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All street art

Artist Interview: Glen E. Friedman

December 17, 2021
33 min read
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Recently I had the pleasure of sitting down with multi-faceted artist Glen E. Friedman a man notorious for his work idealizing and photographing the skate, punk, and hip-hop scenes in the early years through present day.  Friedman’s work which has graced record covers for such artists as the Beastie Boys, Fugazi, Ice-T, Black Flag, Run-DMC, Minor Threat, and Public Enemy (to just name a few) have become as iconic as the genre defining music contained within.  But, if that’s not enough, Glen was also exposing, composing, and portraying the skateboard scene uniquely since the mid-70s hardcore origins. His work, first published in SkateBoarder when he was just 14 years old, set up a template that is emulated to this day.  Did you see or hear of the documentary film DogTown & Z-Boys?  Well his hands were all in that, as well as his face! As well as several other films. Besides his incredible artistic vision, what separated Glen from most of his peers is his unapologetic and unwavering quest for equality, truth, and social justice.  Check out his website for more information including his many books.. We met up for a phenomenal vegan sushi lunch in NYC and discussed a lot of what he has been working on during the lockdown, and what is in store for 2022 and beyond.

So, Glen, let’s start by talking about your new print release. I believe it’s six of your favorite/classic images presented as lower priced, high quality posters?

Yes, absolutely. We just wanted something accessible to everybody to help us finance our tour. You know, I haven’t had a show in New York City in over 25 years! I haven’t had a lot of shows in general because I don’t like working with people who “sponsor” art events, often alcohol, or tobacco companies, or things that I don’t like to fuck with, be associated with… whack big corporations etc. I mean if they are good people who are doing good things too, I may work with them, old friends, people I have relationships with may pass, but we are careful. We’re just tired of dealing with not having the money to rent a space, and certainly don’t want to deal with gallerists who take 50% or more of the proceeds. You know, I’m not ever doing that.  I’ve been doing this way too long. If a gallery built me up as an artist and helped make me who I am, then I understand you could maybe get 50%, but no gallery is doing anything special for me and my credibility other than giving me a space. And because i am not desperate to sell work I am not exploited by their system. So I just haven’t had many shows for that main reason. Usually all the exhibition that I’ve had around the world are by prompted by fans that just really want to bring the work to their city. That’s how we’ve done it for over 20 years, it’s been really great, it’s been fun, it’s been REAL, and it’s been clear of the bullshit 98% of the time. It’s inevitable sometimes to run into some, but you do the best that you can.

Have things been tough for you over the last couple years with COVID? What were you up to during lockdown, etc?

So for the last couple of years, While I was sitting around at home we finished making my short film “A Look Back: Dogtown and Z-Boys” documentary which came out really great and kept my crew and I really busy at the beginning of COVID. We did that, and COVID also just gave us a lot of time to come up with different ideas all over my spectrum. We were planning on having shows in Europe as soon as this was all over or we got to the new “normal”… But as always it always came down to people saying, “even if we can sponsor, how much money do you need?” But, we don’t fucking know because we don’t know certain things like how much the place is going to cost to rent in that particular city, and we want to do multiple places all over the world. So we decided we’re going to create some reasonably priced poster prints. Really high quality thick poster prints, and use the profits to finance the exhibitions on our own. I’m not taking one penny out of these sales. It’s all going to finance the shows. There are 500 of each image and they’re all pretty iconic images to say the least.

There’s six different poster prints available now featuring artists like the Beastie Boys, Black Flag, and Bad Brains right?

Yes, we got Tony Alva doing the first front side air in 1977, Bad Brains at a small club in New York City in 1980 (with basically no one else in the room because it’s crazy late at night). Beastie Boys sitting on the curb from the Check Your Head cover session which I actually only shot three photos at that particular location, and as a matter of fact, like so many of my album covers, the best shot wasn’t used, and this is the best shot of the three of them sitting on the curb. In the second drop we have an insane doubles shot of Lance Mountain and Steve Caballero, from the Bones Brigade. Black Flag at the Suicidal Tendencies party that we threw. And, can’t forget Public Enemy walking down the street on Lafayette and a Bleecker around the corner from the old Def Jam office in NYC. Everyone’s really stoked on all the prints. It’s really great. I mean, they haven’t sold out yet, but by the time this interview is released some will be, if not close.

Tell me a little bit more about this crazy Bone Brigade perfectly timed photo? 

Well, they’re in a legendary skatepark pool. That’s been replicated and rebuilt several times since then. And it’s two of the most famous skateboarders of that generation, Lance Mountain and Steve Caballero, of the infamous Bones Brigade. And that photo, was undeniably great! Obviously it’s an insane image and nothing that anyone could have planned. But the Bones Brigade, Powell/Peralta, they hadn’t done an action shot in an ad for years, they only concentrated on personality and equipment in their ad photos, but this photo was so extreme, and over the top, it was the first time they went back to doing an action shot. It was actually in Thrasher Magazine when Thrasher was still only a black and white publication, so it was never seen in all it’s glory til published in my books. And now bigger than ever in full color.

And affordable! 

Yeah, the prints are each only $99 / £75 / €85. And they’re shipping from the UK worldwide. High quality Giclee 18” by 24”, A2 size prints, very easy to frame. My museum prints usually start at $2,500 but these are only a hundred bucks and bigger, it’s a good deal if you’re into collecting.

Funny enough, I was so stoked to finally own a copy of the Beastie Boys outtake print in the series. I’m pretty sure I was the first person because I bought it 3 minutes before the release time…I always know a good deal when I see one!

That reminds me, it’s cool that when people purchase one of these, which helps support the exhibitions, we’re going to have pre-shows in every city, and these folks will be invited to attend!

That’s awesome! 

We thought so! A pre-show just for people who bought prints and it’s part of the deal because by purchasing a print in reality you are a fucking partial sponsor! It’s kind of like a Kickstarter, but without using the app.! We’re doing it ourselves, you know, DIY always when you can.

So you have six prints total so far, and you split it really nicely between skate and music photos. Is there a particular shot which has a crazy story behind it or a special meaning? 

If people go to the print sales web page, they can read the little blurb about each one, because every fucking one of those pictures has got a story! But, if we start at the beginning, you got THE Tony Alva doing an aerial, and pulling it off with style in a pool. It was the first photograph that was ever seen in a magazine of a frontside air in a pool, and that shot was heavily cropped when it ran in the magazine. It was not until Fuck Your Heroes that it was finally printed in full frame, and it was very, very, dark originally. But now you’ve got a perfect exposure, beautiful print of the start of the revolution of pool skatings next level, one of the most iconic skateboard photos of all time, period. There’s no argument against that. The only other contender would be possibly C.R. Stecyk photo of Jay Adams going around the cone at Bicknell Hill. Other than that there’s no one that even could come close! So I was really happy to make that the first one released.

Then we have the Bad Brains shot. I’ve got a lot of incredible Bad Brains photos, but I thought, I don’t need to put out the flip or the more famous ones. I thought this one was cool because it’s HR and Darryl really early. I mean, his hair’s pretty damn short and there’s no one else in the photo but them. In a white brick warehouse background, and it was just a cool late night gig in 1980.

And then of course we had the Beastie Boys photo which I think was the latest one chronologically out of the six prints we released. Thanksgiving 1991 when I was out in California visiting my Mom. I was invited down to the studio because I hadn’t hung out with them in a couple of years since they moved out too LA and we enjoyed listening to the new album (unsequenced at that point). The Beasties we’re still trying to figure that out for Check Your Head. And I was just blown away. Anyway, we’re there in their studio, shooting hoops, checking out the skate ramp, and stuff like that. After hearing these tracks I was totally inspired and said, “let’s go shoot some photos like the old days… let’s just go have some fun!” And they were with it, and we just went and did it. We shot all day the next day before I got on the plane back to NYC. A couple days later I sent them the photos back on a fax machine. They had already laid out an album cover. They told me the cover was already done. But when they saw these, they were like, “oh, we’re going to have to bump the cover and put this photo on the cover instead.”

Crazy!  I Didn’t know that those three photos you have in your book are the only three from that shoot which became the Check Your Head cover. 

Well yes from that particular setting, from that location of them sitting on the curb, there were just three shots. And then we went up to Adam’s house to do more shots. But you know, what Adam really wanted to do was emulate the cover photo from Minor Threat’s Salad Days. But when you emulate it… it doesn’t always have to be the exact same pose or the exact same setting. It’s the feel. And really the shot of them on the curb to me was a similar feel to that, you know? And that’s just how it worked out.

Anyway, we shot that whole day. It was an incredibly fun day. If people have the Together Forever book, you could see photos from every place that we set up that day.  And we just had a lot of fun. That was just a great fun day. I mean, it’s the music that inspired me to make all those great photos. Because I knew what was coming and no one else had heard it yet. It sounded almost as revolutionary as It Takes a Nation of Millions. It was just incredible. And I asked them to bring their equipment cases. Because I wanted it to resemble the old days when they played their instruments and would walk to practice with gear.

Right! Because that’s what they were moving towards then. That was very new to most listeners at that time who were only familiar with License to Ill and Paul’s Boutique being essentially sample based hip-hop albums. 

Exactly! That was the deal. And that’s how it went down. That was it.

Well speaking of photos with musical instruments of course you have the Black Flag photo.

The Black Flag image was made at a Suicidal Tendencies party where we had to bring together as many kids as possible with their hand drawn shirts, to shoot them for the bands debut LP that I also produced. Kids needed a hand drawn shirt to get in the gate of the backyard and Albert’s Gramdma’s house, he was an S.T. roadie. And I asked Black Flag if they would play this party because they just loved playing, and rehearsing whenever and wherever possible. Thankfully, they were always down to do a gig at any time, even though they had already become a huge band, they were always stoked to do it, and up for the challenge. Plus, I just wanted it to be a no-brainer to get those kids out with the hand drawn t-shirts. So that was great and while they were playing, I took out my fisheye, which I don’t think I’d ever used before shooting a live band, but it was in a garage. I needed the fish-eye because we were so close to the band. And because it was basically my private show, I could have my crazy lighting on my fisheye that I needed. I had a bracket with a flash on each side and yeah, I got that shot. That’s the most classic photo from that day, the most iconic one that was in Fuck Your Heroes and in the new book I’ve got, which is another thing that I did during COVID, I put together a new book called What I See: The Black Flag Photographs of Glen E. Friedman titled after the Black Flag song written by Chuck Dukowski. It’s 256 pages, and it’s coming out in April, there’s over a dozen more photos taken from that same party that are mind-blowing and people are going to be really stoked. It’s especially cool because this new book contains 80% never before published photos of Black Flag. Maybe 10% of them people have seen on Instagram or on the internet, but 80% have never been published in print before. So it’s all a lot of new shit and it’s pretty gnarly. Heavy duty as Black Flag tends to be. particularly through my lens.

A little off topic but along with these prints you dropped your first NFT as well?

Yeah, We did! You know, I have some really close friends in the NFT space who’ve been talking to me a long time about doing something. What appeals to me most about it was the blockchain and that when people re-sell your work you get a piece of it. The funny thing is that almost nobody re-sells my work when they buy it. They just keep it… and hold onto it, which is great, means they really like it! But in the future if someone chooses to re-sell the artists gets a cut forever if it’s on the block-chain, like this NFT.  Everyone in the space seemed to really love the idea that I gave out the physical object that’s photographed in the NFT. And I thought for us old people, that’s a way that people could relate to it. And that way I don’t feel guilty at all about being in that space because I gave up more than just a JPEG!

And this photo that you used for the NFT was never released?

Well, that photo, no. That photo was published in Thrasher Magazine in an article that I wrote maybe in 1983, probably. it was a photo I took in 1977 and was never published at the time. But then later on, it was on the cover of Juice Magazine and it was in my book Fuck Your Heroes. And then it was in my book My Rules where it’s a two page spread as well. It was published a lot, but I had a really old, I don’t know what you call it, like a photo lab print of it, like a machine print of it, not a very high quality print, but I had this color print that I used to have on my wall in my home, back in the eighties, because that’s all I could afford to put on the walls at the time, and it was in an acrylic box frame. Eventually when I moved I wanted to change up the artwork in my apartment and I just put it in my archive in California. But that particular image was such an old classic image I decided to just leave it by the window (worst place to leave a photo!), in my archive up in the attic and just let the sun fuck with it for 20 years… And that’s what happened, and I thought it looked really cool. It just made it look more antique. So I made a picture of it one day in November and thought that should be my NFT! I felt it when I took the photograph of that old photograph. May seem silly but something just clicked about it for me.

Everyone loved it, everyone seemed really stoked about it. And then as a bonus, I gave the person who won my Genesis NFT the actual box frame I pulled off the wall, with the print itself, all in tact and I signed the back of it… even the pin it hung from for years that fell off inside the back of the box frame is in there still rattling around, all included. So I just thought there was a lot of provenance to it, an interesting story to go with it.

Photo courtesy of Glen E. Friedman, Burning Flag Press

So you have been keeping yourself very busy! Anything else we should be looking forward to?

Actually, I’m working on another documentary film that’ll hopefully be out in the next couple of years. I’ve been working on it already for five years, I guess, at the same time as my other short film. But this is a long form, it will be much different, much less commercial. And then there’s these shows now that we’re raising the money for with these prints, we gotta plan out these fucking shows. I’ve never had a manager, I’ve never had an agent. So I do all this shit for the most part myself still, with accomplices of course that i couldn’t do it witout, but no agents or managers… Look, I’m going to be 60 in March, and so I just fucking gotta just keep doing it!

Oh and I think that people need to remember that I have that Together Forever book, which is all my best Beastie Boys and Run-DMC photographs in one book. A lot of people, because it came out right before COVID don’t know it exists, and it’s a really great book that a lot of people don’t own yet. It encompasses everything from beginning to end of my photographs of both of those bands. Basically, every photo session I ever did with both of them is included in that book, it’s over 300 images and it’s a monster on its own. Plus, I’ve got essays in it from Rick Rubin, and Mike D, and Adam Horovitz, and RUN, and Chuck D. They all contributed words about that era for them, and what it meant to them and stuff like that. And then I wrote a 5,000 word introduction that talks about my story with both those bands, and how it all happened, and where it all began, how most of the images came to be, etc. etc. and hip hop in general.

And then of course my My Rules book, which is the biggest monster of all, and if you only own one, that’s the one, unless you’re an art person, then you should own my book The idealist, which is my most personal book. Some people might not be into the hip hop, skateboarding, or punk rock stuff, as much as just wanting to know about the aesthetic that I’ve had throughout all my years that you’ve seen in the other work, but this is a much more aesthetically based book, The Idealist. And that one is back available again, from the same people who are distributing the new Black Flag book, the Fugazi book, the DogTown book, and my other intense art book called Recognize, those are all available again now.

And I forgot to mention when the new book comes out as usual, my good friend Shepard Fairey will be supporting me with a celebratory print upon it’s release. He did a rendition of two of my photos from the very last time I shot Black Flag live, and the print will be released separately the same week as the book comes out in April. With Shepard It’s always quality. And that’s why I always say “he’s the man!” I can’t wait!

Right. I can’t wait to see those prints either!  And then obviously out of print are your earlier zine and the original first pressings of older books.  

Yeah. I think the photo-zine that I made the My Rules photo-zine, it could be found for like $300 in different places, The Fuck You Heroes and Fuck You Too books are out of print, but all the best photos that were in both of those books are now in the monstrous My Rules book. They’re bigger and printed better than ever before.

I have the book, it’s like 25 pounds!! 

It’s eight pounds and Yeah. You heard of “Miuzi Weighs a Ton”… well my book weighs a ton.

I mean, I’m a photographer. And I look at these images in the book, the actual quality of the reproduction, it’s a really big book with tons of full and double page high quality images.

Well, when you open it up it’s about 26 inches wide, and I think 11 inches tall, something like that. Yeah. There are lots of two-page spreads, it’s pretty massive. And there’s a lot of iconic stuff.

My goal in all my work is firstly, if you don’t do something unique, then you might as well not do it. It’s rule number one. It has to be your vision. And that’s why I started making photos, because I wasn’t seeing what I wanted to see out of the subjects. So I took it on myself to make it happen as I saw fit. Because I started when I was so young, (I was first published when I was 14). It was always a struggle for me. I had to work harder than everyone else, and do whatever I had to do because people were working at it to make a living at it and I was just living at home, i was working from the purest place on heart and integrity.  People have to remember, this is a time when you couldn’t go on the internet to see something, you had to physically do everything. The internet was 30 years away. Making photos, you had to get your film developed. You had to wait three or four days to see if you even got the shot. No instant photography. I was working so hard at such a young age and I’ve continued that work ethic my whole career , in one way or another. Seriously I don’t fuck around!

You just have to make everything undeniable. And that’s what I try to do. If you look at the My Rules book. It’s undeniable how great it is, straight up. You could look at it and you could try picking at it if you want to, but that’s an uphill losing battle because you’re not going to win, you can’t fuck with that book.

As we were discussing before, in one of the Beasties on the curb photo MCA is smiling. I’ve never seen that outtake before. It changes the feel of the whole thing. If that was on the cover, it would have been a whole different energy to the record. This is why it’s so important for fans to see these alternative versions. Plus I’ve shown the book to friends who have no idea who the skaters or some of the bands are and they find the images even more fascinating sometimes!  It’s just an incredible history lesson for anybody.

The book is amazing whether you know anything about the subjects or not. I think that’s what separates my photos from other people’s work is that they appeal to people who don’t even know anything about the subject generally, because they’re beautiful photographs. I’m inspired by Renaissance painters, not by bullshit instant photographers. I’m an artist before I’m a photographer. I just happen to use a camera. I have a lot of ideas, and do a lot of different things, and if you know anything about art, you could see that in the photographs, they’ll talk to you in that way. And that’s why they talk to other people. It’s about character and composition. It’s not about just being there. It’s about telling the story of the whole day in 1/500th of a second, but it’s also composing it in a way that makes it attractive to all people. It makes people want to look at it, know more, inspire and stare at it even longer.

So the holiday season is in full swing. People can buy the book as a no brainer for anyone who’s into skateboarding, pop art, music, and these posters are shipping in January I believe I was told by the print house?

So they might actually ship before that, but we just don’t want to promise anyone unless we know for sure. I mean, some people are going to get them before Christmas. I think that’s going to happen, particularly the people that buy the full sets. I think those are going to ship definitely before Christmas. But, we can’t promise anything because the shipping issues right now are crazy all over the world. So that’s why we’re just telling everyone January, but they might get there early.  And the sets may be the only way to get certain images as they sell out individually. There’s only a handful left in each of the sets. And that’s the only way to get the Beastie Boys print at this point because that one sold out individually already. To have these images on sale for that price, especially for the size will probably never happen again. Unless it’s a bootleg and it’s certainly not going to be signed by me for that much money, haaaaaa!

Lastly, because we’ve already talked for way longer than I expected, anything you want to plug before we wrap-up?

I can’t think of anything right now, except for that we had an incredible meal at PLANTA Queen in NYC, a delicious vegan sushi place that Matt was kind enough to introduce me to. This place was super dope thanks for having me!

All Photo’s & Text (unless otherwise noted) Copyright 2021 Matthew A. Eller.  Follow me on Instagram @elleresqphoto

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