarding, I would use a fish-eye if it was in a pool, someplace that's round, but I really don't like the way that it bends poles anymore, and I know that I used to use it in everything. But even when I did use it back in the day, I was still trying to be really conscious of my horizon lines and how things would get bent in and out of shape. I think if you're conscious of that, you could still use it. But I just hate it when things are overly distorted in a really unnatural way. I think that stretching things, and making somethings round works, but there's a very, very particular way to use a fish-eye and an ultrawide angle lens and still make it look natural. I mean, I'll compose images in the camera for 10 minutes before I fuckin' click one photo. But those are the favorite lenses. I do own and 80 to 200 zoom, I own a lot of different lenses just to have them, and when I was collecting stuff, to just have it when Pentex stopped making a lot of the manual lenses, I just tried to buy up every one that I could find. I even have a Pentex 6 X 7. I've only shot five rolls of film with it. LL Cool J's Bad album cover, Davy D's album cover, and Slick Rick's first cover, I did all those with a 6 X 7, but I haven't used it literally since Slick Rick's album cover, that's more than 10 years. I just can't be bothered with all that technical shit. Not being able to just take photos. My photography is very much about having a fucking good sense of timing, the perfect sense of timing. When shit is cumbersome, or you can't reload quick enough, it defeats the whole purpose. If you could focus a camera decent, there's very little reason to use a big format, unless you're doing product photography or something like that. All of my stuff that's in all of my books has been done with Pentex equipment. Asahi optics are really good, and I've been told by some people that they're really the greatest and they've invented a lot of optical things that other people have copied and made their own, Nikon included. It's just like the Asahi optical company just really invented these really cool things. Some of my photos could certainly be sharper. God knows when I was young, and even now, I definitely have a lot of out-of-focus pictures, and I used to get teased about it when I was young shooting photos. Film, I agree with those two, the T-Max 3200, man, we're all on that one. It's great film. You don't need any light to use it barely, and the big grain on black and white is always fun and good to use. I really shyed from even using a flash in the last 6 years. I don't even want to use a flash anymore, so I definitely need the 3200 when I'm shooting gigs, and you just concentrate on available light, and you can get some really beautiful stuff. And then for color, it's like, I've always loved Kodachrome. That's what I grew up on. Ectachrome was always way too blue, and disgusting to me. Also, Ectachrome and the E-6 films, I've heard that they're never as archival as the Kodachrome film. I've got slides that I printed for my new show that were from that very first roll of film that I shot, that are Kodachrome and they fuckin' haven't lost shit. They're like, 23 years old or something like that, and they're in great condition. And some of them were kept in really shitty places too! I don't use Kodachrome 64 anymore, since I was used 64, in the beginning 'cause they only made 64 and 25. Can you imagine shooting 25? Who the fuck would do that? When you're shooting in a pool, the light's so bright, that Kodachrome 25 was feasible, you could still shoot it at 250th and 500th of a second 'cause it's such bright light. But in the last 10 years, Kodachrome 200 is my favorite, period, more realistic than the Fuji films, but I do use Velvia also. I use Velvia and some of the Fuji stuff for landscapes, but Kodachrome is so beautiful and so natural and has a big fat grain for color film. And it's always slide film primarily, because that's where you get your truest reproduction when you're trying to scan for magazines and stuff like that. Now, in the 90s, you can get good scans from all kinds of film, but there's a muddy thing about negative film that I just don't dig. I've got some good stuff, that's shot on negatives. Public Enemy's first album cover was shot on negative film, on just some fuckin' shit that we bought at K-Mart before we did the photo session because we wanted it to look grainy, we wanted it to look shitty. It's supposed to look rough.
S: Tell me about one or two of your favorite shoots that you've ever had?
B: The favorite shoots, my top five favorite shoots are... let me think back here. It's probably a lot of the black and white stuff of Tahoe, just lifesyle stuff of people first coming to Tahoe. Just the strange, bizarre stuff like broken houses. Just really interesting, weird lifestyle things where 12 or 15 people moved into a little three bedroom house and you sit up one night with a camera, and they're just a little too much for the house. Or action from that period. The first time I ever left the country, I went to the Soviet Union and that was obviously right before the Republic of Georgia left the Soviet Union, so all the statues of Lenin were covered with blankets and the people were acting really bizarre. So that particular photo shoot there was a lot of material that got published and that I really loved. We were there for seven days, and we felt like we escaped with our lives. I think my most beautiful photos I ever took snowboarding were the first time I went to Italy. It was a story assignment for Snowboarder magazine, the first time I went on a story assignment for a magazine. We had crappy snow, but we had some beautiful scenery and some good snowboarders that made do with what we had like Jason Ford, Nicole Angelwrath, Ken Achenbach, Steve Matthews, Mike Kildevald, and Pietro Colturi. In the US, probably Jackson Hole. I used to always go up there. I used to do road trips, there was like a three year period of time where I thought, I want to go shoot snowboarding, and I just started shooting color like, 1988, and it was like, wow, this stuff really works! Color slides. And so I went to Jackson Hole, made road trips to Jackson Hole from North Tahoe, or from Colorado. We used to have friends there, and we'd do the back country, and the place is just incredible for photography 'cause the landscape's beautiful, it's steep, there's a lot of talented snowboarders there. That's about it for that. Obviously whenever I was with Terry Kidwell or Shaun Palmer, it was always fun because they really enjoyed working with me and I enjoyed working with them.
C: For me, a lot of pictures I did was of people with their cars because I got to take photos of a lot of my friends and people that I really wanted to sort of document them and the way they looked, and the way I remembered them. I had a really good time doing it, and it was really relaxed because they were my friends, and all of those were really great for me to do. More recently, using a lot of the half frame stuff. Anything I do with that is totally unexpected; I have no idea what's going to come out of it. And to me, it's like Christmas every time I get the film back. It's surprising and really fun.
G: Tony Alva bringing me to the original Dog Bowl pool. Shooting there when he was doing the first aerials. Black Flag, from like 1980 to '83, almost every show they did was amazing to shoot. Minor Threat at the 9:30 Club was amazing, great to shoot. I mean just amazing. Run-DMC taking me to Hollis for the first time in 1985, that was a trip. That was unbelievable. I learned some crazy stuff. And those were all good times. All that was fun. I've had some fucked up times, too. But those were the good ones.
S: What other photographers do you admire?
C: Sally Mann, I think she's amazing. Robert Frank is amazing. Of course, I don't remember any of the other names (laughs). I'm a photographer, it's so pathetic. I know what their photographs look like, but I don't remember names of the photographers, a lot of them are from the 40s, 50s, and 60s I would guess.
B: I think that the person who got me really interested in shooting action was James Cassimus photos from the Action Now days. When I went to Sims, Craig Fineman was a photographer with Sims and I got to see firsthand what happened when a photographer took film out of a camera and that was really important. I was doing some production and he was sitting across the desk from me cleaning cameras and he kind of got my interest sparked. There's many photographers in Tahoe, but Hank deVre' and Deacon Chapin are real creative icons of the area, so those are the four.
G: Honestly, almost none. There's a few maybe that have created some images that I appreciate, Craig Stecyk influenced me in a way. He showed me that I needed to do something different than what other people are doing in order to make it interesting to people, and to separate myself from the others, and to give it some kind of validity in that field of creating images, of being a photographer. His work taught me that. Why take a photo unless it's gonna do something that hasn't been done before or done in a way that someone else can't do it? Create an image that only you can create. Obviously not every image that I have is like that, but that's the instinct I have when I'm going into it. His work and his ideals, and even his writings made me see that. So I respect him for that and I admire him for that. Lots of photographers are technically astute, and some of them are even nice people and stuff, but... I'm kind of, egocentric or photocentric. I really like what I do. I like my ideas, and I don't necessarily appreciate what I see too many other people doing. Honestly.
S: Specifically in the music, skateboarding, and snowboarding scenes, how have they changed?
G: That kind of a ridiculous open-ended question could go on for years describing what has changed in those scenes if it's that broad. You want to say photography-wise, I feel that nowadays being photographed by any one of us is a given for anyone who's out there, right? I mean, those kids that you go out with, they just expect to be photographed now when you're snowboarding, right? Cynthia taking pictures... it's just a given now that you're going to be photographed. When I started taking pictures, it was a fuckin' privilege to be photographed. No one took it for granted, it didn't happen every day, it was something special. Not everyone had a camera, not everyone had a video camera, not everyone had the chance to be on MTV, not everyone had the chance to be in a fanzine, or anywhere. It was a fucking privilege to be photographed. It was difficult to use the camera, there weren't automatic focus, automatic exposure, automatic everything, that's the main difference to me. Do you understand what I'm saying, what my point is? People now are all fuckin' spoiled little babies, most of 'em. They just expect to be put in a magazine, because they're doing something good. But when I came up man, fuck that. It was not that simple, and there were not that many people doing it. You had to be really good and really special to be photographed by me, and you still do. And even by other photographers back then. It wasn't something that just happened too easily. Talking about skateboarding, how that's changed, and how punk rock has changed, and how hip hop has changed, it's like... everyone's a rock star now. Everyone. But I'm generalizing here. Overall, that's the deal. These fuckin' little skaters that have no style, but learned one new trick, they think they deserve to be in a magazine. It's like, give me a fucking break, man. You don't even know how to carve. It's like being a surfer and not getting wet. You don't know you're fuckin' roots, you don't know what's going on, you're just trying to get in a magazine. People have all these false appetites. They're motivated to be good just so they can get laid, or they can make money, or be famous. It's like fuckin' people like Tony Alva, people like Ian McKaye, people early in hip hop, they did it because they had to, because they loved it, and they would have done it whether anyone took their picture or not. You understand? It's not about being a star, it's not even about getting recognition. It's about doing it 'cause it's something that you have to do, it's in you. It's not about being in a fuckin' magazine and having someone take your picture because you're cool and you deserve it. I fuckin' hate that attitude.
B: I agree with you. Snowboarding definitely, the magazines in '85, '86, whatever, developed a niche. They developed a market for snowboarding. And now it's just flooded by people that want to be in the magazines that feel like they should be. It's crazy. And snowboarding itself, if you look at the last five years, the number of photographers that have jumped into shooting snowboarding, it's incredible.
S: Where do personal politics get into photography?
G: Photography is my life, and personal politics is my life. So they are one and the same.
B: I have no political agenda.
G: I have every political agenda. My life is a political agenda.
C: I feel guilty every time I use photo chemicals. I think about how much heavy metal I'm absorbing by putting my hand in the fixer.
B: I'm into digital stuff now, so...
S: But Glen, shooting someone like South Central Cartel... That doesn't conflict with your political views at all?
G: At the time, it didn't at all. At the time it was a very important thing to show people, to expose to people. That's the last time, by the way, and I've said it publicly before, that I'll never shoot a picture with a gun in it. They had a viewpoint they wanted to express. So did Ice T when he first started talking about crime and how it related to politics and life in the streets and their hardcore reality. The name of that album was In Gats We Trust. That was a fuckin' heavy photo. That was almost worse than going in jail and shooting The Lifer's Group. That was fuckin' in South Central L.A. after the riots. When I was down there, people looked at me like, "What the fuck are you doing here?" And I've been going down to South Central for years before that riot happened. People looked at me like I just fuckin' stepped off the fuckin' plane! I was in the middle where I definitely did not belong at all, in a foreign country without a passport. People threatened us with guns that day, who were a part of the photo session. It was fucked up, and I did that photo session because I wanted to help them express their viewpoint, and I liked some of their music, and I liked what they were saying in some of their songs. And it was my friend's record label that put it out, and so I did that, and I think it was pretty important at the time. I look back at it, and I'm proud of the images that we created, but at the same time, I wouldn't do it again. A lot of those pictures I did with guns, you gotta realize, were a bit earlier than when everyone else did them. And they got very overexploited after that point. I thought every time I did it, I tried to make it have some kind of meaning behind it, you know? I mean, In Gats We Trust, these guys said, "We got nothing to live for." They just had their guns, that's the only thing they could trust, and that's the only thing that's gonna get them out of a situation, when they're in trouble. And that's a fuckin' sad commentary. Even if today, showing guns would tell a story on a record cover, or on a poster, whatever else, and someone could rationalize to me how important it is to use a gun in this picture, I'm making a statement after doing that cover, and other one's, but particularly that one, I just won't do it again. What I did early on, it was making an important statement, and it wasn't glorifying it. After a certain point in time, I had finally gotten to the point to even if I'm telling that story, it's still glorifying it in a way. Even if it's an important thing that someone's trying to get across, even if I'm documenting it, putting a gun in your fucking photo is such a cop-out. A gun, it's such a powerful instrument in so many ways, it attracts so much attention, it's an incredible fucking piece of machinery. The amount of attention it demands, because it literally takes lives away, and it's overwhelming. And so to put that in a picture, now I say this, I didn't say it then 'cause I didn't know, but I've thought about it now, and I've learned, it's a fucking cop-out. It's simple, it's easy. You put a gun in a picture and all of a sudden it blows everyone away. When I was doing it originally, it had not been done before. Really, to the degree that I was doing it, and I was really expressing something new, and sharing different ideas at the time that hadn't been expressed in music, in culture through music. I won't do it again. I fucking hate guns, I hate drugs and alcohol, and I fuckin' will not do that stuff. If it's a part of someone's culture to take drugs and to shoot guns, that's their perogative, and they can talk about that, and I don't necessarily have to support them. But again, I want to show how they're really living. Maybe I will portray that. But I will be very careful in that. I really sincerely doubt that I will ever shoot a picture with guns in them again. I might shoot a picture of someone holding a cigarette or a blunt, and I don't agree with those things, but if that's their lifestyle, and they're expressing themselves in a particular way, and I sympathize with their views, then I might take that photo. I might. More likely than not, I won't, but I might. I'm not perfect, and I'm not also going to censor everyone 'cause it is a form of my own censorship on that. I mean, it is my political agenda, right? You know, if someone's fuckin' right wing group comes along, and they play great music, you know I fuckin' loved Ted Nugent growing up, and do you think I'm gonna help promote him? But I would never deny, ever that Double Live Gonzo is one of the greatest pieces of vinyl ever made.
S: How is shooting portraits different from shooting action? And vice versa.
B: I feel a couple of ways about portraits. One is, I feel that if you don't get it in the first five minutes, sometimes you miss your chance. I also feel you have to make your subject very comfortable, and if you don't reach that plateau, hopefully there's not a plateau, then you won't get the shot either. Some people can be not easy to shoot in action. Maybe they don't have it, or they don't know how to work with a camera. More than likely, it's easier to get a portrait than it is to get an action photo.
G: In some ways to me, they're both exactly the same. Action is a matter of timing, and timing is something that's become second nature to me. I know the right moment, I feel that I do. And that's when I shoot it. So that being a given, what you have to do in a portrait or in action is compose the image, and bring some character and intensity out in one way or another. Like we discussed many times already throughout this, by seeing the person's face, by seeing a particular expression, by getting in the peak moment of action or just right when it's the perfect moment. And even when you're shooting a portrait, action is a portrait of a person performing their art, whether it's someone in a band, or on a skateboard, or on a snowboard. It's still a portrait of that person, or at least that's the way I like to do it. I don't believe sports shot with long lenses are really that good, I don't like it 'cause it's so sterile. I like to get really close to the action and make it intense. So that's why my action, I consider portraits, because it really is close, and it's not so flat, it's more 3-dimensional. You know what I'm saying, when you're using a wide angle lens? At least to me it is. With portraits, talking head shots or even like a lot of my hip hop photography, just band shots, or people just hanging out. I try to capture the intensity and the character and really just try to express to people in my image what this person is all about, or what this activity is all about. It's the same thing. It's a little bit different, but you're trying to do the same thing, you're trying to tell someone a story who doesn't quite know what's going on. Or you're trying to present something to someone in a way so they can fully appreciate it as much as you do when you're shooting it. And sometimes even more. Sometimes people look cooler than they really are because we think we know what's cool, and they don't really look cool, but we're gonna make 'em look cool 'cause we like them. And even with aerials, we'll lay down on our stomach just to make the air look that much higher 'cause we want it to look cool, we want to impress people.
B: You can't definitely make somebody a superstar just by using a wide angle and gettin' low.
G: Yeah, at least make it look like they got super air. But they have to do it consistently. People will know if it's fake sooner or later.
S: What goals are left for each of you in photography in terms of just photography, people or things to shoot, yet to shoot, or projects?
C: Well, I'm really into doing a lot of landscape photography where it's 3200 ASA and so I want to go southern Utah. I always just think that I'll always find something that inspires me to take photographs, and that's sort of what I hold on to. Just the idea that something's gonna be always there that I want to take a photograph of. I trust in that. That there will always be something there.
B: Photography's always been something that's very personal to me. I think I'm drawing back into the personal side, my own personal photography, more over the next few years. Not so much snowboarding as other images that have yet to be determined.
G: I just want to be able to continue doing what I've been doing. And being able to support myself on it. I don't know if I'll be able to. I just keep my fingers crossed hoping I get to keep on doing what I've been doing. I gotta keep being inspired. Not fucking turning people off with my harsh attitudes. I'm hoping to continue as I have been doing. I am very intrigued lately. Actually about five years ago, I started thinking about other ideas, things I wanted to do as far as photography, and I'm very intrigued with natural forms that are always in motion. They're constantly changing. And I had thought about two different books that I want to do on two different subjects. Things that are in nature that are never in the same state, like they're always different, and I want to photograph these two subjects. I don't want to say what they are, but if you think a little bit about it, you can probably figure it out. I'm really intrigued by that and I'm hoping one day that I get the opportunity to pull that shit off. I don't know how I'm gonna do it. I would like to do books on those subjects, but mostly just continue the way I've been going. If I could just keep doing it, I just hope I can be lucky enough to do that, 'cause I've been having a really good time.
S: Anything more you wanted to add or discuss?
B: I think that my interest in snowboarding created my interest in photography. For that reason, I'm very grateful to all snowboarders I've photographed in the past. Without the best snowboarders in the world appearing in front of your lens, your photos will be second rate. Those of you that are the best, know who you are.
C: Glen Friedman inspired me, indirectly to do photography but also just seeing his photos when I visited him once, I think in 1985, and saw some of his skate photos on the wall. It just really inspired me to understand the expression of what he was doing. It got me to thinking about doing something similar to that. You know, really understanding how he really captured it and what I could do that was sort of like that in some way.
G: That's cool. You weren't even a skater. See, then something's accomplished. You get someone to understand what you're doing who doesn't even have any idea what the fuck is going on relatively. At the same time, people who are deep into it could also appreciate it. If you could do both those things, that's the shit. I'm stoked, if I could do that every time. If the most hardcore skater, punk rocker, hip hop artist could look at my photo and say, "That's the shit," and then someone who has nothing to do with anything, some old fart looks at my shit and says, "That's the shit," that's dope!
C: Yeah, that's pretty cool.
G: Not to take away any credit from Cynthia 'cause obviously she knows a little bit more than that, and had some idea about skate culture, 'cause she grew up in west L.A., but even so, you can't get much better than that, compliment-wise. You just gotta like what you're doing yourself. That's the most important thing, otherwise it's not even worth doing, right?
C: It's true, that's true. That should be your last statement.
Bud Fawcett licenses original images. He can be contacted at: Budlum@sierra.net
Glen E. Friedman's books are available in your local book store or by calling 1-800-655-4897. And for more G.E.F.info check out www.BruningFlags.com. All Glen E. Friedman images used by permission of Burning Flags Press.
Cynthia Connolly sells her self-published book Banned in DC, original postcards sets, A limited edition handmade book EAST TO WEST, and various framed photos. Write and ask if you're interested. Cynthia Connolly PO Box 9743 Washington, DC 20016-9743 firstname.lastname@example.org
This article ran as 26 pages with lots of photos from all of G.E.F.'s books, as well as from the other two photographers archives