Fuck You Heroes: Glen E. Friedman Photographs 1976-1991. New York: Burning Flags Press, 1994, $29.95 hardcover

In order to talk about Glen E. Friedman's photographs in Fuck You Heroes, I first need to contextualize them within my own experience as a child in England in the seventies. Back then in the rainy U.K., my gang and I tried to live out a pseudo-California Dream. We went skateboarding every day, surfed when there were waves to surf on, listened to thrash punk, and smoked pot. As this was in the pre-video era, we invented our life-style based on what we saw in skateboarding and thrasher magazines - looking at photos by Glen Friedman, the man who chronicled my teenage-fantasy utopia.

Looking at those same pictures today brings up strangely mixed emotions in me: part fifteen-year-old Nick--"Wow, man, check out that air!"--and part grown-up Nick, trying to deconstruct the photos' cultural reference points.

The first pictures in Fuck You Heroes were shot in empty backyard swimming pools in Los Angeles, when Friedman was about thirteen. The images overflow with chlorine charm: they are somehow reminiscent of the great child photographer Jacques-Henri Lartigue, both in their sense of fun and the joys of being outside, but also in the sense we can feel of the photographer being a participant in the picture's action. Friedman caught skateboarding in its infancy, when, for a few brief summers, all that mattered was skating. While Friedman skated, he documented the scene. It's this clear sense of his own participation, found throughout the book, that makes these pictures work, and gives them their edge.

Friedman's images are loaded with the colors of optimism--they look toward a glowing future that, when it arrived, was just too bright. When the West Coast punk scene (the last of the first generation of punks) came along, Friedman was there, recording an important component of America's new cultural experience. He managed to capture such hugely influential bands as Black Flag and Minor Threat in their first bloom. In his images of these bands and others, you sense the energy and feel the heat of the place.

The values of youth culture as shown in hip-hop and rap music have certainly affected the lives of young African-Americans. Here, top, Friedman was on the scene from the very beginning. In Fuck You Heroes, we see images of Run DMC, L.L. Cool J., and Public Enemy during the shoot for the cover of their stunning "Rebel Without A Pause" single.

Public Enemy's hard-hitting music gave them unparalleled access as a political forum. Preaching Afrocentric politics, the band fought back against Reaganomics and what they saw as its betrayal of the civil-rights movement. Public Enemy were at the vanguard of the hard-edge rap movement. And Friedman's pictures were an intrinsic part of the whole package.

While Fuck You Heroes is a powerful book, there is a central flaw in its almost lack of images of women. Neither skating nor music is or was a solely male domain, and yet there is only on woman in the book. And that one woman, Ice-T's girlfriend Darlene, is dressed up in what is known in the rap industry as "Gangsta Bitch" style--she faces the camera defiantly, in a very tiny swimsuit, carrying a big gun. Is this meant to be ironic? In his notes Friedman defends the shot, saying, "I do not consider myself a sexist for shooting this," and explaining that he and Ice-T were out to show the reality of "the power of a good looking woman in this society." But next to Friedman's other intimate, gritty photographs--which are much more compelling--this image lowers the tome of the work as a whole. It is simply unnecessary: Friedman obviously knows how to make boys look sexy without looking cheap or idiotic, I'm sure he could have done the same for the girls on the scene.

If it weren't for this important gap, Fuck You Heroes might have been a better overview of this era. Even as it is, though, the book stands as a powerful testimonial: skaters, rappers, punks, are caught in the bright, charged moments of their youth, and presented to us as a new legacy of heroes. Youth culture, like any art form, takes from the past to build a future. Because Friedman was always hanging out at the right place at the right moments, Fuck You Heroes might function as part of an authoritative history for my own generation, and could help to provide the generation kicking at out heels with something to build on.