VICTORY Magazine - winter '97-'98 (interview)


YOU PROBABLY KNOW GLEN E. FRIEDMAN'S STUFF. His photographic work has graced the covers of records no less significant than Minor Threat's "Salad Days" EP, Public Enemy's "It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back" and Beastie Boys' "Check Your Head," to name a very few. To many of us who grew up skating in the 1970s and/or '80s, Friedman's explosive photos in Skateboarder and Thrasher of Jay Adams, Steve Olson and Lance Mountain (to name a few among hundreds of skaters) left potent images of frontside airs and truck-crushing grinds that would remain vivid in our consciousness to this day. The best of these pictures have been collected in two books, Fuck You Heroes and its sequel, Fuck You Too. A third book, The Idealist, a 20 year retrospective of his more artistic work will be released in mid '98. After more than an hour of talking on a sunny day in NYC's Union Square Park, Friedman's parting words were: "Make sure that you put in the intro or whatever that I'm totally pro-environmental, straight edge and vegan." That seemed fitting. Even his most unassuming pictures of Tony Alva leisurely grinding a pool in the '70s, the Bad Brains relaxing in a graffiti-covered CBGB's after a gig, a near-sublime promo shot of LL Cool J, always seemed tinged with something vaguely political, charged with an intensity, whether moving or still, that conveyed action. I can now attest that this nuance comes as much from the individual behind the lens as the subjects in front of it.

[Interview by Jon Resh, all photos by Glen E. Friedman, reprinted from Fuck You Heros.]

PHOTOGRAPHIC BACKGROUND? I always liked pictures, like everyone does when they're two years old. You just like looking at pictures, right? I guess someone gave me a camera once for Christmas, a Polaroid. I took a couple pictures with that when I was really little. I didn't think much about it, but I noticed right away that I was able to do it really good. I was very happy with what I did with a camera. It wasn't until a lot of years later I got a 35mm camera, and that got stolen before I even got to use it. I took photography at Paul Revere Junior High (in Los Angeles), and I took it with a pocket Instamatic because, to tell you the truth, the typing class was too crowded. I learned all the basics there, but I ended up getting a D anyway. Nine months later I had my first published photo in SkateBoarder magazine.

STUDY PHOTOGRAPHY? No, not at all. I don't think studying for photography or any art class is something that anyone should do, unless they just want to learn something about the artforms just for knowledge. If you're creative, you're creative; I don't think you need a class to teach anything to you. I had learned some basics - what different lenses did, stuff like that. I just don't think art school in general has that much to offer people who are really creative. It might help you get along the way a little quicker in learning how to use particular materials or something like that, or particular equipment, but, again, I just think you should do it on your own. I'm not one for big groups of people in that aspect, or in any working or creative environment. I think it's best to learn on your own. That's just my opinion. I went to college for five years; I never graduated. I took a Photography I class at Santa Monica College one year just to get my GPA up so I could transfer to UCLA. (Laughs.) People in the class would come and ask me questions after, instead of the teacher.

SKATE? Yeah, I still skate, but not that often. I mean, it's New York City. I ran into a cab once; it didn't run into me. It's hard, y'know, to skate in the city. At night it's nice. I ride a bike around at night a lot, just to cruise around here in Union Square, where people are skating, just to hang out. I still don't know how to ollie. I knew Ollie (Alan Gelfand), but I don't know how to do an ollie. (Laughs)

FUCK YOU HEROES, ETC.? My whole idea for the books, for me doing interviews, for me doing shows up to this point, is to publicize the culture. It's not about making me famous. I've got some views that I like people to know about, but it's not about me. I want people to buy the book because I want them to know about the culture. Fuck You Too is a great book, but you have to have Fuck You Heroes because of the quotes in the back. The quotes are what influenced me to do what I did. Exposing the culture is what's most important to me. I've priced the book as cheaply as humanly possible. There's almost no profit being made. All of the profit made from the first printing of Fuck You Heroes went into paying for part of the second printing, which is just being released now. It's very similar to an independent record thing, if you're familiar with how difficult it is to get into record stores and get it distributed properly. But (book-selling) is such an old-time business, and the way book companies and retailers are going now, it's even harder than the record business when you're an independent. It's ridiculous. To get good distribution, to get people to get your books, the returns, everything. To deal with books is so difficult. It's a lot like independent records, but even harder. It's really, really a pain in the ass. And getting publicity see, that's a difference too. Getting people to know about your stuff, when you're putting out a book, is a lot harder than being in a band, because if you're in a band, you can play a live gig anywhere that a fucking major label band can. Being a book publisher, I can't go to clubs and play. I have to do interviews and get publicity in magazines, some I don't even like, because I want people to know about the information. The people that are in the books that I'm putting out, as independent and righteous as they are, have sold records that number in the millions. My first book, it took three years to sell 10,000 copies. It's hard.

ETHICS? I don't like it when people stick their camera in (other) people's lives, very much like how shamans and other spiritual people feel it's taking a part of them away when you're photographing them. I totally believe in that. I don't shoot pictures of people when they don't want me to. It's nice that you're capturing someone's personal moment, and if they give you permission to use it later, that's cool, but it really makes me feel uncomfortable sometimes. I'm not someone who rubbernecks when there's a car accident. I do not look. I move past that situation. I don't get any entertainment from looking at that whole thing. That's part of what I think those photographs are, when people peer into people's lives. I think voyeurism or whatever is interesting for a split second. And when the composition's nice, I like it; when the moment is emotional, I like it. But it's also disturbing to me. War photographs? I don't dig that stuff, man. Fuck that. People should be there trying to help, if they're there. I don't believe that you're outside of that situation. We're talking about life and death, not just showing people what is going on. I could not imagine just watching and shooting photos as an outsider. That's insane. When I go to South-Central to shoot photos, doing the South-Central Cartel stuff, I've felt very uncomfortable since the riots. But I also felt I was helping people express themselves to others, to show them where they're living and what's going on and the circumstances.

WORKING WITH BANDS? After producing Suicidal Tendencies first album, and being their first manager during a period when they were actually pretty fucking great, then having to quit after egos got out of hand, I never really thought I'd try that again. But the one group I wanted to work with last, that I was even thinking of starting a record label with, was Scream back in 1989-90. Then Dave Grohl joined Nirvana. That was the last time I wanted to do that to that capacity. There's no one that's that motivational to me. The Make-Up, I really like a lot. Fugazi, I love. Those two bands I'd like to work with in more depth if I could. But they do great on their own. They don't need me to meddle in their shit.

DILUTION OF INTENSITY? I gotta say that punk rock is still very valid. People who are on Victory Records and a lot of those bands who carry that banner, and just a lot of hardcore bands that are still around or resurfacing after being broken up for years, there's a lot of vital energy still there. For people who never did it before, that's great. I don't think much less of it, but since it has already done well, "been there, done that" comes up for me a lot. I still respect that people are doing it and enjoying it, but I have seen some things that have been pretty fucking incredible in their day. For me to be excited to see somebody doing something that's not much different, or that's basically derivative for me, personally, it's not that interesting or exciting. I don't see anything ever happening like it did in 1980 with American hardcore, in 1985 with hip-hop, or with skateboarding in the mid-70s. Things like that will never happen again because of the nature of the media nowadays. I think because of the internet, because of MTV, because of fanzines being popular now and the way magazines try and cover everything. There's too much media. Things don't have a chance to develop on their own anymore. I think that's just going to kill creativity in a lot of ways.

FAVORITE SUBJECTS? Black Flag, early on. To shoot Black Flag, it was best with Henry (Rollins); to see them, it was best with Dez (Cadena). And with Henry, just the first two years. Black Flag "Damaged"-era was the greatest band ever, I think. Shooting Minor Threat was always incredible, too. Skateboarding-wise, Jay Adams was the best person to shoot ever. He was totally unpredictable and totally insane - you knew you would get great pictures, because he never did the same thing twice - and we got along. He was only about a year older than me, and Tony (Alva) was like four or five years older than me. I just really liked Jay. In hip-hop, I knew when I met Chuck D. and heard the first Public Enemy demos, I knew that I was going to shoot their first album cover. They were fans of My Rules (Friedman's photozine). Chuck D. and Hank Shocklee loved it. They wanted me to do a hip-hop one back then. I knew whatever it took I would shoot their album cover. I was a fan of theirs.

HAZARDOUS MOMENTS? I got hit in the face with a board. I've gotten my shins banged a bunch of times from (shooting) skating. Skating was not as difficult, because (being a skater) I was able to get out of the way quick enough. But, y'know, sometimes... I was a little guy, and Tony Alva and some of our friends would try to hit me on purpose, just to fuck with me. (Laughs) Just because they thought I was a little squirt, just to give me a hard time. In punk rock days, my flash got busted off my camera a bunch of times. I would be right there in the center of things, right in front of the stage. I don't do that now. People might think it's because I'm scared of getting hit or something, but I don't take pictures in the pit anymore because you only see the band. That could be during a soundcheck, and you wouldn't know any better. I shoot now on the stage, from the stage or behind the stage, because I want to see the audience. I want to see the band and the relationship to the people they're playing for. That's what's important at this point for me. In terms of risk factors, there have been plenty of times going into bad neighborhoods with camera equipment, I'd consider that risky sometimes. It's the only time I'd ever use an assistant, to watch my equipment, so I don't have to be concerned about that. But in South-Central after the riots, some kid pointed a gun at us - that wasn't in the photo session. Running from police a lot. I've been hit in the face with a baseball bat outside a show on Sunset Boulevard. I've had bad things happen at shows.

NEXT? I just shoot what interests me. For lack of a better term, it's more artistic now. The world is a very bland place in some ways for me, artistically and creatively. As far as shooting bands and skateboarding, the perception by my eye is not as excited as it once was, so those subjects are going to be few and far between, relative to what they used to be. Other things will spur me on. Whenever I have a camera, I have a good time, but to get me to take out my camera, to carry it around, is gonna be the tough part in the next part of my life. I just don't like carrying the thing.

(2 page spread w/ color and B&W photos)