Glen E Friedman is a social activist and the photographers’ photographer. His name resounds with clarity inside (and outside) photography and it pulsates with a verve even stronger than it was in 1976 when he started making images of those vibrant sub-cultures: cutting his teeth with Skateboarding and progressing into Punk and Hip-Hop as each began to surface to significance, no doubt in part, thanks to his “voice”.
Like so many who have become an integral part of the fabric of a given period, Glen E Friedman’s interest in photography started as a hobby. The documentation of these sub-cultures ‘quickly’ became a ‘passion’ as it appealed to his need/wish to give his ‘vision a loud voice’. The decibels of that ‘vision’ are set firmly on high.
Iconic, generation defining images of names and important moments from those sub-cultures ensued. But Glen E Friedman’s impact however goes far beyond documenting sub-cultures. It is fair to say that in many respects he helped shape youth culture in those periods where his photographic documentation was intense.
Now in 2018 while his name remains a constant in the photographic world his socially active voice seems even louder and clearer. Indeed, Glen E Friedman seems more intent to push ideas with an anti-establishment bias. Perhaps in these times where ‘we’ are bludgeoned to death by mass media’s agendas on everything from whether to bomb the fuck out of Syria or not and in times where the obfuscation from politicians is even more pronounced-we need an anarchic voice for us to collectively state; ‘fuck your truth we will find our own truth.’
Can you name a moment, image or person that created your initial spark for the creative disciplines and indeed what was it about that moment, image or person that helped light the fire?
No, I cannot, except to say, when I felt that something was going on around me that was happening nowhere else on earth that I have heard of, it inspired me. I was excited and stoked. I wanted others to feel it the way I did. It felt revolutionary because it was!
As a photographer what was it about your formative years that helped to lay the foundation for your interest in photography-in hindsight were you destined to pursue this career?
No, not at all-photography was a hobby, but it became a passion very quickly once I realized it gave my vision a loud voice. Once I noticed it articulated my visions to solid proof I got energized and confident, that what I was seeing and what I was doing with the tool (camera) was worthy and maybe even somehow important.
Fuck that mediocrity you got to go beyond to be heard, to be seen, to change.
Do you ever wonder who or what Glen E Friedman would be if he were not in photography-what could you have been?
Not really. I don’t have the time to think about it in such personal abstract ways. When I ponder or wonder it’s about more worldly things like what if humans don’t fix the environment, what or why did we as a species even evolve as we have, what’s going to happen to us is my biggest curiosity?
The youth cultures/counter cultures you captured appeared to have some ethereal and concrete cause how did you capture that essence in your work and what images do you think best showed that?
I captured, or should I more accurately say I framed those moments in my own idealized way because they inspired me. I saw urgency and importance, and I saw and learned that to really inspire others they needed to be framed properly. It helps outsiders relate and helps practitioners to respect and cherish. It was and is about accuracy and beauty, not just mere show and tell-it’s about going beyond the standard ‘capture’ school of thought. Fuck that mediocrity you got to go beyond to be heard, to be seen, to change.
Your bio talks about your ‘science of defiance’ with figures like Ice T. How important was that period in terms of Hip-Hop and the socio-political climate at the time-what was the essence of what you were trying to capture?
I was attempting to help others tell their stories, to share their culture with the outside world. It was about bringing; understanding, consideration, education, love, and integrity. “Keeping it Real” was the slogan. I became one of the biggest proponents of this idea. I believed, lived and enjoyed the art and action that I saw going on around me immensely. Sharing it with the quality of images the culture deserved it was my personal responsibility at that point. I had had success prior with the cultures of, Skateboarding and Punk Rock and exposing and inspiring others. It expanded even further, past my own first-hand experiences to those of my new friends and the new music that was teaching and inspiring me.
I want to encourage INTELLIGENCE and not be afraid of it
We saw a quote from you which read, ‘Skateboarding, punk and hip-hop – they are almost completely interchangeable’ can you elaborate on that more and indeed can the same be said now?
I don’t follow them in the same sense as I did when I was younger because that’s just impossible. I am not of the age of the prime creators of the moment in any of those scenes now, that’s for their own peers to discuss. But as an elder statesman and an outsider of sorts to the current crop, I see them as very similar just vastly more popular than ever by multiples my mind cannot even calculate. The thing that Skateboarding, Punk Rock and Hip-Hop all had common in their golden eras was ATTITUDE, and a willingness to fight back. It was a belief in freedom to do what the fuck you wanted to do, no matter the consequences. And almost nothing was motivated by capital gain. It was motivated by a vital gut feeling, for the LOVE.
Hip-hop, punk and the skateboard cultures were/are it seems obvious counter cultures. Are there any movements now which emulate these counter cultures?
It’s probably better to ask someone in their teens and see what they have to say about that! I am no voyeur, I love my stuff, I am inspired by all sorts of intelligent and heart felt rebellion and activity that strives to make the world a better place for more life. But I cannot claim to know what emulates them now, if anything. The closest thing I can think of is the internet hacker culture, outsiders dictating what will be going on in the next decade or so, interesting and often scary shit.
Politically where is America at with Trump and is it too easy to lay the blame at Trump’s hands due to his behaviour when in fact America’s socio-political climate has more endemic roots?
The blame can go a lot of places, most significant place is capitalism, and most of the evil of humans now stems directly from that. (sic) Dump is the personification of all that disgusting and despicable greed as much as if not more than anyone. That and straight up ignorance, it’s disgusting, pathetic and scary as hell. It’s the worst I’ve ever seen in my lifetime by far. The control of the state by the capital depresses me to be honest. But we all must continue doing what we do-those who are working for good and not greed, those who care about others outside their own families. One for all and all for one or this species is doomed. And while there are some incredible and great possibilities I am seriously concerned for the future of humans on the planet.
Without the ‘things were better in my day’ school of thought what made Def Jam such an important label-has hip-hop lost its voice in many ways?
What made Def Jam important in my day centred on the fact that we were part of the collective and we were all fans of the form? It was not driven (solely) by capital but mainly for the love of the art, or the communication, the excitement of the moment, to move the crowd, to awake the masses to culture, the rhythm to move and spark a brain cell. It may sound cliched, but that shit was real.
When ‘it’ started it was a special time and we all made up a special team. To me personally the Def Jam I helped create was gone by the 90’s. I mean I loved the Method Man, Redman duo and a few other records of that era, and a few songs since, but it became a big business. It lost its integrity. What Rick, Russell, Mr. Bill, and the Bomb Squad did in the 80’s was gone in a flash. Only the name survived. It became a business and to me it lost that music that once inspired me. When Rick left there were some “hits” no doubt, but its ethos was fading faster than a speeding bullet.
What can we look forward to in the coming years from you?
Exhibitions around the world, some films I may be a part of, a new book possibly, re-issuing some books that have recently gone out of print with new re-designed or updated editions, some public talks, interviews to try and inspire people into action in their own lives and for the planet. I am hoping to inspire others to do SOMETHING to reverse the horror we see going on across the planet with the rise of Fascism, selfishness and greed.
I want to encourage INTELLIGENCE and not be afraid of it. The anti-intellectual shit going down at this moment in time is really mind boggling to me. The willingness of people who are scared to listen to the selfish plutocrats and let them continue the lies with ‘your blessings’ is an abomination to all humans. I understand not everyone can go out and protest. Not everyone can inspire people with their own creativity. It may not seem easy enough to you, but please DO SOMETHING-it ain’t all about you!
All images from Glen E Friedman’s Book- My Rules (2014)