ennobled mind 'zine

issue # 11
winter 1998

Glen E. Friedman




Selling out


What follows is a conversation with Glen E Friedman. I have mixed feelings about running an interview with a photographer without photos. Glen is best known for his photography, however what I was after had little to do with his photos. Little in terms of technically speaking. What caused my interest in Glen is his attitude towards life. This interview is more about a way of looking at the world than it is about photography or music. Glen has a passion and drive that is incredible, a no compromise attitude that is wonderful to see. The day after this interview I was offered a job teaching snowboarding on the condition that I remove all my piercing, with Glen's words so fresh in my mind I had the inspiration to walk out of Mt. hood meadows and not look back - knowing I was doing the right thing. Read what follows and let me know what you take from it.


em: How did the MTV thing come about? I'd seen your stuff, heard the name, know what you were about on some level and then there you were on MTV.

Glen: Yeah, that was pretty weird. The guys who did that show did a history of skateboarding show a couple months before that and they got my books and called me up. They wanted me to be on the show, but they were like after looking at your books we want to do a show that is more based around you, so we don't want you to be a part of this history of skateboarding show we want to save you for something better. And I'm like ok yeah sure right, ya know. Like that was the way they were going to dis me now, because they knew I had these radical views and I wasn't going to go along easily with anything that they are going to film me on. I've been on tv in Europe a little bit, doing interviews from when I had my shows over there, but nothing as extensive as that. Then they called me back and said we've made all the calls we have all the people, we're gonna do what you say, this is what we want to do. Of course they couldn't use half of what I had to say or of what they got me saying on tape. They really convinced me that I would get to express myself the way I wanted to and that the show wouldn't be completely fucked up. They seemed like really cool guys and they really understood what I was into and were really big fans of what I did and stuff like that. I had even bumped into one of the producers in the park one day skating his long board before I even knew that he did that, like a year earlier. I trusted them a little bit. They still work for MTV so I didn't trust them 100%. They were good guys and they asked me to do it, so I did. Once I got the opportunity to do it, even though I've never been on film before I've been with a thousand people who have done interviews, and I've watched people do them, and I try to coach people. When I see people doing stuff I always try to help people out. And so I just tried to take some of my own advice and I knew when I had my chance I had to make every fucking word count. I had to speak forcefully, not go on MTV like a fucking asshole and act like I'm cooler than anyone else in the world, and just chill, just hang out, and make fun of the vj or what ever. That is so bullshit, if you are going to be on there you better fucking make the best of it, you know what I'm saying? Really hit them in the head with what you have to say, don't just be on there like going 'duh' all the time. Like so many people we know who use to be hard-core in their beliefs, if not only their music. They had some integrity and stuff. They will go on there and sit there and look dumb, like they've been drinking fucking beer all day. That is there minute in the in the spotlight, their time to really share what they think with the world and what do they do, they sit there like a fucking idiot. So when I was on there I figured I gotta make every word count. So as often as I could I did, I did not slow down. They caught me a couple times when I would laugh or something, when I would start smiling when I would forget a question, or I didn't know what was going on. And sure enough that is what ended up in the show once or twice, but most of the time I kept on top of shit and I just kept hammering at them, probably 90% of what I said didn't get on the air and 75% the wouldn't be allowed to put on the air because of their advertisers and stuff like that. Enough of it was able to get through and get on there and still be able to voice some opinion and stir some people a little bit. I didn't say anything too radical, but you know - I tried. I also tailored it to their audience, for what their were trying to do, I was working with them I will admit that, but again I was trying to express my views and expose more people to the culture.

em: And you're happy with the way it came out?

Glen: The first time I saw it I was happy with it. I'm very uncomfortable looking at myself. I don't like any of that. Overall I like the music that is behind me when I'm talking, I liked that they showed pictures from my books and let me explain the culture a little bit, and I like the opening sequence and I thought it was cool to be on a show with George Plimpton and it was about sports you know. I think Ed Templeton is a cool guy and Mike Valley is a cool guy and so it was alright, it was alright how it came out. I particularly think it was good because a lot of people told me they liked it and a lot of people told me it was the best thing they ever saw on MTV. That was really really nice. I don't hate MTV like a lot of people do. I don't love it, there are a lot of bad things about it, but there is some good in it too. It is there it is TV, a lot of people watch tv. They say some good things sometimes and they even show some good videos sometimes. What am I going to do be Mr. Tough guy and say there is nothing good about it? I'm entertained by it occasionally, I never sit down and watch it. I leave it on in the background occasionally if not more often. I watch the week in rock sometimes, fuck it. You know what I'm saying? It is like people are afraid to admit they watch TV. come on, I watch Seinfeld, I watch Lettermen sometimes, and I watch MTV sometimes, mostly I listen to talk radio. To Pacifica, I read the Nation and I do my artwork, but everyone has got to once and a while.

em: Everyone has to turn off their minds and vegetate once and a while.

Glen: Yeah once in a while, or have it on in the background. You know I watch discovery, PBS, Frontline. They all have their slants, they all have their biases. As long as you can separate things and you take it the way you should , I was going to say take it with a grain of salt, but you just need to know where it is coming from and how to digest it.

em: Yeah take it for what it is and what it wants you to feel.

Glen: I was telling someone the other day when I watch TV or when I'm on the internet I don't even see those commercials, they go right by me. It is so easy for me to ignore, because I'm not a mass consumer. It just doesn't effect me. I don't have the money to spend on those things, I don't want to spend it on those things. I spend my money on roof and my nutrition. Occasionally on my hobby and my life of taking pictures. I don't have money to spend on those things.

em: It is funny because I needed a car and as I was buying it I was thinking about how in many ways I was getting a car because of the image. I was buying an image too. I'd seen in ads, commercials, and instead of being mad about being sold an image I decided I'd be happy for the people who put together this ad campaign and were so successful.

Glen: It is hard, we live in a capitalist society, you can't be Marxist, or Communist, or Socialist completely and live in this society. You can't function in it. I believe in a lot of things that Marx said, I believe in a lot of things that a lot of different philosophers said, but the reality of it is we are living in this society right now and so I'm going to function in it to the best of my ability. NOT the way they want me to, the way I want to. I'm going to do what I want to do, and I'm going to rationalize how I can affect politics and change in this country, the way I can, the best I can, do what I can to change things that's all. If that means not buying things, not doing what everyone expects you to do, not taking jobs from major corporations and things like that, and expressing myself whenever I get the chance. To let people know why, to let people ask the questions when it is necessary, not just take all the money when people wave it in front of your face . . . like most people do eventually. It is so easy to say you're not selling out when no one is offering you anything. Wait 'til they start offering you money and then see if you don't sell out. I've had the opportunities, some of my friends have had the opportunities. Some of them take them, some don't. I still respect...If someone is my friend I respect their opinion, and their choice to do what they want to do. I don't necessarily respect their actions, their business and how they conduct themselves, but that is their prerogative. I'm trying to make some kind of change so I do things somewhat differently.

em: Has that been difficult at times, to stay focused and not take the easy way out?

Glen: Luckily it hasn't been to difficult, it hasn't been difficult, it hasn't been difficult at all for me, I know what I need to do. Sometimes there are pressures. My friends will say "well come on man take that job. I want you to come hang out with me, you should be with us, I want you to have a million dollars too." Look man I'm hanging out now, I don't have it, I don't need it. I don't need hang out with you everyday, I don't need to live that extravagant a lifestyle, I don't need to take a cab everywhere. I'm cool I can walk, it is good for the environment, it is good for my health. I don't need all that fucking waste. You are wasting so much money. You are wasting so much time, you are working so hard just so you can waste more. I live a very casual lifestyle compared to most people. I think most people work for things they don't even need.

em: That is definitely true

Glen: I work to put a roof over my head and nutrition into my body, and to pay for my film sometimes. When I have a family I may have to work a little harder, let's see if I keep it up. I know a lot... a couple of my friends, when a child comes into their lives it gets a little harder, and they might have to sell out a little more, and we're trying to avoid that.

em: You have very...not impatient, but fixed, or seemingly fixed view of how photography should be handled in relation to art and design, particularly in relation to design. How does this straight forward don't fuck with my photos attitude, how do you feel towards copyright law.

Glen: I'm not totally sure what your question is, but I'll try to answer it from what I've gathered. I personally believe in the anti-copyright law, actually. The only reason I copyright anything I do is because I don't want it to be exploited by some body in a negative way. I don't want someone to make money off of what I do and not appreciate it. I've taken many many pictures most of the pictures I've not gotten paid for, many of the pictures I've given to people and not been paid, I believe in what they are doing. That is fine, on occasion, but if someone is making money off of my images or it is helping them promote, or sell their product ,to sell their image or whatever, then I should get paid fairly for that. If I shoot an album cover for someone who is selling 5000 albums I'm not going to expect any money from that, I'd be very grateful if they paid me for my expenses. Generally if I shot it I believe in them. If I am lending an image I created to someone to use for something generally I believe in what they are doing. If someone is using my image to sell a product, a music, or image - then I believe that I should be able to share in that profit perhaps, particularly if they are making a lot of money off of it. When I put a copyright on something it is to protect my images from being used in the wrong way. You'd be surprised how many people have called me to use images in advertising, for products. Of images I've already created that have nothing to do with those products, but they like the way it looks and what I conveys so they want it associated with their product. I tell them I'm sorry I just can't do that. I've lent a couple of my images out to be used on things because I didn't think it took away from feeling or of the object. I didn't think it damaged them in any way so I let people use my images for those things. that is very very rare. I don't know, the copyright thing. I tell anyone on the internet they can use any image they want, as long as it is in the right context. I want to expose people to the roots of skateboarding, to American hardcore punk rock in the early eighties, early hip hop. The more people who know about that, the more they will learn about the truth of being young and idealistic, and I think those are the most important things in the world, because too many people grow old and lose their idealism and become capitalists and get old. I want people to understand these things, I mean in Fuck You Heroes I had all those quotes on the back for people who were never a part of these things, so that they can see that people are thinking in these ways. Some people read that shit and have no idea that is what punk rock was about, what skateboarding was about or what hip hop was all about, from the quotes I picked. Or at least what it meant to me. I'm not a fucking historian, and I'm not a fucking photojournalist. I just happen to be certain places at certain times because that was my life. I fucking hate seeing books by photographers of them covering things that.. they come and take photos and leave. I use to skate, that is why I took skateboarding photos, I use to go to punk shows and about half the time I would take my camera very often I would put my camera down while the band was playing, go dance for a while, come back and take pictures again. Hip hop shows were a little different, cause I was getting a little older and it was a much more commercially successful art form, and even then I would go to shows much more often than I would take photos at shows. Hip hop was GENERALLY very boring live music. Occasionally it was good, but without musicians and stuff, some people not even using turntables, it's quite pitiful actually. But there were early shows of Run DMC in 1986 at the Oakland Coliseum...I've almost never been to a show more exciting than that, except maybe Black Flag playing in the south bay or anywhere in the world when Dez was the singer, or even in Henry's first two years, or seeing a Minor Threat show. You can't beat those things for excitement, but I have to tell you Run DMC at the Oakland Coliseum in front of 18,000 people singing every single lyric, the whole place on their feet the whole time from first row to the last was fucking intense, Jam Master J cutting live right then in 1986. That was some serious shit. Public Enemy was pretty damn good in the beginning too, but then when people started playing along with tapes and not really cuttin' and scratchin', not doing as much stuff live it just got really boring and fake, too much showmanship and not enough fuckin artistic interest or integrity. It wasn't even showmanship, it was just fucking Hollywood, ya know. I got really turned off from that, but it is still rap, it is a great form in the studio, it just didn't transfer live that well. I was very involved, I went to hip hop shows all the time back in the day. I went to hip hop shows where I was the only white guy out of 10,000 people, that all changed, but I'm saying I was into it because I loved it. It helps my life, it helps my creativity, listening to music, early hip hop, early punk rock, stuff that is original, and creative and exciting. The later bands that came out, some of them have good songs, heck I even like a Green Day song or two, I've got nothing against them. The form is generally boring. I love the Buzzcocks, I love the Dammed as far as that type of music that Green Day is playing. I love Black Flag, I love Minor Threat, and I love early Dead Kennedys. I love that shit, I still listen to it today. I love the Stooges, the Beatles, I fucking like some Nine Inch Nails records. I like Barkmarket. I of course love Minor Threat, of course love Fugazi. Fugazi is still the most important, best thing that has ever happened - Period. It is fucking phenomenal. Not only do I consider Ian a best friend, they are total fucking motivation for my life in many ways. Whenever you feel down, shit is getting tough, their beating you down, hanging out with my good friends in NY, a lot of them got money and see people becoming successful, telling you come on up here with us, come do this. I don't have to think real hard because I know What I like to do, but then when you think you're getting a little weak and you think you might give in - all you have to do is look at Ian, Guy, Joe and Brendan and you're like "Why did I even question myself for even one second." Its like "Maybe I should just do this?" NO, cause whenever I do a job, whenever I do something that I don't feel 100% about you can see it right in the work. It always shows up. There are a couple jobs I did, you may have read about them in other interviews or something. Where it wasn't my favorite band or favorite artist. I wasn't that motivated, but I did it because a friend of mine is in the group or a friend produced the group, or was the air person and asked me to do it. Ok I'll do it, I need the money. It wasn't like I was totally selling out, they were decent, but it wasn't stuff I love, but a friend was involved and you look out for your friends. That wasn't often, but I remember it because it was my work that I didn't love and I hate it when that happens.

em: It is pretty much impossible to keep that from happening.

Glen: I wouldn't say it is impossible, but it is pretty tough to keep it from happening.

em: We all have off days, or whatever.

Glen: I made it this far and stuck to my guns pretty damn fucking good and have been pretty successful, relatively speaking. After Fuck You Heroes I didn't think I could do another book, I thought that was it, that was my master stroke, it has done good, I'm happy. I think that will be my masterpiece for my whole life. My next book is amazing but it is a personal thing, it is an aesthetic, an art thing, ya know. Fuck You Heroes, that is my social document, my statement to the world, that is really really important to me.

em: Why this book now?

Glen: Number one because I have the opportunity. Because I've put out the book, the more important book Number two, it also covers a very important period in my life. It starts at the same time Fuck You Heroes started, in 1976 when I took my first roll of slide film, you know, professional photography slide film and all through out that time through the present I've been taking landscapes, compositions that I respect and appreciate and that just excite me. Now that I've had the success with the other books, why not now put out my more artistic statement? My last book has an artistic point to it, particularly Fuck You Heroes as opposed to the scrap book Fuck You Too, which is great, but is really a scrap book to me. There are some beautiful shots in that too, but this book is really the compositions, and I'm really a fucking freak when it comes to sense of order and space and composition and texture. Some of that is in my other photos, people can see it, and feel it, but this is the extreme. This is my life as far as how I see things. It is my rue aesthetic. There is some music stuff and there is some skating stuff because that is all affected by it. This book is 30-40% that stuff, the rest is landscapes, or for lack of a better term still life, shots of women I've known. Beauty in way or another, even if it is punk rock or skating. They're just beautiful images. I had the opportunity to do it because I know about printing books now and I had success with my other books. The profits from that book helped pay for this and why not. What I do as a photographer is unique in that I shoot so much variety with such high quality. If that sounds egotistical, I don't give a fuck. Go ahead and take great pictures where ever you go and whatever you do and then you can talk like I do. I fucking do it, I do it all the time when I want to. I only have that attitude and seem a little arrogant about it because I look at magazines, I look at photographers and equipment and what people are doing and it's... it's pathetic. Most magazines that have so called 'art photography', it is because people don't know how to take a picture. It is the emperor's new cloths - they say it is cool and everyone just follows suit. There is something to that. I print a photo out of focus every once and a while because it has a feeling, it has motion, it has character, but I wouldn't put it on the cover of my magazine every week. You can tell when something is done on purpose and when it is not a good photo, I can at least. Too often...Art directors have the biggest egos of all. They always want to put their imprint on something and that is why they need to crop a photographers photos, or use photography that is more graphic than image, because they want their graphics to speak louder than the photos. My photos speak for themselves, I don't need much around them, I don't like my shit cropped, I don't like type on top of the image, if it is, it needs an outline around it so it is separated off the image totally. I'm very very harsh and specific with what I do and people don't like to hire me because of it. I follow through with my work when I do it. Even with the most menial project. I never just take the photos and leave, I follow it through to the end of the project whenever I can. People don't like that. Generally they want to pay you and make you go away. You hand in your shit and give them 600 images to choose from. I'll give them 20 images and tell them what each one has to be used for and that is it. Again they aren't use to it, they don't like it, it doesn't work within the bureaucracy. The reality is I haven't done a major label project in several years. Not that I want to, but there is some stuff on major labels that I think is great. There are people who are rock stars who I think "huh I'd like to shoot them." Probably not, I hate having someone in front of my lens who has been in front of a hundred other peoples. I still like Method Man, I still think Snoop is a genius, I think Trent Reznor is dope. I'm talking pop people now. I think it is ok to admit I like some of those artists too.

em: It is funny... I know a lot of designers who do feel that way, but if you do have good photography - period, when you are designing you don't need to do anything to the photos because they work already.

Glen: And you don't need fancy graphics, you don't need this type that you can only read half of it. I don't like any of that shit. I hate that whole David Carson thing, and I know David Carson from before when he was working at Skateboarder...

At this point I ran our of tape on my answering machine, so I had to switch tapes, and we changed subjects.

em: The only other question I have is about your feelings on straight edge. It was so nice to see someone representing straight edge in a positive manner on MTV.

Glen: Cool. That is the other thing. When I had my opportunity... I don't walk around with a fucking X on my hand, I was on there and even if they didn't get my words, if they edited me - people would still see that. I had to get it across, I wore a Greenpeace sweatshirt, which you couldn't see at all, I wore my Zephyr tee shirt, cause that started it all. I had to represent, ya know. Yeah, I think straight edge is fucking great and I don't care what anyone else things...about it being fascist telling people what to do. I personally feel it is a great idea. I think it is good to let other people know there are other people thinking that way. Peer pressure was the only thing that made me smoke pot when I was little, I even smoked angel dust, cause I was threatened, I would have gotten beaten up if I didn't. Then, I finally realized what it was, after like the third time I smoked it. I thought it was just another kind of weed. I didn't realize it was elephant tranquilizer, PCP, embalming fluid. When I figured that out, I was mad. I couldn't believe my friends who were older than me made me do this. And this is what they do with their bodies every weekend - I'm never doing this again in my life. That was 1977. I was a pretty little guy when I realized that. I was growing up listening to Ted Nugent and he always said he never drank, never did drugs, he just got high on his music. That was totally how I felt. I was high on skating, and music and girls. People think doing that shit is rebellion, but it is the most conformist thing you can do. You're parents did it, people in movies do it. The corporation make money off of you when you do that shit. It is a joke, you're gonna OD, you're gonna go to the hospital. Maybe not if you smoke pot, but if you know anyone who smokes everyday, or a few times a week - their losing brain cells, you can see it. I'm sorry - people who smoke weed all the time are different. Fuck that. I'm not dulling my mind for any reason. Maybe if I had a beer or two I'd be easier to relate to, actually you're kind of dumb. I don't believe in that. I believe you have to be on point, you have to be on your best behavior...all the time. I don't mean that, like polite, I mean you have to know what the fuck is going on in the world.

We continued to talk about straight edge, and from there into the way corporations control us, the world, consumerism - how Michael Jordan doesn't give a shit about anything but the almighty buck, how he'd play for free if he really cared. What is more money going to do for him? If I had another six paged I'd give you the rest of the interview.


8 pages with B&W images from Fuck You Heroes throughout