by Steve Earl

Chances are that Tony Alva can't do switch frontside flips.

But he deserves as much respect as any other skater on the face of the planet. Alva's pioneer generation of skaters didn't just skate terrain, they rode it like they wanted to break it.

In these days of all-wood indoor parks, with all skaters growing up skating the streets rather than concrete pools or parks, relating to how skating used to be seems pointless.

But understanding where we've come from can be as important as pushing the boundaries forward.

Flick through some of those old pictures in early editions of Thrasher or Transworld and the full-bore energy and aggression of skating's early years is plain for all to see. Glen E. Friedman's picture collection, strewn across the haughty walls of the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Arts) in London for a couple of weeks in January/February time, took that feeling one stage further. Friedman's photos don't depict a lost era' (or any such historical bullshit), they're a look inside the memory of someone who was right in the thick of the energy, aggression and excitement - and frustrations - of the times, people and places that brought skating from bare foot, clay wheel status to the mass populace.

Friedman has pretty much seen it all in skating terms. He's one of those people that has always been in the thick of things from the early Dogtown era to today's technical bravado. And a trip through what his camera lens has picked up over those years must be as a good a reflection as any of where skateboarding has come from and what its early pioneers wanted it to stand for. And it's not just pictures of some toothless wonders from the late 70s. The images of Run DMC at Santa Monica Pier, the Beastie Boys' Licence to Ill tour and Fugazi just a couple of years ago all strike a chord with most people.

Friedman started capturing the early southern Californian scenes on film when he was 13. He went to Kenter Canyon and Paul Revere Junior High schools, which anyone who has been in skating for more than a few years will be familiar with as big skate spots and scenes of their time. Kenter's steep playground banks are those that started out as a good place to throw a long high carve, and which ended up as a haunt for the likes of Natas, Vallely and other street skating heroes of the late 1980s. These places may be a few thousand miles away, but think about how many times you've seen pictures of the places or had them stuck to you bedrooms walls before you dismiss those eras as having no relevance now.

The London exhibition was a raw power trip - a look from the inside at the people, places, music and energies that were a big influence in making skating the way it is today. A picture of Rick Howard catching a 30 flip above a driveway obstacle is a powerful image, but it can't really compare with a picture of a bareback rider in the late 70s carving frontside, trucks screaming, coping dust spraying in the air: the shutter having clicked just as the last coping block became dislodged by the pressure of the back truck. Not that any of the two skating eras are any less valid - they're just different styles for different times.

Musically, Friedmann caught images of late 70s and early 80s bands that were a big influence on the west and east coast skateboarding scene - some of the best shots I've ever seen of The Descendents, Adolescents, Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, the Minutemen, Bad Brains, the Misfits and Minor Threat from the early 80s, plus later influences like Doug E. Fresh, King Tee, the Beastie Boys, Run DMC, A Tribe Called Quest, even AC/DC, Slayer, and Johnny Cash.

He broke into photography in the eighth grade when he sold some early pictures to Skateboarder, the pioneer magazine that was the forerunner of today's Thrasher, Transworld and Big Brother (and which, in its heyday, had a readership of one million a month). Starting out with pictures of the skaters in his area - Tony Alva, Jay Adams, Paul Constantineau, Stacy Peralta - Freidman's life has seen him take in stints as manager of Suicidal Tendencies, a columnist for Maximum Rock n' Roll and editor of one-time punk zine My Rules. All the while he has been taking photographs: and earned himself more than 100 album covers through depicting skateboarders, punk rockers, hardcore artists and rappers. He says they're all "people who've shown us different ways of doing or looking at things".

And says Craig Stecyk, a name most skaters will have heard of even if they don't know exactly who he is, "The amazing thing about Glen is his propensity for repeatedly making once-in-a-lifetime hook-ups. He gets into stuff early, gets into it deep; he works it thoroughly and he's out of it before other people are even hip to its existence".

That statement certainly rings very true for everything that was on show at the ICA earlier in the year. So here's a pick of the images that, for me, really stood out:
* Jay Adams, carving backside, arms flung back, in the Teardrop pool, West LA, October 1976.
* Public Enemy with the 98 Posse, sat around white-walled Cadillacs and the like in an underground car park, Long Island, New York, December 1988
* Busy Bee with water melons on Harlem, 1990
* Duane Peters, one of skating's all-time heroes, at the bowl he made his own: Pipeline Skatepark's Combi-Pool. Tearing indy air in August 1980 with big fat red wheels.
* An amazing Turning Point' fairground-lime ramp contraption in Florida in the late 70s.
* Caballero and Mountain, late night near-collision double air at Pipeline, June 1984 (Lance in chequeredhigh-top Vans, groover)
* Milo from the Descendents, wearing furry top, screaming into a mic in 1982.
* Bobby Piercy, board-to-board transfer over three daftly-dressed models, Playboy Hotel, New Jersey, June 1977.
* Fugazi's Ian Mackay conversing with a packed crowd at a Long Island, New York, show in 1995
* Crowd over bowl at Spring Valley Skatepark during Hester ISA Pro Bowl Series, March 1978 (complete with hay bales and just like a scene from the immortal Thrashin movie)
* Run DMC in a pose like that which covered millions of bedroom walls in the mid 80s: trainer tongues out, pork pies on at Santa Monica Pier in 1985.
* Moses Padilla, shaggy haired frontside grind on skinny plank of a board, backyard pool near LAX, November 1977.
* Steve Alba, frontside one-wheeler with pouting lips at Big-O's opening day, Orange County, California, June 1978.
* Alan "Ollie" Gelfand, classic no-handed frontside air daubed in Bones gear, Del Mar Skate Ranch, July 1978
* Neil Blender, mid flight with hat at Mountain's ramp, 1985
* Tattooed Henry Rollins, sharp-nosed screaming in southern California with Black Flag in 1982
* Tony Cadena from the Adolescents looking very weird
* Mark Lake (remember Lake Skates?), extreme frontside one-wheeler at a Florida half pipe in February 1979
* No pads Tony Alva, frontside grab at the camera on a rickety, no platform half pipe with stacks of vert, California, April 1978
* Paul Constantineau through the tubes at Kenter, 1976 (check early Powell videos)
* Ice T in Porsche on Sunset Boulevard, 1987
* The Specials. Striped, smart and serious in Pasadena, 1981
* Three gold LPs stacked in a stand-alone urinal.

Freidman's books, Fuck You Heroes and Fuck You Too (the purpose for the London show) are on sale at few good bookstores - best to check or call the ICA.