Fall-Winter 2002-2003


MATTE magazine
creative independence in art , film, and music
no. 03


Despite the Release of the Film and Book About DogTown and Z-Boys, Photographer Glen E. Friedman Is Still an Outsider

Interview by Silja J.A. Talvi
Photographs by Glen E. Friedman and Brett Ratner

BLACK FLAG at Suicidal party 1983 � GEF

Glaring and pouncing from the printed page, the hardcore "heroes" of Glen E. Friedman's world demand our attention. In Friedman's intimate, brash, and fierce photos, Henry Rollins and Chuck D assert an intellectual and physical presence that leaves a residual trace of energy on photographs taken nearly two decades ago.

Long since recognized in the early U.S. punk, rap, and skateboarding scenes as the most adept and knowledgeable photographer of those movements, Friedman has assumed an even higher international profile since the publication of 1994's Fuck You Heroes from Burning Flags Press. Now in its third printing, the definitive collection of his photographic work traces Friedman's time spent in the 1970s with Southern California's pioneering DogTown skateboarders; his access to the backstages of punk venues on both coasts; and his uncanny instincts in following the early developments of rap and hip-hop groups ranging from the Beastie Boys to KRS-One.

"Not all rappers, skaters, or even punks for that matter were/are hardcore," writes Friedman in Fuck You Heroes. "I chose to stay with those that were."

A New York native, Friedman began photographing as an enthusiastic thirteen-year-old skater, hanging out in Venice and Santa Monica with the rough-and-tumble Z-Boys (a now-legendary group of skateboarders including Tony Alva, Stacy Peralta, and Jay Adams). By the age of fourteen, Friedman's photographs had earned him the position of contributing photographer at SkateBoarder. Deep friendships with punk and hip-hop acts including Minor Threat, Black Flag, Public Enemy, and Ice-T were to follow, and Friedman even had a short stint as a producer on the 1983 self-titled debut from Suicidal Tendencies. Later, Friedman served as Def Jam's West Coast rep, producing for none other than Run-DMC.

But Friedman's true passion--on par, perhaps, with his love of a good argument and a thoroughly drug-free, vegan lifestyle--has always been his photography. Subsequent photographic books, including Fuck You Too and The Idealist: In My Eyes 20 Years, both from Burning Flags, have managed to spread Friedman's vision to an even broader audience, earning him major gallery exhibits in locations including London, Tokyo, Milan, Rome, Berlin, Sydney, and Stockholm.

This year, Friedman published the highly anticipated DogTown: The Legend of the Z-Boys (also from Burning Flags), a photographic collection released in conjunction with the film release of DogTown and Z-Boys, Stacy Peralta's documentary about the DogTown skateboarders.

From his home in New York City, Friedman spoke with Matte about his work and what it means to live a hardcore life.

MATTE: How's life been for you since 11 September?
GLEN E. FRIEDMAN: The bottom line is that I came to realize that there are certain things that you have no control over. I've never felt so helpless in my entire life. There were days when I struggled with it in a big way. . . . Where I live, streets were closed and there were no cars allowed in my neighborhood for a week and a half. It was heavy-duty. It was unbelievable, and it still is to a degree.
For someone like me, nothin' stops me. All my life, I've always been trying to inspire people to be rebels and to be more rebellious and to fight back and not take any shit. To stick up for yourself and to stick up for other people. That's what I've always done.
I keep moving on and when I run into an obstacle I go around it, I go through it. But this was hardcore. But then after a few weeks, you realize, well, what are you going to do? It's really out of my control. . . . After that shit, man, it changed the game. It made me a lot more unsure of a lot of things. But again, you gotta do what you do. I was talking to [Fugazi frontman] Ian MacKaye, and we were agreeing that you gotta do what you gotta do. . . . That's all that there is to it.

MATTE: You haven't always been in New York. In fact, you were going back and forth between New York and Los Angeles at a very young age, photographing punk and rap shows way back when. How were you able to do that? Had your parents divorced?
FRIEDMAN: Yes. I can't remember a time when my parents were together. We started here on the East Coast, and then my mom took me and my brother to California. Every school vacation we would come back here to visit my dad. Then it got reversed in the last few years of high school, when I was living on the East Coast and going out there for vacations. Then when I went to college, I went to Santa Monica Community College and UCLA in California.

MATTE: Where did you feel most comfortable? Los Angeles and New York couldn't be more different.
FRIEDMAN: I always felt one hundred percent more comfortable in New York.

MATTE: Why's that?
FRIEDMAN: People are more real here. L.A. fucking sucks-except for a couple of nice people I hang out with when I go out there. I can't stand sitting in a car all day. I can't stand the unbelievable fakeness and shallowness out there. The pathetic lives of most people out there. There are great exceptions, but overall, I can't stand it. The air, the pollution: I feel uncomfortable. I've been jumped in L.A., and I've dealt with gangsters in L.A., from photoshoots to friends to enemies. I've had a lot of crazy experiences in L.A., and I just don't feel safe there.
Here, there are always lots of people around. Everyone is in it together in New York. L.A., people are more out for themselves. People think that New Yorkers are all out for themselves. But on the streets, everyone's for everyone, man. People are nicer here. . . .
I've always been comfortable in lots of groups all at the same time. I don't know why, but it's always been that way. . . . For me, it's just natural. And I'm not a very social person. A lot of people think I'm very brash and not friendly. But the reality is that I'm just very shy and I don't necessarily want to meet new people. I don't like small talk, and therefore I don't want to meet new people.
I mean well for the planet and all human beings, but I'm one of those people that doesn't have an easy time communicating with all of them. But I do what I can.
Some people think I'm the nicest person they ever met, and other people think I'm the biggest asshole they ever met. . . . I fight really hard for what I believe in, and that makes me enemies. I don't bow down to other people trying to push me around too often.


MATTE: How did punk's DIY credo influence your work?
FRIEDMAN: DIY happened because I had no other choice . . . I've always learned from every project I've done. You have to do it yourself, because I'm very particular about the things I work on. And people either love me or hate me for it. I have a vision, and I want to see it through to its fruition. A lot of photographers just want to take the pictures and leave and go. I almost never do that. I've threatened to destroy images before that people wanted to use of mine just because I didn't like the image and the way it came out.
You know, there are people out there who come to all of my shows and think I'm the greatest photographer that ever lived, and many others who have no fucking idea who I am or what I've done. It's all good, I guess, just weird sometimes.

MATTE: Do you feel, after all these decades, that you're finally an acknowledged part of the field of photography? Or are you an eternal outsider to the profession?
FRIEDMAN: I don't know that I could even be considered in the profession. I think I'm probably the highest-paid photographer who doesn't have an agent. Not that I get that much money that often, but I'm not a part of the profession, apparently. It doesn't seem to be that way.
It's a very in-between, weird place to be. I don't think about it too often because it would get frustrating. The most frustrating thing is walking into a museum bookstore and seeing a lot of shitty photo books that suck shit, and not seeing mine.

GEF portrait by Ratner, Tony Alva at the DogBowl � GEF 1977

MATTE: Why do you think your books aren't there?
FRIEDMAN: I don't know why. I think it's got something to do with the dumbing down of society. People who understand good photography see my work more as a subcultural interest and don't see it for what it is.
I like to photograph things that are vital and exciting. Like Fugazi. They're fucking vital. Every record is a natural fucking progression. They're moving and they're not regressing.

MATTE: From your perspective, are most photographers artists?
FRIEDMAN: No. Those people who shoot the covers of Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair and all that? I don't think of those people as artists.

MATTE: What do you think makes a photographer an artist?
FRIEDMAN: It's hard to describe.

MATTE: Is it just something you know when you see it?
FRIEDMAN: It's a level of integrity and creativity in the work. And how much soul is in the work. A photographer, in many ways, is more of a snapshootist. They might even get some character in the photos. But you look at the Herb Ritzes and Annie Leibowitzes and the Helmut Newtons and the most famous photographers of this period-who create some good images but it's so formulaic-from the amount of assistance and production that goes into it, I don't respect it or appreciate or like it, at all.
I'm not bitter about it, although I do get bummed sometimes that they get so much attention for their work. It's who they're shooting, not how they're shooting. Ninety-nine percent of the photos by those people, it's who is in the photos, not how the photographs are taken.
The main thing I hate now is the whole dumbing down of art and society and intelligence people have just come to accept, because of the quick-paced, fast-editing of MTV and all that . . . people are just flipping through magazines and books, and not paying attention. That's why it doesn't matter that the shot is out-of-focus and not composed. An out-of-focus, non-composed shot, to this day, makes me sick. It makes me uncomfortable and sad that the paper was wasted to print it on. I have a very particular aesthetic when it comes to art, and photography in particular, and I don't like laziness.
When I read a magazine, I do it to get information out of it. Art directors who make themselves more important than the photography or the article are fucking assholes. I think they're good for nothing.
My work isn't shot to be cropped. The images speak for themselves, and this scares a lot of art directors. Art directors want graphics. They don't want photos, they want to create a graphic. They want to fuck with it and put stuff over it and mangle it. They want the attention on themselves.
There's very little that I regret that I've done. I'm proud of what I've done and what I continue to do, and I would like to inspire people to act in rebellious ways, even if it's to rebel against my thoughts. I just like people to think. And not just accept shit. Shitty photos in music magazines and shitty writing in news magazines are pet peeves of mine.

MATTE: What, to you, defines hardcore?
FRIEDMAN: Hardcore is what you live for.

MATTE: Good way to put it.
FRIEDMAN: I never put it that way before.

MATTE: So it's more about what's important to you, for instance, than a style or a particular genre of music?
FRIEDMAN: Hardcore rap and hardcore punk-or a hardcore skateboarder-these are people who do it because their life depends on it. It's something they have, and something they need to do. The tempo of the music doesn't dictate that. Maybe it's lyrical content, but it's when you mean it. It's when it's very serious, important, and vital to you. That's when it's hardcore. There's no polish involved. It is what it is. It's a very intense relationship with what you do. m

Jay Adams at Kenter 1976 � GEF