Fall 2000

interview by Armen Svadjian

Photo mogul of a higher order that's been perched down and rabidly snapping away onstage for eons and looking to go nowhere except where worthwhile artists/endeavors may take him. Name me another who's documented it all, bringing widened peepers the most memorable and intense shots of Minor Threat, Black Flag, Jay Adams, Run-DMC, Beastie Boys, Fugazi, Tony Hawk, et al. to ever be captured on film. Shots that make countless others and I wish we could quantum leap back into the good 'ole days when we were still in the womb, if even that, while insubordination manifested itself in the music and four-wheeled stunt-board in a way that will never ever be duplicated in our lifetime. At least we got the photos and stories.

"Friedman's always been crazy." - Tony Alva

Does it bother you that a lot of the bands you're photographing now lack the more direct stage presence that the older school of hardcore acts had in the early 80's?
I don't think that's true, because the bands I deal with actually do. Bands like Fugazi and the Make-Up have tons of stage presence, are very emotional and really intense. I don't even remember any other bands I have shot live recently, but those two bands do have that same energy and that's why I shoot them.

Have there been many instances where you've had to try harder to bring out a band because they lacked energy?
Yeah, over the years, but I don't really shoot bands anymore because most of them are kind of boring to me and because there are so many other people shooting them, so I don't need to put so much effort towards that because someone else who's more excited by the bands is going to do it. If there was a band I really loved, they first of all would probably be very energetic, and number two, if I decide to take out my camera, I probably wanted to shoot them, so it would make it work one way or another, particularly if they don't look that great, I would work to make them look better than they might be. Over the years, I've done that a lot of times where they might not look that cool, but I would take the time because I really believed in what they did or I liked what was going on and I wanted to make them look cool just so that more people would understand what they were about. Even with bands that I do love like Fugazi and the Make-Up, I'm always trying to shoot something to make it look different or just add some sort of energy to it, because they're giving so much that I want to give something back.

How many people do you think actually get what you're trying to present through your shots?
I don't know, sometimes I don't think anyone.

So are you your best audience?
I don't know about that, but I know what I want. Everyone has their own interpretations with songs and with photographs. It seems kind of cut-and-dry to a lot of people. "Oh, it's a photo, I know what he's trying to say," but really, I'm really surprised quite often how people don't know what I'm trying to say, especially when I go to my shows and people tell me this or that is their favorite shot, which is why I ask people on the website about their favorites, I'm just curious what people like and what they get out of some of the things and they can totally misread shots. I'm my own best critic and supporter I guess too, because I love what I do and I think I take some awesome pictures, you know? I'm really proud and excited when I get a picture that's just perfect or very close to what I was trying to represent at that moment in time. That's really the ultimate thing, to be able to do that and translate it onto film. I'm not real technical with photography, though I've learned a lot of technical stuff over the years, but I still don't know much about it other than what you would've learned doing it over so many years. It's more about capturing the image, having the time and composing it, and when I can see that in an image that I get back, meaning the lighting went ok, the film didn't get fucked up in the camera, and all the different things that can happen in photography, if all that goes together well, that's great and I love to see it. I really like what I'm doing and I'm really into it, it's my favorite thing. I started really young, I never expected to be a photographer, it's just something I did and I never called it a career till I had to write it on my income tax. I never planned that this is how I'd make a living, but as it turns out, it's the only way I've ever made a living.

You've never worked another job?
The only other job I worked was for Z-flex skateboards, I helped them package goods back in the 70's when I was fifteen for a summer job. But at the same time, I fucking work hard at my work, I'm not a bum with what I do. People might not see me do it much, or it might look casual to them, but when I do it, I take my time and I'm intense about it.

So you don't have a lot of unusable shots?
Most of the shots are definitely usable, and even by my standards, but whether I'll use them is another question. With the Pearl Jam stuff I recently shot, some photographers will turn in their whole photo session and they don't give a fuck, but the band really only wants one shot anyway. And with them, I gave them a really good number of shots, almost all of them were usable, and I numbered them from one to a hundred, and I told them, "These one's near the beginning are the best, I wouldn't use anything after the first twenty unless you wanted to give some magazine an exclusive or whatever." As it turns out, for their own top four publicity photos, they made two black and white and two color and I swear to God, the color ones must've been in the fucking last ten of the one's I'd picked numerically! One of the black and white one's was great, but the other was another one from towards the bottom of the stack, and they just have different tastes than me, but I was pissed. They paid me real well and that was great because it allows me to do a lot of things artistically with some peace of mind, but when they don't use the best ones, it's kind of frustrating, so people don't always see what you see.

Well, Pearl Jam was never much for taste.
No, I guess not, but I got some really fucking nice pictures of them, especially considering their age and their enthusiasm for taking photographs, which they hate doing.

How do you deal with that?
"You guys are fucking pussies! C'mon, we've got a job to do, you're paying me, so let's do this and do it right!" So that's what I'd tell them.

Is there a detectable drop in quality that distinguishes photos of Pearl Jam from Fugazi and the Make-Up?
Most of the time I can see a difference for sure, but other times, if people are at least cooperating with you, it can work. But if people are fucking babies, they don't want to climb over a fence, they don't want to do this or that, I try to work around it, but if I don't love their music, then yeah, it will reflect in my work, because they're not cooperating and I'm trying to make them look cooler than they actually do. Most people who play instruments don't look too cool. Most people don't look cool, period, but I try and make them all look cool when I'm doing that kind of stuff. When I'm shooting live, it's about getting the most intense, perfect moment possible by showing all that's going on and just getting it all right there and composed perfectly, seeing the audience and the band, just trying to do so many things at once and making it work together. Kind of tough, and I'm also pretty bored of a lot of it, too.

Do you ever find yourself at a show without a camera?
Oh yeah, more often than not.

How do you feel?
Sometimes I'm like, "Damn, I missed a good shot!" But at the same time, I just like to sit down and watch the show sometimes without worrying about having to carry around a camera and a backpack and getting all worked up over taking photos. I love doing it, but sometimes you just want to watch the bands you love and not have to worry about being up there on stage yourself, because it's almost like performing. If people actually know it's me taking pictures, it's fucking embarrassing! It's nice to be acknowledged, but it's also uncomfortable as hell to know that they're looking at you to see what pictures you're taking, it's a lot nicer to be anonymous when you're working. I'd rather people just see my pictures when they're done, not watch me do them, and when I shoot pictures with big bands or little bands, I don't allow anyone else to the shoot, just me and the band. I don't like a lot of people being around, just me and the subjects whenever possible.

Any thoughts on the lacking female element in subversive arts, be it skating or music?
People have brought that up a lot about my work because there are very few women in my pictures. It's kind of a stupid question to ask and yours is a lot smarter because it is the culture, it's not just me. I take photos of what's there and what's fucking cool, so I don't know why people pick on me about it so much. The reasons? I don't know, I couldn't tell you. It's just culture and society, the way people are raised to think what's proper and what's not. Obviously there are more women than men in this world, and you would think that more of these human beings would relate to what women were saying, but I don't know what it is. I think about it sometimes, especially because I have gotten hassled about it a couple times and I wouldn't call them feminists because there are plenty of feminists who think my books are amazing and love them and think they're a perfect reflection of what went on. And then there's the few knee-jerks who are all, "Well, there's no girls." Well, there might have been some girls, but they weren't making the impression that these people were making, not to me anyway. I don't know, you watch the Learning Channel to figure out shit like that. (laughs)

Does it take a certain kind of person to effectively document this type of culture?
Definitely. Anyone can try doing it, but the only people who are going to be successful are the one's who care about what they're doing, really live the lifestyle themselves and are so interested in it because it's a part of their own lives. Outsiders can just go fuck off as far as I'm concerned. They're just newspaper people exploiting the scene. I did it because I wanted to share the scene and because important things were being said, and I think there's a lot of young photographers doing the same thing, and the one's who are real emotional about it will always do the best job. Even if technically they aren't the best, you can see when someone's into it, you can usually feel it in their work.

Who do you see as your peers, speaking very generally and not exclusively in the photography realm?
I don't think I have any peers in photography really, I think I'm just in a whole different state than any photographer. Some people have done some of the things I've done, but nobody's done all the things that I've done, no one can, no one will. Some people shot skating stuff, some people did punk, or hip-hop, but no one did all three and with the intensity that I did, that's for damn sure, and that's the matter of record. I'm really into my photos, not so much others'. I know other people who take good photos, I've seen some good ones here and there, but I generally like what I shoot. I pick up my camera because there's something that someone else isn't doing that I want to do. If someone else was doing it, I'd just go buy their pictures. I'm taking pictures because I think I'm taking one that's different than what someone else can do, because I have a unique perspective on life and things, so that's what I'm trying to capture in my photographs. There's different people all around the world who I feel close to or appreciate their work in one way or another. The person probably more than anyone else is Ian Mackaye, but one of my other best friends is Russel Simmons (Def Jam), but we can all sit together and have a good time.

Any realm of photography outside the parameters you've been working within that you're interested in shooting?
I've been shooting different kinds of stuff all of my life, and I'll continue to do so. The only thing I see is that I'll shoot less of bands and the stuff I'm known for, and more of other things. I'll still shoot bands when they're exciting and good enough, I love it, but mostly it's boring. I won't shoot a band if I don't like them at all. With the Pearl Jam thing, I just know that they've done a lot of good things with pirate radio, battling Ticket Master and giving all that money to victims in Kosevo, those are some really good things that they've done.

Does all the work and traveling leave you with time for a personal life?
I don't travel that much, and I don't shoot all that much, but I promote my books and I do fuck around with adding information to the website, making new books. My personal life might suffer a little, but whatever. But I love what I do. There might be some friends and acquaintances I'm sacrificing because I'm harsh in my beliefs and don't stand for too much bull-shit and I'm not very easy-going when it comes to meeting new people, I'm not anti-social but I'm kind of shy in many ways. I'm just motivated by different things than most people and I just have perspectives that makes it uncomfortable for people to relate to me in some way, or for me to relate to them. Most people my age are really old and I don't get along with them because they're adults and I don't feel much like one, so it makes it hard sometimes to deal with people. I do like to meet some new people, more often females than males because males tend to be competitive and macho and all that, and I really don't need that many more guy friends and since I don't have a steady girlfriend, I'm always up for meeting new girls if they're cool. I don't feel like telling people who don't know me what I'm doing, I don't want to have idle conversation or whatever they call it, that's bull-shit. Nothing I say is small, how's that? Fuck small talk. I met Al Gore recently, by the way?

No kidding? How'd that come about?
My friend called and says, "I'm on my way to see the vice-president at his daughter's house, I'm downstairs, let's go." I said, "What are you talking about?" "It's a big thing, all these people in entertainment are gonna be there, so come with me because I know you'll say something that no one else will say." I said, "Ok man, I'm dressed pretty fucked up." Everybody was there dressed in their best suits and I'm there in my best Ramones-looking torn blue-jeans with canvas Adidias and a Noam Chomsky book sticking out of my back pocket. I was actually the first person Gore walked in the room and introduced himself to, and I'd actually met him at a friend's wedding briefly and I told him that and then I talked to him about some other issues. Later on they had a question and answer period and I hit him pretty hard on the environmental stuff. I wasn't getting up in arms, but I was like, "Ok, you wrote the books and you seem very intelligent on all these things, you talk the talk but do you walk the walk because it doesn't look like it to me and my friends! Maybe you do, but I just don't feel it, so explain it, because if I don't feel it, then maybe other people aren't. Maybe you need to educate people on the environment so they know what you're doing so they think it's more important. You say you're doing all this stuff, then it should be no problem for you to win over Bush, but I don't think the people understand it." I also asked him what he thought of South Africa's president and what he did with AIDS, and he said that he thought it was way off base and I didn't really argue that with him because I know why I do agree with the president of South Africa and I believe that AZT and all those drugs are probably doing more harm than good just from what I've read and heard on the internet and Pacific radio, and all these people are so caught up in the pharmaceutical industrial complex to see that it's dangerous. But I was pretty proud to be able to bring up the things I did, and people came up to me afterwards to ask who I was. I was just trying to communicate, because this man might be the leader of our country for the next four years and I have a chance to say something, so it was a pretty exciting moment. I was nervous asking those questions till I got rolling and got comfortable, but it was really hard, my heart was beating real hard. Even Jon Bon Jovi came up to me afterwards and said, "Have you calmed down yet, Glen?" But I'm gonna vote for Ralph Nader. If Gore gave me more reason to vote for him, I would, but there's just absolutely no reason at this point in time. A lot of people don't vote, but they give you a chance to do it, and it doesn't take much. Everyone has their civil duties for the advancement of society, and maybe it doesn't do anything, but what better thing do you have to do at that moment in time? People come and pick up your garbage, unless of course you compost all your own stuff and recycle your own things, that's a different story if you're on a farm and completely self-sufficient, then you really don't have a lot of civic duty I guess, but if you do take, you should contribute.

Given the shift in your book titles, from the Fuck You to your latest, The Idealist, have you mellowed considerably?
I think I've always been an idealist. Even saying, "Fuck you" is being idealistic, because maybe you think that by saying fuck you to these people actually makes a difference to them, but it probably doesn't. They look at us as just being fringes on the side, but if enough of us say it, they might have to listen. It was a very proud moment with the WTO, even though I wasn't there, even for the anarchist fuckheads to break windows for no reason when they had a chance to say something on national television, they didn't know what to say because they didn't have anything to say. But you know what? If they didn't break windows, no one would've heard anything. Anything we do to make the world a better place for as many people as possible is all good. We just have to keep striving until it's perfect or as good as it can be. People think it was good in the 50's or whatever, but just ask some minorities about it. In some ways, we get closer and closer everyday, but in some ways we get farther. I think someone like Ralph Nader winning would be like Mandella wining in South Africa. It probably can't happen here, but I don't think it's totally impossible and something people should try and make happen. That's what we need for president, someone who's been looking out for people his whole existence. He's not a lawyer trying to become a politician just to make things better for the corporations like most of these guys are, to ensure their own place in the future in history because they have such big egos. If Nader could just get in the debates, it would bring it to a better place because people will be aware of these things. The great advantage of all these corporations and politicians is that they've taken so much money away from the public school systems that everyone is stupid. And the educated one's who aren't stupid don't care about the other people, because they're educated in such a way that they don't really care about anyone but themselves. Chomsky talks about this forever, you know, ask news anchors about their bosses and they'll tell you, "Oh, they don't make any decisions for me, I make all my decisions and write the news I read every night." Yeah, but that person never would have gotten that job if they didn't think the way the networks wanted them to think. It was a sure thing hiring those people, and if they started to go hardcore left or even progressive, they'd be fired, because they just don't hire people like that. It doesn't happen that those people are in the positions that they're in. I get a little down when I see certain things happen, but there's always little things here and there that happen and are positive. Eventually, I hope people will stop becoming so selfish and start caring more about everyone and everything on the planet so that it's a better place for everyone. People don't think that the rest of humanity is effected, you know, "What's my one vote going to do?" If you don't make an effort, where's it going to go? Most world leaders look at us like consumers as it is, so you want to change this reality or not? It's up to people to do something and if they don't, you can't really complain about it. Even people with their diets, that's something that bugs the shit out of me all the time. People wonder why they're getting sick and they don't want to stop eating their hamburgers. You look at the reality and the signs and it's pretty obvious that someone's taking advantage of you, and it's this kind of convenience and greed that's going to destroy this planet and maybe human existence, unless there's some serious fucking upheavals. But it's really easy to give up on things, and I've given up on people and relationships, but on humanity in general, I haven't at all. I have horrible things happen all the time in business, people I have to deal with at the post office or someone who wants to buy my pictures, I have problems all the time. But you just have to work through them and do what you think is going to make everything better. You have to stick to what you believe in and stick to what's right.

Info: Ache #2 Fall 2000 issue/ editor Armen Svadjian Address: 167 Cortleigh Blvd. Toronto, Ontario M5n 1p6

(cover + 6 pages for this story, including about 10 photos)