Hip-hop, skateboarding, and punk rock-three of the most culturally influential scenes of the last 25 years. Glen E. Friedman was present during the early days of them all-long before the mainstream took an interest-with his camera in hand snapping off some of the most famous shots of The Dogtown skate crew, RUN-DMC, Black Flag, The Beastie Boys, Minor Threat, and Public Enemy. While elements of these three scenes have been co-opted by corporate America and turned into the current "big thing", Glen stayed true to the game (like many of his early subjects) and true to the D.I.Y ethic that permeated the good old days. He's self published four books of his photos; Fuck You Heroes, Fuck You Too, Dogtown-The Legend of the Z-Boys (with C.R. Stecyk III) and The Idealist, and since growing up on the usual animal fare, has remained a vegan for over 15 years now.
Who were some of the photographers or artists that you looked up to when you were growing up?
I didn't really look up to any other artists. I didn't know too much about the art world other than what I was exposed to in school or an occasional museum visit. My mom was an artist and a designer, so I'm sure I inherited something from her. She always had artist friends around. I think the first time I met a painter I was 8 years old, he had a hippie commune house and a freaky family thing going on. I thought it was kind of interesting and bizarre. I did touch base with the art world at a young age, but it wasn't like I had a good understanding of what art was, as far as academically. I didn't even know who Ansel Adams was until 1985. I took photography class by accident.
That was the closest thing you had to formal training in your early years?
Yeah. I took Photography I at Paul Revere Junior High with a pocket camera-got a D. Six months later I had a photo published in Skateboarder Magazine. I don't know if the teacher ever found out.
So when you started taking photos after having that immediate success, was there a particular moment when you knew, "this is it, I know exactly what I'm going to be doing?"
Well before I got published, I was shooting a lot of photos with a pocket instamatic at skate spots, and some surf photos down at the beach. Even with a borrowed camera I shot pictures for a while; I just didn't use the right film. I read in a magazine that you needed to shoot slides or black and white prints. The first time I ever shot color slides I got published.
I've been shooting pictures probably since I was ten years old. I was given a Polaroid one Christmas. After that pocket camera I looked at 35mm. But I just didn't do it, because I thought it was too complicated, too expense and too bulky.
The reality was I never knew that was what I was going to do, until I had to pay taxes and I had to write down that I was a photographer. I was taking pictures all through high school and junior high school, even college, being published, and paying bills that way. I just kept doing it because it was what I loved to do.
I thought there was going to be some defining moment in life where all of a sudden you're grown up and you had to decide what to do. So as long as I kept taking pictures I didn't think I was grown up yet-I thought I was still doing my little thing, doing what I liked to do. It probably wasn't until my mid twenties, after I finished going to college- which I never graduated-and I had to pay taxes. Back then you didn't have to pay taxes if you were a full-time student, but once you weren't, you had to deal with that. On my form I put I was an artist/photographer. Then I realized, yeah, I am a photographer.
It really is the only job I've ever had. The only 9 to 5 job I had was working for Z-Flex skateboards packaging skateboards one summer. Other than that, it's been photography that's paid the whole way.
Being a vegan who uses photography as his profession (film is a gelatin based product), was there ever a moment when you questioned if you should continue with photography?
No, I never thought about it like that. I've been taking pictures long before I was vegan. What I do well is take photos, so I don't think I need to sacrifice (my photography) for that. But at the same time I'm 100% conscious of it. I've had long conversations at Eastman Kodak and other film laboratories to see what they could do about these things. I don't waste film. I'm really careful. I've never been one of those people that will shoot 10 rolls to get the one shot. If I only need the one shot, I'm probably going to only shoot a little more than one shot.
When you're shooting action or something that's really intense, and you can't control it, you might have to shoot several frames or rolls to get what you want. But the fact is I generally shoot much, much less than the average photographer to get what I want.
How long did it take you to get to that point? To know you could shoot it in 1, 2, or 3 frames?
I always did that because I didn't want to waste film. I didn't have the facilities. Trying not to waste is good for the planet. You're an environmentalist before you even know it. You don't have the resources to pay for all this developing and all this film. When I started, I obviously cut my teeth working with the Dogtown Crew - you just can't shoot a hundred pictures. I had to only shoot the good stuff. I didn't want to shoot pictures of people falling all the time, or stuff like that. I had to 'come correct'. I had to shoot and make everything count as much as I could. Sure I've taken hundreds of horrible photos in my life, but at the same time, hundreds less than most other people.
Whenever I shoot someone, I'm not just sitting there with a motor drive clicking away. I'll make people wait, have someone stand in front of the camera for 10 minutes before I snap a shot. We'll move around to different locations. It if doesn't look good, I'm not going to take it.
That's a fresh perspective from my experience. Some of the people I've come in contact with, the rule seems to have been, shoot as much as you can because inevitably you're going to get the shot that you need.
It's disgusting. It's pathetic and rude, and has no respect for the environment or the people that they're working with at the time. I can't stand that, that's an abomination to me.
And you still practice that way today.
Absolutely. But I can't say that on occasion I don't shoot 5 rolls of film. If someone's paying me to do a particular job, and they need a lot of good photos, then I'll shoot a lot of film. But I'm not going to shoot 5 rolls in one set up. And if it's the most incredible set up in the world, maybe I'll shoot half a roll. I've had one roll that I shot in three different countries and it even got me a record cover... all on one roll. It doesn't always happen like that, but it has. I think it was for the Beastie Boys Intergalactic 10" cover they used overseas. I had Australia on that roll of film and maybe Italy as well. There were only 5 frames on the roll, and I just happened to be there when they finished recording the album. We just finished the roll on some shots of them and one ended up being on the single.
I remember doing an Ice T 12" once, on a twenty exposure roll of film. Davie D's album cover, the first time I used a 6x7 camera, I shot that on one camera on a roll of 12.
Again, I don't do that all the time. I'm working on an art project now where it's something I can't control. The circumstance is very peculiar, it's in nature and constantly moving. I had these incredible opportunities and the image could never be the same twice. I shot a bunch of rolls in one day. But not one image looks like the other. I just shoot what I feel.
When did you make the conscious choice to switch to a vegetarian diet? And from there, follow a vegan diet?
It was back in the early 80's when a good friend of mine, Shawn Stern from Better Youth Organization, gave me some literature. He was vegetarian, for the most part- he ate sushi I think. I didn't understand it, I didn't know what he was talking about. Then I saw the ads in the LA Weekly about colon cancer, and stuff like that. I realized most people get that from eating animal products and I said the last thing I want to die from is cancer in my ass. That was one thing that made me think about it. And Shawn gave me a bunch of reading materials. I was 21 and I'm thinking -are you fucking kidding me?!?! People do this? This is what's going on in the environment?!?!? I had no idea. I just couldn't believe it. I was a very big meat eater. I ate red roast beef sandwiches, prime rib of beef. I loved ribs. I ate red meat like crazy. I loved a big tall glass of milk. I never drank alcohol in my life; I never did drugs or any of that but I liked myself some red meat and milk, you know what I'm saying?
That's just what I ate, it's what I was brought up on. I just couldn't believe this is what was going on with this stuff. Back then it wasn't as publicized as it is now. "Diet for a New America" hadn't been written yet, but I did have a lot of great documentation given to me and I said, "okay, I'm going to start trying to do this." I remember eating at McDonald's every day. I would go and have a 4-course meal. It would be a Big Mac, Chicken McNuggets, Filet O'Fish and Milk shake with fries. I would eat them all in one sitting. I was never fat because my metabolism was fast, but I ate that shit all the time. I started cutting back on animal products and eating at fast food restaurants. Probably about six months later I stayed down at Ian Mackaye's house. He had turned vegan about six months prior, or was vegetarian and was becoming vegan. I was down there for a couple of days and we ate vegan the whole time I was there. I was like, "I could do this."
That's all it really took-for someone to set an example. To be in the atmosphere of someone else, when that's all they're doing. I went home on the train that day. I was going to have a chicken sandwich and I thought, "I don't need to do that."
After that I was vegetarian. I wasn't vegan yet. I might have eaten fish for another month, on rare occasions, like sushi or something, thinking it was healthy. Then one day I remember eating sushi and I had this feeling of compassion for the fish.
All of sudden I felt like the fish was swimming in my mouth, and I'm a Pisces. I said, "you know, I really shouldn't be eating this fish. What gives me the right to think that I can eat this animal? I didn't even kill it... And it might have tasted good at one point, but all of a sudden it made me fuckin' sick to have an animal in my mouth. I couldn't believe it.
At that point I stopped eating all meat. Back then, in the mid-80s, there weren't that many options for people. You didn't have all the soy foods that are so readily available now, so I didn't really know what to do. For about 9 months to a year I was still eating dairy products. I figured, you know, it doesn't kill the cow, and people worship the cow in India because it gives milk. I was eating pizza everyday, and cheese and yogurt because I didn't know yet what I needed to eat. After a year, or a little less, of doing that, I became vegan. It was just a natural progression. It's obvious as you gain more understanding of what you need to eat, and how to get the proper nutrition. That was about 15 or 16 years ago.
When I went vegan, I made a conscious effort to eliminate leather, and wool products as well. I decided that if I was going to do it, I would do it properly. To me, I thought that was the best way.
There's a lot to be said for that, and that's definitely the way to do it. But I wouldn't want to discourage anyone who's not ready to go that far. If you can do anything, it's better than doing nothing. If you just stop eating red meat tomorrow, that's better than continuing to eat red meat. I used to be a fascist about it, "You got to stop everything! Forget it. Fuck you. You can't eat animals. You're a fucking asshole if you do." I still think that in the back of my head, for the most part, but I won't say it to people as often, because I also believe as long as you're doing something-as long as you're trying. And even if you're eating meat, if you're doing something politically active, just do something to make this world a better place.
To me though, if you are being positive and you are trying to do the right thing for the planet, other human beings, and for other animals, eventually you will come around. Maybe it's just not your time yet. I learned that from John Robbins. I saw him speak once. He said that you can't be so harsh on people, all in time. You had your time when you weren't vegan, and now you are. Everyone has to have that time too. When they're ready, they'll come around. And if they're not, it's their problem to deal with. All you can do is set an example for them and that's what I try to do.
That's why I got rid of the leather shoes, even though I already owned them. You don't even want to give the impression that you're wearing leather. You just want to show people that you're going that extra yard, because it's important to you and it's important to the planet.
I'd like to encourage people to go all the way but you have to have a full understanding. My reason for becoming vegan was, number one, the environment. Number two, was my own personal health. Number three, was the animals. Those are the three main issues I think anyone has for going vegan. In the beginning they were all very separate. As the years have gone by, they have all become intertwined, and it's really almost even. I have so much more compassion for animals than ever before. It's changed drastically, my compassion for animals.
We do what we can. And that's what everyone should do, and anyone who doesn't is a fuckin' lazy bum.
Have you ever made or lost friends because you follow a vegan diet?
I haven't lost any friends because none of the people that I consider friends are that big of assholes. I have certainly gotten in arguments with friends, and even more than that, family and people who don't understand what it is. You're trying to explain to them and you're doing nothing but trying to help them but some people don't want help. Some people think they've got all the answers. A closed mind never helped anything. Sometimes you just have to let those people go and hopefully, like we said before, hopefully they'll come around. I've gone blue in the face, any one who knows me, knows I do that many times a day on different subjects. I'll talk on things to varying degrees, to anyone who is giving me the respect to listen attentively; I'll speak to them. If you're drunk or something, or you don't give a shit, you're just pulling my leg, fuck you. I'm not going to talk to you.
Is there any skating around today that's worth shooting?
I'm sure there is but I leave that to the younger generation. I think people who are the age of the skaters should be shooting them. I used to hate it when old men would take pictures of stuff that I was doing. It's like, I take pictures of my scene, they should take pictures of their scene. I still love skating, and I'm into skating and I will still shoot it on occasion but I haven't in quite a while.
Music stuff, (I shoot) whenever I'm inspired. I shot Fugazi this summer. They inspire me, so I shot photos of them, even though I've shot them dozens and dozens of times. It's always fun to shoot them.
I saw Henry Rollins doing a benefit for the West Memphis 3, playing old Black Flag songs. After having shot Henry at what I think was the peak of his career, I never thought it would be worth taking a camera out at these shows. But I have to take it back because he gave one of the most incredible performances I've seen in the last 20 years. They get such satisfaction singing those Black Flag songs. I'm never one to go to reunion shows or support them. Most people chump themselves and almost disgrace their whole history by coming back and trying to play old songs again but I gotta tell you, Keith Morris and Henry Rollins playing those songs the other night did themselves and the music incredible justice. No one is as intense as that motherfucker. He's incredible.
So punk stuff aside, what other kinds of music do you like?
I usually like hardcore music. Hardcore hip-hop or hardcore punk. I guess I like some pop stuff too sometimes. There's different things here and there that I like, but no one group that I would say is blowing me away. Sure, I could listen to Miles Davis and Ravi Shankar, and of course The Beatles, early Stones and early Aerosmith. I could even still listen to Ted Nugent Double Live Gonzo. He was a big inspiration when I was still a red meat eater. He's a fucking fool now, but you know he made some great records, and I can't deny that. And anyone, who does, you're just lying to yourself.
I wanted you to talk about the photo of a rap group where they had guns pointed at the lens.
That photograph was the last photo I ever shot with guns, first of all. That was back in '91 or '93, almost 10 years ago, and I haven't done one with guns since then.
When I did that shot there hadn't been that many photos published of hip-hop artists (with guns). It became more glamorized after that. Originally what I was trying to do was portray a reality-to show how people had to live. And the name of the album that photo was taken for, was "In Gats We Truss", because all they could trust to protect them were their guns and nothing else. That was the story we were trying to tell, it wasn't purely gratuitous although we did exaggerate it to a degree for the photograph. But they all had guns, they all used guns, so that was the deal back then.
After I shot that I came to an understanding with myself and society... maybe people aren't taking it the way we meant it. Maybe we are glamorizing it, unbeknownst to us. I also realized that putting a gun in a photo is such a cop out, in a way. Any photo with a gun in it, all of a sudden is a big deal. It's almost like a celebrity. It's exciting, and it's this and that... it's just too easy and too pathetic. There are a lot of reasons I stopped shooting photos with guns, mostly because it became too glamorized. But it was an intense, incredible photo of the time so I can't disown it. I would stand behind it in that era, but I wouldn't shoot it again.
What are some of the new things you're shooting now that people can look forward to in the next 6 months or year?
I've been working on an update to my book The Idealist. It came out about 5 years ago, it was a 20 year retrospective of my aesthetic. It's more art-based photos, but it still has some skating and music stuff.
I've updated it with another 5 years, so now it'll be 25 years in my eyes. If you've seen the original one we had essays on idealism written by Ian Mackaye and Ian Svenonius-they're both vegans by the way. In the new edition I have some political photos I took the day before the election of 2000. I was hanging out with Ralph Nader, Al Sharpton, and Cornell West and I have photos of them in the new book. I asked them if they would write on idealism for me, and they actually did. So we have those additions to the new book. There are about 25 new images that represent the last 5 years. That'll probably be coming out in the late fall.
� Photos from Glen E. Friedman's books FUCK YOU HEROES, FUCK YOU TOO, and THE IDEALIST re-printed with permission from BURNING FLAGS press (www.BurningFlags.com).
Places you might see Glen getting
his international vegan grub on:
Caravan Of Dreams: all organic vegan
Angelika's Kitchen: all organic vegan
Thailand Cafe: vegan friendly
Atlas Cafe: great vegan ice cream, vegan crepes, soy cappuccino Vegetarians Paradise 2: all vegan specializing in fake meat
Red Bamboo: mostly vegan asian/soul food menu
Madras cafe: Indian, mostly vegan
Zen Palate: mostly vegan
Sacred Chow: vegan and organic
Quintessence: all raw & organic
House of Vegetarian: Hong Kong style vegan
Vegetarian Dim Sum: vegan dim sum (yes they have mock pork rolls!)
Candle Cafe: organic and vegan
Cafe Viva: vegan pizza
BurritoVille: good vegan choices
Rice: rice based meals, some vegan choices
Moustache Cafe: Middle Eastern
Terra 47: organic, animal and vegan
DoJo's: greasy spoon health food
San Loco: Mexican
Two Boots Pizzeria: "mother earth" slice is vegan
Real Food Daily
Montigo Bay Jamaica
Bo Kong Vegetarian Restaurant
Branto Indian Pure Vegetarian Food