In Continued Coversation with Glen E. FriedmanJuxtapoz // Friday, 01 May 2009
In Continued Conversation with Glen E. Friedman
“We’re not just being critical we’re trying to improve things. An idealist sees the brighter light at the end of the tunnel. We’re shooting to make things better; we’re not just tearing things down.”
Spend 30 years doing anything and you’re bound to have something to say about it. Take a highly acclaimed photographer like Glen E. Friedman (Juxtapoz #100), mix in a passion for skateboarding and punk rock with hip-hop and politics, and you have a contemporary artist that has literally realigned the way one views photography.
Therefore, it seemed only fitting we should ask the legendary Shepard Fairy— who recently showed Friedman’s major retrospective solo show Idealist Propaganda at Shepard’s Los Angeles based gallery, Subliminal Projects—to interview Friedman for our May 2009 Special 100th Edition Issue. The outcome was something fashioned in an art lover’s fantasy world, with two important and influential creators hashing it out about propaganda, the direction of contemporary art, and the nuances surrounding inspiration.
In a rare treat, we now offer you a further read into an expanded conversation held between Juxtapoz’ Katie Zuppann, Culture Shock Media’s Debra Anderson, and Glen E. Friedman upon the completion of Shepard Fairey’s pointed interview with Glen. Be prepared to get inspired, or at least start asking yourself some serious questions.
Katie Zuppann: What struck me most about your conversation just now with Shepard Fairey was the notion of inspiration. What inspires you; what did inspire you; your profound responsibility to document things that did inspire you. It was really striking at what a young age you felt that responsibility to document your own generation.
Glen E. Friedman: In a respectable way too, by the way. Seriously though: to do it respectfully. Not just to take snapshots and think they were good enough. I did Fuck You Heroes in the layout that I did- you know people expected it to be more Jamie Reed style because it was a punk book. That’s not my style, that’s not how I grew up. I love what he did but this book, I’m showing these photographs in a respectful manner. Just how Shepard’s photographs are in the Boston ICA now. This is a way for people to look at it for generations to come, that a photograph on a page by itself, not cropped, full framed, with a minimal amount of information next to it, is the most respectful way I could do it.
As far as the book is concerned, when I took the pictures or present them or have them published, you want it to be as true as it can be. Not just ‘get the assignment done.’ Because you can get away with a lot of shit, as most people do. Most people just do the minimum that they have to do to get the job done. I can’t say I haven’t been guilty of that at certain points in my life when I’ve done jobs for certain groups or something like that but usually it shows in the work and it’s shitty work.
The most important thing about the work that people can understand, if it comes from the heart, is that it’s going to speak to other people. But so many people do things just for the sake of doing, I don’t think they have any passion; they don’t have anything behind it. They just do it for the sake of doing it, or even worse, just to make a dollar. And that stuff is just ninety-nine percent crap and I don’t respect it or appreciate it. I’m not saying people can’t make great commercial art because there is incredibly great commercial art out there that I even respect, even though I don’t like what they’re selling or I don’t like the way they’re using their talents, it’s out there.
Debra Anderson: The radical philosophy that carried throughout your career- that’s always remained consistent even from when you were thirteen through cloud pieces and now; there’s a constant in your face perspective and philosophy.
Glen E. Friedman: But you look at Recognize, which is just a beautiful book of cloud photos to someone who doesn’t know any better, but even the title, it’s like, ‘Recognize fool!’ It’s bold in that way. Particularly when you read the essays in the back with Ian Svenonious. He wrote about two or three years ago, starting with discussing America in decline. And people who proofread it asked me, “What are you saying? People are going to freak out, how could you say the country is crumbling and it’s over, just because we’re in the sixth year of George Bush” or whatever when it was written. It’s obvious to a lot of people but it’s not obvious to so many people and it’s kind of a bold statement to just write it the way that he did but the way he ties it all in and shows what the attitude is. We’re not just being critical we’re trying to improve things. An idealist sees the brighter light at the end of the tunnel. We’re shooting to make things better; we’re not just tearing things down.
Katie Zuppann: So you’re hopeful?
Glen E. Friedman: I am absolutely hopeful. That was the greatest thing about Shepard’s poster, that it said, “HOPE” on it. I don’t know how much more progressive it’s going to be, I don’t know how much more change we’re going to see, but hope, (because he did the three different versions) hope I have. Progress, change… I have hope.
That’s why I do the things that I do every day, because I hope that it’s going to make a difference and I hope that this president makes a difference. I never saw him as someone radical, but can we risk having another Republican president in there even if he’s a little bit different? Fuck no. I’ve voted for Ralph Nader every time he’s run for president, except for this time at the last moment, thanks to Shepard’s poster. It was so inspiring. I gave it to people even though I knew I wasn’t going to vote for him. And then at the last moment I had my son in the voting booth with me, I took him in with me, and I just pulled the lever. Because he was right with me and I thought, ‘You have to do this for the kids.’
I’m making my political statement to the kids; every time I did it I’m always thinking about the future with Ralph Nader. But I saw he didn’t make one fucking iota of difference every other time I voted for him (except maybe the first time he did, people recognized a little bit) but then people just didn’t take him seriously anymore even though I did. I couldn’t even risk that this time, at all. Again, thanks to Shepard’s art, being in everyone’s face and inspiring so many people. I think it made a big difference. He’s done a lot of good. We don’t agree on business stuff all the time, as far as he does a lot of commercial campaigns that I would never think of touching or be interested in, but that’s ok, everyone’s different and he’s good at what he does. He has his own level of integrity. You know, I have friends who are much less commercial and I have friends that are much more commercial than him. But it all works and his intentions are all good and his art is all good.
I think it’s great that Juxtapoz has given him the coverage they have, he’s one I respect the most in the pages of Juxtapoz, I see a lot of work in there that I don’t necessarily think is worth covering, but it’s a contemporary art magazine so it covers particular kinds of artists. And some of them are really talented, even if I don’t like the monsters with ten heads with tongues that wrap around their legs or whatever it might be, some of it is obviously made by talented people, what it’s actually saying or what it’s actually doing I don’t quite know, other than it’s beautiful doodling maybe. I just don’t see the point, and it doesn’t mean that it has to have a resonance or make a political statement; it’s just there for the sake of being there or being beautiful to look at, or entertainment. I look to art as being a little more than entertainment. But there’s room for the other stuff as well, as long as there’s skill involved. Because if there’s no skill involved- some people who call themselves artists, I don’t call them artists- they just capitalize on a particular situation. Even famous artists that I just don’t appreciate.
Katie Zuppann: Have you always been this confident in your work? Shepard referred to it as a “rant” if you will, and you made some very bold statements, which I think is great. A lot of the time now people are too afraid of stepping on someone else’s feet and don’t really say what they want to say.
Glen E. Friedman: You’ve got to call a spade a spade. Too many people are afraid of saying things, what they believe. These are things that I believe in, I’m not afraid of my truth. I’m not bullshitting, I don’t have ulterior motives, I’m not trying to get more commercial work, I’m not trying to get more friends, I don’t like to get more enemies, although I do seem to get more of those than I do friends.
The people who know me love me, people who are my friends appreciate me, people who don’t tell the truth or people who are fakers, toys, people who are not hard workers, they don’t like me too much. I’m not pointing them out by name necessarily; if something’s bogus I’m going to say it. I’m tired of the bullshit getting in the way of the good stuff. Therefore we have to push it aside and clear the way for the good stuff to come back again.
There are plenty of great photographers out there and there are plenty of great painters out there. Probably all the bullshit that’s out there hides them. It’s in the way of us seeing them. It’s definitely out there. Just because I’m not seeing it or I’m not inspired by those bands, I know they’re out there. I’ve run across little pockets, and people, in places I’d never imagine and seen incredible stuff. But there’s so much bullshit that’s clouding it for the good stuff. That’s part of the motivation for doing this, to get the good stuff out there and get the bullshit out of the way and call the bullshit when you see it. People are afraid to do that, and I’m not afraid to do that.
I’m sorry if it’s not polite or it’s not friendly or if I seem egomaniacal or opinionated or whatever the silly words are that they put negative connotations on, what the fuck is wrong with having an opinion? If it’s based on something? If you’re a movie critic and you’ve never made a movie then I’m just going to take that into consideration. I’m an artist, I’ve been around a lot of art, I don’t know everything, I’m a pretty dumb guy, but compared to the average person, maybe I know a little bit more. I read a little bit more, I research a little bit more, I listen a little bit more. That’s why I have confidence in what I say. If I’ve been wrong a lot, I probably have a little bit of confidence, or less confidence than I do. You live and learn, and you keep going forward.
Katie Zuppann: At least you have the courage to say what you believe with the evidence to back it up. Which is exactly why we wanted to do this interview.
Special thanks goes to Shepard Fairey and Glen E, Friedman, and Debra Anderson of Culture Shock Marketing for their utmost assistance, patience, and enthusiasm in organizing this feature interview.
For further information on Glen E. Friedman, please contact www.burningflags.com.
For further information on Shepard Fairey, please contact obeygiant.com.
More information on Debra Anderson and Culture Shock Marketing can be found at www.cultureshockmarketing.com.