April 1st 2004



Issue number 43



by Keith David Hamm

Those familiar with the work of photographer Glen E. Friedman - from documenting ground-breaking punk and hip-hop acts to early skateboard legends - can see another side of his vision at the world premiere gallery show of pictures from his latest book, a revamped printing of The Idealist. But don't expect a full departure from the rage that made him famous. Sure, it now has a bit of the soft and Arcadian. But there's still plenty of rebellion.

This second printing (the first run was in 1999) holds 25 new shots - though Friedman has deleted a dozen originals - and contains three vignettes on idealism, written for this edition by Cornel West, Ralph Nader, and the Rev. Al Sharpton - putting into context two-and-a-half decades of Friedman's work.

That chronological range could be this volume's most telling aspect, Friedman said recently. "The dates of the photos might be interesting - to see what's been catching my eye over the past 25 years."

During the exhibition's March 6 opener, a swelling crowd inside the downtown gallery called sixspace examined 54 images, covering several genres: posed and spontaneous portraiture; simple and textured landscapes; and social and political documentary. Part of the message seems to be that public action is not the only place statements are made. Subjects move from surf-skate prodigy Jay Adams's backside snap in an abandoned swimming pool to a young woman caressed by warmth and sand. From a screaming Henry Rollins, more lion than man, to quaint farmhouses under big blue skies. From hundreds of empty chairs set for a gathering of A-bomb survivors to glacial icescapes under a cold sun.

"Glen's amazing," said Friedman's friend and occasional subject Guy Picciotto, 38, of the band Fugazi, who'd just pulled in with his girlfriend, Kathi Wilcox, after driving across the country. "This is his full vision. And the thing is, he won't snap the shutter until the shot is right. You know when you hear the click he's got something golden."

Also on hand was San Pedro-based bassist Mike Watt, 46, formerly of the Minutemen and fIREHOSE, now a solo artist. He compared Friedman's style to "the guitar playing of Jimi Hendrix," said Watt, adding that many photographers have absorbed the style. "It's kinda tough now to know that Glen started it. He's one of the original daddies."

The crowd also included original Dogtown crew members Peggy Oki, Paul Constantineau, Jeff Ho, and Craig R. Stecyk III, who mentored Friedman early on and later worked with him coproducing the 2002 documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys.

"I didn't look up to anybody," Friedman said of his early influences. "I looked to Stecyk for some inspiration, but I was never a big photo buff." Self-taught with a pocket Instamatic, he cut his teeth shooting for Skateboarder magazine in the late '70s. He said he took only one photo class, at Santa Monica City College, and that was just to boost his GPA. He later studied philosophy at UCLA but moved to New York in the mid-'80s without finishing his degree.

"School didn't do much for me," Friedman said. "I was always just inspired by the cultures I was living in." His first two self-published books, Fuck You Heroes and Fuck You Too, read like photo diaries, artful reflections of the scenes - skateboarding, punk rock, and hip-hop - he respected and was part of.

But The Idealist was something else entirely, a gathering of his fine-art imagery that captured a wider emotional spectrum. "I just wanted people to see an aesthetic, a visual experience," Friedman said. "It was kind of idealistic to think you could put out a photo book that didn't concentrate only on one subject matter. And maybe, through these pictures, people can see not just that I see beautiful things, but loneliness and moments of depression. And some of it, of course, is just pure eye candy."

Glen E. Friedman: The Idealist. sixspace, 549 W. 23rd St., L.A., (213) 765-0248 or www.sixspace.com. Through April 10.