January 6th, 2009 | Interviews

luke mcgarry

You may not be familiar with photographer/propagandist Glen E. Friedman by name or by face, but if you’re reading this paper, then you’ve had to have seen his photos, which for more than thirty years have inspired independent expression, music, attitude and lots and lots of action. If the shots he took of his skateboarding friends at Dogtown in the 1970s were a middle finger extended for adult authority, his photos from the early L.A. hardcore scene screamed “Fuck You!” out loud. He was also the artist who behind 2004’s Liberty Street Protest, across the street from Ground Zero and covered internationally. He’s even managed to capture the kinetic nature of clouds with his series of photos that he shot from airplane windows in his book Recognize.
The name of your exhibit is ‘Idealist Propaganda.’ What do you consider the difference between rock ‘n’ roll photojournalism and propaganda?
I don’t really see what I do as rock photo journalism, so I don’t know what you mean. I’ll tell you every thing in the show is a part of my personal propaganda, and it’s my mission I’ve been on ever since I started taking pictures. It’s a mission to inspire people to be rebellious one way or another—whether it’s the way they live their life or look at the world, or whatever it happens to be or how they react to their surroundings. It’s just to turn people on to very exciting things in ways they haven’t seen before and in a way to hopefully inspire them to become better people.
How selective are you when photographing a live band? Do you prefer to just shoot away, or do you wait for a specific moment to capture?
I don’t go crazy shooting images. I wait, and as I got older, I waited longer, and I get more particular about those moments because I learned I don’t need to take that photo because I already have that photo. I want to try to shoot something different. I think the Fugazi book Keep Your Eyes Open is a really good translation of that interpretation of what I just said. With Fugazi I took a lot of time, because, I wasn’t shooting any particular cause. I was only shooting something that was special to me. And also in a way, I had already taken great shots of them by their second year in existence. I thought I’d been there and done that. But then I was such good friends with them and they have so many great moments at every show. When I wouldn’t bring my camera, I felt like I was missing something, I just wanted to capture that moment. ‘Damn! I missed it—great moment there!’ So I started to bring my camera again to most of the shows, and I wouldn’t shoot the whole time, but I had my camera there. Just in case—I was ready. And at those times, I would shoot one or two rolls at the most. In the last ten years of Fugazi, never more than two rolls. If you wait for the right moments, you’ll get beautiful shots. The other great thing was that I was only doing it for myself and for the fun of it. I mean, that’s what most of my photos are—but in particular, there wasn’t even any outlet for Fugazi photos at all. Nobody wanted any pictures of Fugazi anywhere, unlike my punk rock or hip-hop photos where I had a fan base. There were so many other people shooting at that time. It wasn’t like I was the only documentarian. So I started experimenting and using different kinds of lighting and film. I used different angles like lying on my stomach or on my back on the stage next to this or that—just weird positions. And I think that book is a great example of what you can do with photographs of one particular band. I think that it is the greatest collection of photographs of one band in any one book that has ever been made.
Did you break more lenses photographing skateboarders or punk shows?
I actually didn’t break any lenses shooting music shows. I got hit once in the lens with a skateboard. My flash broke off once or twice at punk rock shows because of stage-divers.
Digital camera technology allows more rock photography enthusiasts to attend shows compared to when you started shooting the punk bands—how do you feel about the music bloggers?
If people are shooting it because they love what they’re doing, they should keep doing it. If it means a lot to you, than you should do it. But if you’re just documenting it for the sake of documenting it, then it’s just a waste of everybody’s time and energy. I don’t want to go to a website and look at a bunch of photos just because you were there. Make it something that your heart is into it—and you really care about it. I don’t want to go to a theater and spend two hours watching a shitty movie, and I don’t want to fucking open a book and have a bunch of shitty photos. I’ve got other things to do. When I was a kid people used to make magazines far and in between for young people, so we took a lot of time to make every page count. When people come to me and want me to contribute to a magazine that publishes once a year or once every couple of months, or whenever they have one ready, I like that! That’s great! That’s better than a fucking weekly or monthly magazine where they’re just fighting to fill space between ads. Fuck that! Who gives a shit about that? Web blogs where people take photographs of every fucking thing. It’s an overload already. Do it when you mean it—do it when it’s serious. Do it when it’s important. Otherwise just let it be! I’ll hold the memory in my head. I don’t need to take a fucking picture of everything. And digital technology has made it that much easier, but at least now you don’t have to destroy the environment by developing film for all the shitty photos they’re taking.
When impressions do you want people to take with them when they leave your exhibit?
I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about that. I’m not trying to impose an impression on them. I’m just hoping to inspire them I guess to become a more radical, caring individual. To say what they mean, and mean what they say.