1995 issue #11

page 1 of Dazed & Confused GEF Interview

Interview: Gareth Grundy, Photography: Glen E. Friedman

Glen E. Friedman has always taken photographs of anything that "excites" him. Principally the sub-cultures that caught his attention in his youth: skateboarding, hardcore punk and hip hop. And Friedman was there at the inception of all three, long before they each attained global popularity.
In the late '70s, he captured the infamous Dogtown skaters riding the empty swimming pools of Los Angeles and the righteous punk fury of Black Flag and Suicidal Tendencies exploding from the city's suburbs. Half a decade later, hip hop's premier figureheads, Run DMC, LL Cool J and Public Enemy fell under his lens as they took rap worldwide. Dramatic and iconic, Friedman's work is collected in the anthology Fuck You Heroes. The resonant images on the cover of Public Enemy's classic Yo! Bum Rush The Show and It Takes A Nation Of Millions, Ice-T's The Power and The Beastie Boys Check Your head are all Friedman's. Not only was he in the right places at an extraordinary number of appropriate times, Friedman has helped define the moment and movements he was caught up in.

Dazed & Confused: What was the first thing you photographed?
Glen E. Friedman: As a really little kid, I took a picture at an aquarium of a whale taking a ball. I new I had good timing, because I got it just at the moment the whale nudged the ball. That was the very first time I had taken a picture, and it was centered and composed perfectly. I wish I still had a copy.

D&C: Why pick up a camera as a kid , rather than a guitar?
GEF: I did pick up a guitar actually, but I didn't have the patience for it. Really, it was that all the people I was hanging out with were skateboarding, and I saw them doing far more incredible things than were in those pictures. So I took it upon myself to do a better job. I was taking pictures with an Instamatic and sending them in to advertisers and magazines and saying they should use them 'cos they were better than the ones they were using themselves.

D&C: Neither skateboarding nor punk were loved by the LA police were they?
GEF: When I was into skateboarding in the mid '70s, what we were doing was pretty radical. The regular occurrence was running from the police, not getting stopped by them. Purely 'cos we were skateboarding and skateboarding wasn't allowed. Maybe they wanted us to play Little League or something. I've witnessed police beating people up, purely because they were doing something the police couldn't control. I was at this Black Flag show and they cleared the entire hall. I was behind the drumkit taking photos and they dragged me off the stage by my camera. You know the police in LA have a lot to live up to, with shows like C.H.I.P.S...

D&C: What links the skaters, punks and rappers you choose to photograph?
GEF: Character is what separates the people I photograph from anyone else. And being loud and aggressive and having a need to be heard, having a radical outlook on life. That was an alternative way of doing things musically and politically. An alternative to crap rock'n'roll and to doing what you're told. To question everything.

D&C: And Versions of punk, hip hop and skateboarding that currently exist in the mainstream, on MTV?
GEF: Things have gotten pretty bad since Nirvana got big and rap got so popular and so bullshit. And a band like Green Day I just don't get. But I don't know if it^Òs down to the participants so much as the technology. Communication is so easy now. A lot of times I'd be taking pictures I'd be the only person there, now you can see any bullshit band and there'll be at least ten people taking their picture and there'll be video cameras and everything.

D&C: So the underground should stay underground?
GEF: I wasn't one of these people that always wanted things to remain underground. I took pictures to spread the word, so that other people could be interested in these things too. Because I wanted them to be represented in the truest fashion. It's the ideals that are important and I'm a firm believer in those who are being creative having control over what they do. When I was 15 and taking photos of skaters, if I didn't like a skater I wouldn't take pictures of him! Fuck him! That's how I felt.

D&C: So who's the person you respect the most out of all your subjects?
GEF: As an individual I would say the person I consider my best friend, Ian MacKaye of Fugazi. He's held onto his ideals and he's such a strong sense of what is good to do, not only for himself, but for the fans and the planet. Fugazi never pursued major media and they don't want to be a commodity, so in that way they differ from me, since I think it's important to communicate with as many people as possible, and that you can do this and hold onto your ideas.

D&C: Anyone else?
GEF: As far as other people go, there's the Beastie Boys and Ice-T. I knew Ice when he and Darlene were living in a garage. He's not originally as well educated as someone like Chuck D, he never went to college or any of that stuff. But he's never been afraid to correct himself or open himself to other points of view in a way that a lot of other rappers don't do. Not that Chuck D or KRS-1 don't do that sometimes, but often it tends to be from someone they already have respect for. Ice will take it all in and make his own decision.

D&C: What's the verdict on his film career?
GEF: Film is a natural progression for him, as it is for a lot of other rappers. 'Cos they develop a larger than life persona for themselves with their music.

D&C: Are the Beastie Boys, being skaters, punks and rappers, the like between the things you've photographed?
GEF: Yeah, they are, and that's why I put 'em on the back cover of the book. I met them when they were still a punk band, through a girlfriend who grew up with Adam Yauch. They are incredibly creative, they're geniuses. No question. But people don't always see that 'cos they think they're just goofing off all the time. Eric B (legendary hardman of Eric B & Rakim fame) told me years ago, after he'd been to check 'em out, 'Y'know why everyone loves 'em? 'Cos they just do what everyone else wishes they were doing. They have such a good time and everyone else want's to be a part of it. He and Rakim wanted to tour with 'em. The Beasties encompass all the elements of my work. They were skaters, although not that serious, punks and rappers. And they've got the attitude. And that's the bottom line.

(4 full pages with G.E.F. portrait and several large photos reprinted from book)