An Interview with Glen E. Friedman Pt. Two

by Lauren QuinnPosted on

Hi-Fructose correspondent Lauren Quinn recently caught up with famed photog Glen E. Friedman to discuss his prolific career, the ideals that motivate him and the movements that inspire him. In part two of this feature interview Quinn and Friedman also talk about both his collaboration with Shepard Fairey, and how his photos have changed over time.

Your work has always been informed by the people you respected and were inspired by; they were your subjects. So in that way it’s been a product of a deep involvement in a community. But in terms of doing an actual collaboration like you’ve done with Shepard Fairey, is that a new thing for you?

Yeah, it is new. I mean, you kind of said it: just by working with people, it’s a kind of collaboration. When I would shoot bands or skateboarders, we’d always review and talk about what we were going to do. But in terms of working with another artist who’s actually working in a different medium but with my actual art, it’s definitely a first.

Shepard has always expressed a deep understanding and respect of my work, and I’ve always liked what he’s done. I don’t commercially go in all the ways he’s gone, and I wouldn’t, but he is an artisan, without a doubt. A lot of people wanna talk shit and put him down, but he’s done a lot stuff that no one has ever done before.

And again, he’s trying to inspire as well. He’s not just a fucking thief. He’s actually making a statement. And he’s trying to inspire change in the world too. And he takes a great deal of what he earns and puts in back in the world, without any cash in return. Because he’s trying to make the world a better place, in his own liberal perspective. He’s affecting change in the way he wants to, and he’s trying to do something positive. He’s not greedy, he’s not selfish, and he’s very good at what he does. And I know he takes what he does as seriously as I take what I do.

When it came time to do real collaborations—not just “Hey, I wanna use this photo”—I really got into that—something that takes my already iconic photos and makes an icon out of that. I call them graphic representations of my work. And I’m honored that I was able to inspire someone way before I knew him. And for him to be able to come back to me, and say, “Hey, you’ve inspired me. Maybe now I can inspire other people with your work who might not already know about it.”

And I’m not always open to that kind of stuff. People often say, “Oh, we wanna use your stuff and maybe a million new people will be fans of yours because you put a picture on a t-shirt.” And I’m like, “Fuck that; I don’t need that.” But when Shepard Fairey comes to me and does it, I know it’s from someone who actually has an understanding of the cultures, and actually an interest in it.

How did the collaboration come about?

The first collaboration was when Jam-Master Jay got killed, and I asked if he could put something together for me. I gave Shepard the idea and how we wanted to do it. And we needed it in like two days. I wanted to create this icon. And he did it.

We actually did a record cover together. He was hired to do the mechanical design for the Dog Town and the Z Boys documentary soundtrack—which he didn’t really need to do, but he wanted to. He wanted to work with my photos and Craig Stecyk’s photos. He did it, I think, just because he wanted to say he was a part of it. And that’s great; that’s just a great fan.

It went on from there, and I got more and more involved each time. He would always get approvals from me, run the ideas by me, and 98% of the time, I was like, “Right on. That’s a great idea.” A couple times I said, “No, let’s move in this direction.” It’s turned out really good, and I’ve been really happy with the way all of them have turned out.

The last two were my idea. In 2009, I took this photo of Cornell West that I thought would be a great piece for him to do. And I said, “Why don’t we do this one for 2010?” And I had one for 2011 as well. One of our mutual friends, who I’m not going to name, is turning 50 years old next year, and I said, “Let’s do one of him too.” And he did it. He’s actually gonna have a painting, an original canvas, of that poster that’s not supposed to be released until February 13 in the show [at 941 Geary]—that’s never been published, that no one has seen.

Do you have any new books coming out soon?

No, I think I’ve published plenty of books… There might be a remake of Fuck You Heroes and Fuck You Too, maybe combined at some point, just like the show [Fuck You All]—a “best of” both books. But I’d say that’s a couple years down the line.

And maybe even further down the line, a Beastie Boys or Run DMC book, and if the demand is there, even a Black Flag book. I’ve got so many great photos still of all those bands, and they’ve become more and more interesting every year, as time goes by. And if these people are still inspiring people, and these photos are, then perhaps maybe I’ll not make books but print them digitally—we’ll see how the technology goes.

What makes the photos more interesting as time goes by?

You just look at photos in a different way. Something that you might not have realized was a good shot—like a skateboard shot in the 70s, you know, you might have looked at it and said, “It’s not that great, not that extreme.” But you look at it now and it’s like, “That’s an amazing photograph. Look at that old equipment; look how cool it looks in that image.” Where back then, all the equipment looked like that; it didn’t make a difference.

But that fact that he’s on this old equipment and he’s doing this particular thing that was ahead of its time; and back then it looked like he was falling, but it doesn’t matter—even if he is falling, it’s kind of inspirational. Because that’s where people were headed. And it’s showing a bit of the future before you even know it is.

I found a photo that’s going to be in the show that I’ve never even published before. It’s of Rick Blackheart, and you look back on it now, and not only is it more radical, there’s so much more style. But because it was a little blurry, it showed a little movement, it wasn’t published back then. But also now we know those were the first set of Independent trucks that were ever made; they were hand-poured in the foundry, one of the prototypes. And I just refound the shot, and it’s way cooler.

And with hip hop stuff, you look back on what might have been an outtake, that you might not have used because the guy was making a goofy face. But now someone making a goofy face is actually funny. Or I took pictures of Run DMC in Hollis, and then it was just another photo of them in Hollis: “It’s not very special.” But now, twenty years later, “Wow,” you actually see those buildings in Hollis where they lived. It’s a big deal now. So that’s how I see how the photos have changed.

Well, that’s what they say the true test is: whether art can last over time, stay relevant. And they are. Yours are doing it.

See Part One of this interview here.

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