DOUBLE NEGATIVE Issue # 15
writing - Illustration - Photography - since 1992
GLEN E. FRIEDMAN the legendary NY maker of images is ready to battle -
GLEN E. FRIEDMAN
HIS IMAGES COMPOSE THE PSYCHE OF A GENERATION
PUBLIC ENEMY, BEASTIE BOYS,BLACK FLAG, MINOR THREAT, ICE-T, BAD BRAINS
KID AND A CAMERA. WAS HE SIMPLY IN THE RIGHT PLACE AT THE RIGHT
OR IS THERE SOMETHING TO BE SAID FOR MAKING THE MOST OF A SITUATION?
WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHS
INTERVIEWED BY JEFF WIESNER
DOUBLE NEGATIVE INTERVIEW
I snagged an interview with Glen by
approaching him after a lecture he
gave at the University of the Arts here in Philadelphia. I didn't know
who he was until I saw some of the photographs he has taken, photographs
that I have grown up with that still have a powerful impact on me. I was
a bit daunted when I realized that one person held together such a
One of his most recent images that many people know is the cover of
the Beastie Boys' album, "Check Your Head." The same amount of people
will recognize the cover of Public Enemy's "It Takes A Nation of
Millions", and if you grew up with Minor Threat's "Out of Step," no doubt
you have strong feelings associated with that cover as well. He has
published two books of images, Fuck You Heros and Fuck You Too, and is
finishing up a third, The Idealist.
We met up at his apartment in Manhattan and
promptly went for a
walk to enjoy the nice weather New York was experiencing that day. He
was on a mission to find a snack, and in the process of figuring out what
he wanted he took me on an extensive tour of some of the city's
best vegetarian and vegan restaurants (information I definitely could
have used a couple hours earlier when I was stuck in Times Square
with no where appealing to eat).
walked, he expounded upon the benefits of living in New
York - mainly the ease with which one can get around on foot and the
joy of running into friends on the street, a benefit that he enjoyed
often on this particular walk. We finally settled on a bench in a nearby
park and began the interview.
He sat close to the
recorder I brought and made sure I got down
his important points on paper as well. Glen is very strong about
everything he says. Every answer sounds like he is arguing the point, that
he's almost pissed off about the topic. Many people tend to be turned
off by his tone, but I found a certain element of reassurance in it.
It's refreshing to see someone with strong beliefs and opinions who
isn't going to waver or back down. Between walking around the city,
hanging out at the park, and then going back to his apartment to check
out a rough version of his new book, we hung out for practically three
hours. But as soon as he felt the interview was over, I had to leave
immediately. For days after the interview, I found myself thinking
about and considering the points he made.
What is your
impression of Modern Art, the contemporary scene
and your involvement in it? You said at your lecture in Philadelphia that
you don't really know much about other contemporary photographers
and you didn't really seem to want to know much about it. How do you see
yourself in relation to the art world?
I don't see myself in relationship to the art world. I don't
myself relating to it too well. I think everyone tries to specialize
too much. If you take a look at my new book, The Idealist, I think the
only thing you'll see I specialize in is taking good photos, but not really
any specific subject matter. I just like to make those images that
please my aesthetic, or that share an idea i'm trying to relate to others.
Were you saying before that people don't
really get out of your
photographs what you want them to see in it?
No, I think that anyone who sees my work can appreciate it, but
I just don't think that many people see my work, that's why it doesn't
really relate to the art world. I am not someone who went to art
school. I don't pursue the normal avenues that people do to kiss ass to
get their stuff in galleries or museums. People usually approach me. I
don't have agents or anyone publicizing my stuff (other than my publisher
who does a little bit of promotion in particular for my books). Usually
there's someone who takes an artist on and exposes them to the art world
and, you know, I'm 36 years old and I still haven't met a person yet
who can do that job who I can trust. It's not that I'm looking for it,
I've just been doing everything myself all along and I think that's the
way it's always going to work. I'm somewhat successful, I'm on my third
book, and I am able to support myself from my photography.
How long have you been able to support
yourself from your
My whole life. I
was fourteen when I had my first photograph
published. I almost got in a fight about that with a friend of mine. She
said, "You know, you had it easy, you've had people supporting you since
the beginning of your career and that's why you got to be so good."
I said, "You're a fucking asshole, first of all, to say something as
stupid as that. Second of all, yeah you're right, I was fourteen. I'm
sorry I didn't have my own apartment on the Lower East Side, y'know, I
was fucking living at home being published. Yes, I did have the
advantage of still living at home while I was first being published. But I
was successful because I worked my ass off and I really believed in
what I was doing. I sacrificed a big part of my childhood by trying to
be published at such a young age and working as much as I did. I
mean, I loved what I was doing but it still took away from normal kid
stuff: having to worry about business, people paying you, and doing
stuff like that. I didn't really have to worry about it, I just didn't want
to be exploited or taken advantage of, and that's how I handle my
business to this day. It's just a matter of getting what's fair and doing
This may be a common perception of your
work, that you were
lucky to be where you were. How many people get to be around a group like
the Minor Threat, Beastie Boys or Public Enemy before they're famous?
Me lucky? Is it a crime to give
a motherfucker some credit?
Well, the reality is a lot of people have had opportunities to take
pictures of these people, and none of them have taken pictures as good as
mine. Fuck'em, I don't care. If they want to say that shit, they're just
jealous idiots. Because, my photos of Minor Threat, a hundred people
have taken pictures of Minor Threat and my stuff isn't necessarily the
best, I just take consistently great photos of all the bands that I've shot
that I like. If you can show me someone who has better photos of Black
Flag, or any of the bands that I've shot, then I'd like to see them.
That's cool, that
doesn't matter. A lot of it, I guess you
could call it luck. You have to ask yourself - is it luck? Or is it some
kind of talent that finds or perceives these things before other people
do and see them the way that I do? It was in my heart to shoot the
things that I did. These are things that I wanted to relate to other people.
I felt really strongly, so I wanted to communicate to other people how
incredible these things were that I was seeing in my life, and I wanted
to do it in a way that other people could appreciate.
Look at the
composition of the shots, look at the intensity, look at
even the focus for that matter: the shit is good whether it's
skating, punk rock, or hip-hop. I admit that some of the hip-hop stuff
was a little more boring than the other stuff, but it was still
intense. It was boring as far as action is concerned, because you don't have
a live audience like you'd have at those punk rock shows, you don't have
skaters in a swimming pool on vertical walls, but it was still intense.
It was great how it all evolved cos I was learning about
creating images and composing images and so in that time as I was growing as ...
a person who takes photographs [pause] ... you know, it was a good
time for me to relay that intensity into the lens from someone who's
not even performing an action. And that's what happened, and I think I
did it really well. I'm really proud of my stuff, I'm not conceited about it,
and certainly there are other people who have taken great punk rock
photos, great hip-hop photos, and great skate photos, but
really, I don't know, probably mine are the best in all those three areas.
It's not like you even need to compare yourself-
Yeah, I don't. - But sometimes you've got to stick up for
You're just saying you like what you do and you're
proud of it,
and you don't need to say that you're more successful than someone else.
It has nothing to do with being
successful - as far as business
is concerned. To me, success has to do with creating the image that
represents the action or the occurrence in a way that speaks the
truth in my eyes and in my mind and in my soul. And that's what
successful is. When I see a shitty picture of a person, a band, or an action
that I know I have shot also, it just bums me out because I know how
good that could be. I know what was really going on there. I know the
character that that person has and it's not showing in that image. So that
actually bums me out, that someone wasted the time, and the film, and
the resources to try and create an image that's wack.
There seems to be a special power or
intimacy to the photos you
took of Minor Threat.
time, I was friends with Ian, and to me Minor Threat was
one of the greatest punk rock/hardcore bands of all times. I mean,
Black Flag was my favorite of course, but with Minor Threat, I just really
respected Ian Mackaye right from the first day I met him and he
also had a respect for me. Him and Henry Rollins were both skaters. They
all knew my work way before I knew them. So they came to me with respect
in the beginning as well. Just the fact that I respected them and they
respected me makes you feel really comfortable with a person like that.
The rest of Minor Threat I wasn't really that close to; I was friendly
with them, but I really did like what Ian had to say and what he
was doing with his life and with his lyrics. When something means so
much to me, I take my time and thought and really want to show people
why it means so much to me and what's so interesting about it.
Particularly the live shots, but the one that most people immediately
recognize, that particular shot (Salad Days cover), I don't even
quite remember how we came about it. I just thought it was interesting
when I found out that a couple of them lived in the house together -
Jeff and Ian and other guys who weren't in the band - and I was intrigued
by the whole thing. There is some intensity in that photo, but if you
look at some of the other pictures on the roll, there was some comedy in
Ian was a skater, like I said, and
his roots were very close to
mine in some ways. When you're close to someone like that, it's
obviously going to translate to the work. That's why all my work speaks to
people because, like I said before, it's what I believe, it's what I
live, it's what I do, it's what I'm into. As opposed to someone who's never
been to a Minor Threat show before and just wants to shoot a punk rock
show and doesn't even know what the band is, doesn't know what the lyrics
are - how are they going to be able to tell the same story I am? They
might get a couple of good photos, but you take a look at my photos
and they're all telling a story for real. It's not just luck, it's my intense interest. When I was doing the hip-hop stuff, you know, obviously I didn't live in the same neighborhood as the people I was shooting, but it was an intense interest of mine, I really cared
about what I was shooting. I did my best. I owe it to my audience, and to the
artist that I'm working with to represent them as well as I can, as fairly as I can in my eyes.
What about shared beliefs and philosophies with the people who you photograph?
It's pretty hard for me to do good work when I don't
believe in what I'm
doing and that's why I almost never do it. Occasionally it happens, when
I'm helping out a friend's band or a friend's company, and if I believe
in that friend, then generally the work might be okay. Sometimes it
isn't, and I'm prepared for that. But I know that when my heart isn't in
it completely it shows up in the quality of the work. I am not that great that I can just evade it just because I want to. I know if I'm not feeling it, it shows up. The more I do feel it, I think the better the work usually is.
ever feel that your integrity is being challenged when you agree
to take a job? Is there ever a time that you flat out refuse a job because of it?
Sure I refuse more jobs then I take for sure, I turn
down major corporations/clients often. But to be fair I think you have to
take intoconsideration when you talk about these integrity issues is that
I luckily got to start at a really young age, when I still lived
at home and was really still developing my style, and my integrity and learning
what all these things meant. Most people have to go out there right away
into the real world and they don't have many choices. But I was able to
learn about these things very slowly and clearly as I was growing up. I have been lucky enough to learn how to express myself in the medium and to not have to compromise with the business cos I've been able to grow up in it, to learn my way and how I want to deal with these things. I'm definitely not perfect, I?ve made mistakes and I'll probably
continue to make mistakes, and even do some jobs that I'm not a hundred percent
proud of in the end. And we all do that sometimes. But I've also got to say, that happens less and less every day of my life and it happens pretty rarely. But I'm not going to say never. Never say never.
Before you do a job just realize that most corporations, whoever they
are, want to exploit your talent. And that's how that shit works, that's
what business is, that's what goes on in the world: people exploit each
other. My images are helping to sell a band or portray an image in some
way ... and that word 'sell' ? I'd put it in quotes. First of all, I ask
myself: Is this a product that I want to help sell? Do I think this is
even a necessary product? Because how many things are necessary in this
world we live in? Very little.
it's a product I use - which there are very little that I use regularly -
and I do believe that they are not damaging the environment and I think
that it is something I believe needs to be advertised then perhaps I'll
lend my image to that. But I'm certainly not going to work for a
corporation that's doing bad things around the planet.
Forget about whether I believe in it or not, let's pretend fora minute that I'm broke and I really need the money. Well if I'm really broke and I really need the money, I might do one of those jobs like a sneaker company whose sneakers I wear as long as they're not being made in a sweatshop. I may take that job. But never will I work fora McDonald's or AT&T that destroys the planet like they do, that is responsible for
so much waste and destruction and selfishness and greed around the planet.
People say, well what about when you've got no money? I am careful to
be sure that I don't get to that point. And even if I did get to that point I would not exploit my own talent to sell something for one of those multinationals.
I save my money, I spend very, very carefully and very little.
From the food that I eat to the film that I use, to the clothes that I wear. I am
very frugal. I do not waste. Because I want to keep my freedom in this
capitalist society to do and take the jobs that I want. Just because I got $20,000 for one photo shoot that took me one day doesn't mean that I'm going to go out and buy a new car or even a fuckin $150 pair of sneakers. Because I do plenty of jobs where I get nothing. I shoot photos of bands and sometimes I get nothing financially because I
believe in them and I like them. I have a comfortable home that I live in, that I appreciate and that I like. It's probably the one thing that I spend the most money on but that's my creature comfort and that's me. I'm not saying to live your life and be miserable. Everyone should do what they're comfortable with, what they need.
You say in the inside of your book that you don't think kickflips are really skateboarding. What do you think about what's going on in skateboarding these days?
Well, if someone is
skateboarding, it's real skateboarding. Maybe I'm
takin a little bit out of context there. Basically, it?s not the skateboarding that I grew up on and it's not the skateboarding that motivates me. Back in the 70s, people who didn't skateboard thought it was cool when you did a handstand on a board. That was
impressive to them.
That's because it's
hard for someone who doesn't skate to be able to see
what's going on in a more technical trick.
See, that's just it. Doing a
hand stand was technical! To me, skateboarding has very little to do
technical, period. From the era that I grew up in, technical has very
little to do with
skateboarding. Skateboarding has to do with style, and flow, and aggression.
That's why I like bank riding, I like street cruising, downhills, pools, banks, and even ramps a little bit. But that's where skateboarding starts to get too technical because you're only going back and forth on two walls (well at least on the halfpipes of my day). It started getting real boring at that point in time. When a skater back in the old days
used to enter a pool in contest and he used to use it like a half pipe, he would
get points marked down. You've got to use the whole thing, be creative.
Technical tricks are more for video - and I give them a little credit for that, but I'm more into big things with style or all out aggression. The cool thing about some of my old photos is that you didn't even have to skate to be able to appreciate the emotion you saw on the skater's face, and even to get a little idea of what was going on. I mean, you have no idea what it's like to drop in on a piece of coping with only one wheel touching the cement down 3 feet of vertical and 8 feet of transition to the bottom of a pool. You know, people couldn't really relate to that, and that was pretty simple compared to what's going on now. A lot of kids now, they don't even know what it's like to carve a bank. That's like being a surfer and not knowing what it's like to get wet!
What is your take on what it's like to try to get established as a photographer today?
You know, I don't really
understand art school that much. I never went to art school. I took
photography once at Santa Monica college just to raise my GPA so I could
transfer to UCLA. I took photography because the typing class was too
full. It was good because it taught me the very very basics at a very
young age. From then I just learned on my own. I think if you have it in
you to be a great artist, you will learn on your own. If you want to be a
photographer, buy a Pentax K1000, read the instruction manual that comes
with it, front to back as many times as you need to so that you know how
that camera functions and how lenses work. If you know how your medium
works and how to use it, it should be in your blood, in your heart, in
your soul to know what to do or
to figure out what to do after you've played with the materials long enough.
You [we] could talk about being a vegan vegetarian - which is
boring, because I do it all the time, but it is very important. And being
straight edge, which is also very important. But I think it's important
that people just hold onto their integrity the best that they can. And
maybe you can't be perfect all the time, but just strive to be the best
that you can be to damage the environment in your life as little as you can while you are here. Create things that are useful or that are interesting because you want to, not because you have to. Not because someone told you to, or because it's the cool thing to do, not because you want to get popular from it. Do it because your heart tells
you you need to and your soul tells you you have no other choice.
6 pages, centerspread of photos & throughout from The
Idealist, Fuck You Too, & Fuck You Heroes.