Jay Adams, Rancho Park, W. Los Angeles, CA, May 1978
Interview by Daniel Rolnik
D: You are known for using your Pentax k1000 camera, but what film stocks are your favorites to use?
G: I’ve loved Kodachrome 200 the most in the last 15 years or so, but it’s been discontinued and the last roll that will ever be developed will be in December of this year.
D: Have you been stocking up on it?
G: I did stock up on it, but it does not make a difference now because you can’t process it after December anyway. They stopped making it about five or six years ago, so the stuff that I have is the stuff that’s in the refrigerator until I use it. There’s only one place in the whole world that will develop Kodachrome still and that is in Kansas somewhere – that’s it, this year is the end of it. I still use the same old Tri-X for Black and White, T-Max 3200, there’s some other stuff that will look decent, but it just won’t have the “look” nor the archival quality that Kodachrome had. But, I’ll be able to adjust. It’s never been about the equipment or film, it’s about the eye. A good film is like a good brush for a painter i would guess.
D: Are you still using the same exact Pentax from when you were a kid?
G: I have probably gone through a couple of them. I don’t think I’m using the exact same one from when I was 18. I was using a borrowed camera when I was 14, but I ended up getting a Pentax KM, then an MX and I have been sticking with that for a while. The Pentax MX was a smaller camera and it had a fast motor drive. I started using the K1000 a few years after it was released, when I started doing more music stuff. The K1000 didn’t have a motor drive, but I didn’t need the motor drive for non-skateboarding stuff (although i did use it at an out door Black Flag gig once i think…)
D: Were you using wide-angle lenses out of necessity or to get a certain stylistic look?
G: Wide-angle lenses were kind of a necessity for me and my perspective, for skateboarding photos and then for music it was just the same. I like to be as close to the action and the intensity as possible, but still show some of the background or environment. And if you’re using a tight lens, you don’t see that. So, I like to be close but also show the peripheral vision of what a wide-angle lens does. I use wide-angle lenses most often because that’s the way I see.
D: Most people might not realize how close you actually were to the people when they were skateboarding. Did you have any close encounters where they would skate into you?
G: Yeah, I’ve been hit a a few times -too many close calls to even remember. I’ve been hit in skating and at punk shows. At punk rock shows I was probably hit more often.
Black Flag, 1983
D: At the punk rock shows were you looking through the viewfinder the whole time?
G: I always look through the viewfinder when I’m shooting a picture – for skateboarding and punk rock stuff. I don’t just point and snap it at somebody. On a very very very rare occasion that might happen, but that’s not the way I do it, I hate it when people do that.
D: In a lot of past interviews you’ve talked about making people look cooler than they actually are. Are there any technical tricks you use to do that?
G: There’s nothing technical about it; it has to do with character. I just try to bring out attitude in people’s faces and posture to make them look cooler than they may actually be. Or maybe, you know, to wear something other than what they’re wearing, or just to be in a location that they normally wouldn’t be photographed in but would be totally of their element, just not normally thought of as a “location”.
D: Do you subtly influence them to change their “ways”, or do you directly tell them to arch a certain way?
G: It depends on the person, but usually a bit of both. You can try and do it politely. People who trust me (most people I work with) just want to get great shots and they know that I’m going to help them do that. So they’re pretty much willing to do whatever is needed. If you can tell they have a bit more of a fragile ego and you want to be nice to someone, you might be a little more easy-going about it. And if it’s someone who can deal with it, you just get down to business and you take care of it much quicker.
D: Do you try to get your subjects to wear what they normally wear, or will you tell them to pick out certain things?
G: You know it depends on the session and what we’re trying to do, but very often before we do something I’ll tell someone to wear this or wear that, or I’ve got an idea because I’ve seen them before and think a certain thing will look good on them. I definitely give people ideas, especially if I’m concerned that it might be a “problem”. But if I trust the person’s style then it’s usually not a problem. I mean you know you’re not going to tell Fugazi what to wear, right? You don’t need to. They know what they’re going to wear and they’re going to wear it no matter what. And they’re going to look fine because it’s their character and their personality. In some younger hip-hop groups, people might be wearing t-shirts with big slogans on them or something that I think is whack, so I might try to get them to do something else.
Tony Alva (Middle Finger), Trespassing in Beverly Hills, CA, 1977
D: You mention Craig Stecyk III as your main photography mentor. Is there anything you learned from him that you would like to share with people?
G: What I learned from him was that if you’re going to shoot color make it count. Don’t just use color as a default. Color film, back in the day, used to cost a lot more money to develop and it was something you had to send out to do. I’ve never processed color on my own. And from those days of it being more expensive and not as easily available, I learned to be more careful with it than I was with black and white. And if you’re going to use color make it a colorful image. You know, use it to its best advantage. That was one thing I learned from Stecyk. Another thing is, don’t do something that someone else has already done. If you’re going to do it, do it different, and do it better. Just show your own unique vision, and if it’s a valid one then people will see that and it will lead to you getting your perspective published and seen by whomever you want to see it.
D: Did you develop your own photos in a darkroom or were you sending them out to labs?
G: When I was young I was developing them at school and then making my own prints at labs at friends’ houses or where ever. I had a darkroom in the bathroom at my mom’s house when I was in college, and then sometimes I was printing them down at Skateboarder Magazine, which was part of the Surfer Publications offices. They had a big lab down there where I would print my stuff for a while. By about the mid-80’s I wasn’t processing my own stuff anymore, I would just bring it to labs that I trusted.
Ian MacKaye, Minor Threat, Washington DC, 1982
D: When you were taking photos for Skateboarder at Surfer Publications, was David Carson in charge of the layout and all the crazy design elements?
G: When I worked at Skateboarder, David Carson actually had one of his very first jobs. He was there as a fill-in substitute art director for a couple of issues of Skateboarder – when we were both pretty young, although he was much older than I was of course. He wasn’t doing anything impressive, or radical, or horrible like he ended up doing years later. He was probably just learning the ropes back then, or perhaps just paying his dues. But honestly, I can’t stand what he did to type and how he does his stuff. I personally like to read my articles, I like to see my pictures, and I like to have high quality designs working with the words and photos, not battling them. I take photographs – they tell the story on their own. I don’t need some art director putting his stamp on my work or on the words that a great writer might write. I think that you need to rely on that only when the content isn’t good, and then you need to get someone to spruce it up or make it bizarre in some way with some horrible designs like he brought to the world with Raygun [Magazine] and everything since then. I think that stuff is just WHACK! At one point before Raygun he [David Carson] became the actual art director of Surfer Magazine when they went through their big re-vamp. I actually had a lifetime free subscription to Surfer due to my history at SkateBoarder, and I always loved reading it because the photography was so good, but I thought that redesign was so bad that I asked them to cancel my free subscription. I had to protest. I no longer wanted it in my house. I thought it was so detrimental to the photography and to the words that people wrote.
D: Do you think that’s a major problem with media now, that it’s just too much clutter?
G: Well, when it’s not of quality, yeah pretty much. People at magazines and websites are looking for content just to fill in space between the ads. When computers and the internet gave everyone the capacity to be a publisher of something that looked decent, all of a sudden everyone could publish. I think there’s a lot of benefit to that, but at the same time a lot of these people don’t have genuine interests so they just publish stuff to fill space. So therefore, you have art directors who have spruced up bullshit words and bullshit photos with lame-looking design elements, and I’m not really for that. I’m not interested in that. I think it’s a waste of everyone’s time.
“X” Backstage at The Whisky, Hollywood, CA, 1980
D: How did you learn about light and composition was it just through doing it?
G: My mom was an artist and designer and she exposed me to art at a young age. I’ve always been interested in art and forms of composition and always had an eye for that kind of stuff. When I was a little kid putting together my own pictures on the walls I would always do it a certain way so it all looked neat and balanced. I always appreciated good photography from National Geographic and Sports Illustrated even before I was a teenager and those really helped guide me. Those magazines have some really great photography. It was just what I grew up with, what I was around, and I just knew, again going back to what I picked up from Stecyk “If you gotta do something, you gotta do it right” you’ve got to do it better than anyone else, and you’ve got to do it different to show your own perspective. But, at the same time, back then it was just a given that you would care about the composition. It was just a given that you would have good character because that’s what created a good image -in my mind anyways. Standards were a lot higher back then, that’s for sure, on so many levels.
D: Were you training yourself about the rules of thirds?
G: I know very little about the technical aspects about photography. I never had fancy equipment as you know, and it’s always the simplest stuff that usually turns out the best. I just go by my gut, my heart, and my eye. “Rules of thirds”? I actually don’t even know what that is.
D: Have you ever found yourself in dangerous situations while taking photographs?
D: Care to share them?
G: Besides people running into me, just being in bad neighborhoods at bad times or being with a new artist that I maybe didn’t know that well or maybe I pushed too far. You know what we talked about earlier, telling people what to do in order to get a good picture, well some people aren’t that comfortable with themselves and they get a little bit you know…
G: They get defensive and they think that you’re really coming down on them. They’re just not comfortable with themselves and they don’t realize the process of creating a great image sometimes takes work. They might not just be that cool on their own. We’re talking about taking a photograph in a split second moment of time that’s supposed to represent a longer period of time than it actually is, to tell a story. So again, sometimes I might be a little pushy with some people, and I push people sometimes to the point where I’ve been threatened with bodily harm, other than being hit by stage-divers or guitars or skateboards. I’ve definitely been threatened with attitude and weapons, and I’ve been in some pretty scary situations. Now that I’m older I try and shy away from them a little bit quicker.
D: Were you ever threatened by anyone with a gun?
G: Someone once did, and they were pretty serious. They were pretty mad and it wasn’t someone that I knew well. It was obviously someone who was not too secure.
D: When you’re doing publicity shots for a band how much prep do you do beforehand?
G: It depends. In the later years I definitely scouted locations a little more. You gotta have an idea if you’re dragging along 3 or 4 people who you don’t know that well. They aren’t going to just be at your beck and call. But if you’re with someone you know, and it’s a comfortable situation, I can say we’ll just meet at a certain time and take a walk and see what we come up with because we know something will work. Those are people whom I’ve worked with a lot and who know me and trust me. And I trust them. They know the process of working with me. We might take a walk for a half hour and not see anything and all of a sudden we’ll see something that may or may not work. If it looks good we’ll stay and shoot it and if it doesn’t, we keep going. We don’t waste the film and we don’t waste time. We’re trying to create art, tell a story, and make an image that will have a lasting impression – if we’re lucky. People have patience if they’re artists; they know that it takes something to make something.
D: Were most of the early Beastie Boys shots like that -where you guys would be walking around for a while?
G: Yeah, the really early ones. I mean those guys are always pranksters, they are always joking around. But in LA I brought them down to KXLU, I knew people at the radio station down there, and there were just some cool locations. And I was just having a good time with them out of their normal element. They were very cooperative, because they were very happy to have good pictures taken of them.
D: Has being straightedge helped you remain successful in your career?
G: Yeah, I’m sure of it. I learned very early on when I was getting pictures published in SkateBoarder. I had some run-ins with drugs just because of hanging out with those DogTown guys and out of peer pressure I was forced to do things a couple of times. By the time I was 15 I realized what everyone was actually doing and I just started standing my ground and saying I’m not doing this anymore. I never drank hard liquor in my whole life to this day. Just smell it or take a little taste and you know it’s poison. It’s burning you and it smells fucked-up. It’s like why the fuck would I get sucked into that bullshit. Even when I was 15 I saw some of my skateboard friends who were actually making money, much more money than I was taking pictures, and at the end of the week they would have less money than I would because they would go spend it on beer or on weed. I kind of realized it just wasn’t the way to go, it was a total distraction and they were ruining their lives and so I had a good first-hand glance at how lame it would be if you went down that road. So I just steered clear of that shit. I definitely have a lot of my memory left, more so than most of those other people from those bad times.
D: I think it’s really awesome that you stand your ground. Most people just look at rock stars and glorify their drug abuse.
G: There are people who have taken many drugs and lived perfectly normal lives, but that’s pretty rare. Most people get pretty fucked up by it in the end. I think it’s just a waste of time. You’re just numbing your brain. That’s what it’s doing, no one would deny that. Whether you’re having a drink or smoking weed, you do it to relax and numb your mind from whatever is going on in the world. I was always a very intense person and I didn’t see any reason to mellow myself out. I thought if I mellowed myself out I wouldn’t be the person that I am. It just didn’t make any sense to me. I think you’re intense for a reason, there’s intensity in life, there are things in life that you want to appreciate and I just couldn’t imagine doing that when you’re intoxicated in any way. I’m happy to talk about it and tell people how it worked for me because I think sometimes people need to see that other people don’t do it so they can feel comfortable in what they really know is the correct thing to do. I had really severe peer pressure when I was young hanging out with those guys [DogTown skateboarders] and like I said I did things a couple of times but then after that I just stood my own ground -and no one else around me did. But I knew that it was very beneficial in the end, to my own life and everything that I would do. And most of the successful people that I know are the same way, Ian MacKaye [Minor Threat/Fugazi/The Evans], Chuck D [Public Enemy], Rick Rubin [Producer: Red Hot Chili Peppers/Beastie Boys/Johnny Cash/Slayer/etc…] – these people never took drugs or drank in their lives. Look at these people, they are so successful, they never touched the stuff, they have no need, no interest.
D: Wow, Rick Rubin is straightedge?
G: He doesn’t do drugs or drink alcohol – never did. But he wouldn’t say that he’s straightedge. He doesn’t give a shit if other people do drugs, you know. He probably even encourages it sometimes.
D: What pieces in your show this November at 941Geary Gallery are going to be specific to the Bay Area?
G: I’m adding a couple of Jello Biafra [singer from the Dead Kennedy’s] photos and I’m trying to dig up this one really incredible photo I have of Rick Blackhart on the very first set of prototype, hand poured, Independent trucks [skateboard part] that were hand made. He’s grinding the shit out of this coping and dust is flying. It’s from a pool contest in Newark, California. It was one of the first pro pool contests ever, and Blackhart was an early writer for Thrasher Magazine, he has a lot of history up there.
D: If you find the actual negative again are you going to make digital prints?
G: Color stuff I do print digitally these days. I will make a drum scan to 100mg’s to keep in my archive, and then print digitally with lasers onto actual photo paper – I don’t do inkjet prints, I do light jet prints. The quality over the years has really proven itself – it’s actually pretty incredible. With the technology you can make better prints now then in the past. There are much more details in the prints now when you actually scan the film itself and then use the scan onto the photo paper. I’m becoming more and more of a digital fan as the years go on and as the quality improves. Film is still superior to digital for many reasons, not just the feel of it, but even the actual pixels.
D: Film has Pixels?
G: They are not called pixels, but they’re grain on the film. Each piece of grain is like a pixel, it’s just much finer than any camera to this date. They’re getting better, and the functionality of the cameras themselves – the sensitivities of the light sensors are far superior to film, but its just a matter of whether you like the texture and what’s going on. Some cameras still don’t have the full area sensor, but once they make a Pentax with a full area sensor, you can bet I’ll get one.
D: Only Pentax, no other company?
G: All my lenses are Pentax, and I’m loyal because they’ve always made good solid strong cheap stuff. I don’t need to buy a name brand like Nikon or Canon. If they make the best thing and have it at a reasonable price I’ll get it, but it’s hard to break habits. I remember Nikons were just always overpriced, big, and bulky, and Canons always used to break and were also bulky. I’ve always liked the Pentax, what can I say? I have my old Pentax lenses that I’d like to be able to just screw on the front of a digital body – if they ever make it. Someone told me recently that I should just get an adaptor and that’s what I’ll end up doing because Pentax still hasn’t made the full frame sensor. We’ll see what happens. I’m not in any rush. I’m still shooting my K1000, and using my little tiny digital pocket [camera] for digital photos and stuff like that.
D: Nice. I just have one last question really. There’s this photograph of Run
DMC standing with Joey Ramone, and I’m curious if you remember that one and how it came about?
G: It was just backstage at an awards show, I think it was in New York. Some kind of New York music awards show. I think it was the first and last awards show I ever went to. Award shows were so boring and so pathetic, but yeah I got the picture of the 2 Joeys [Ramone + Simmons] and I thought it was kind of cool.
I think I also got pictures of them backstage with George Clinton that day too but yeah, the Joeys shot is pretty cool. They [Run DMC] didn’t even know who The Ramones were at the time, but I’m pretty stoked to have both those icons in the same image.
D: The juxtaposition is awesome!
G: Not as cool as Chuck D and Flavor Flav wearing the Minor threat T-shirts though.
D: Did you get them to wear the shirts or did they already have them?
G: I gave the shirts to them. Those guys are very educated in their music, particularly Chuck, Terminator X, and Hank Shocklee. They had heard of Minor Threat and so they didn’t have any problem with the shirts and particularly the whole straightedge philosophy. I mean Chuck thought that was cool.
D: What’s your advice for a College student studying art?
G: I’ve always felt like if you’re an artist you don’t need to go to school, unless you’re learning how to sell your art. It [Art] is something that you have in your heart. So my advice is if you really love it keep doing it, and if it’s not your life then get the fuck out of it.
All Photos by Glen E. Friedman except Pentax K1000 by Pentax Corporation & The photo of Glen E. Friedman by Darren Wellhoefer
November 6, 2010 – December 31, 2010
Fuck You All, is an international traveling collection of photographs that span the prolific and influential career of artist, Glen E. Friedman. Now in its 13th year, this exhibition makes its way to San Francisco for the first time, bringing with it the work that presented some of the world’s most significant photographic contributions to the punk and hip hop subcultures and not only documented the genesis of skate culture, but helped shape it for generations to come. Friedman’s 941Geary exhibition of Fuck You All will feature several never before seen collaborations with Shepard Fairey, which will be displayed along with the original photographs for the first time. These works are true artistic collaborations, executed symbiotically and inspired from a history of mutual respect between Friedman and Fairey.
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(© Daniel Rolnick, 2010. All rights reserved. All images © copyright the photographer and/or publisher)