Glen outside the show. Photo – Deborah Higgins
When I first found out that I had some time booked in to talk to Glen I was a little overwhelmed. His photography is definitive and qualifies him as a historian. He was there documenting many of the things we hold dear on the cusp of them exploding into the public consciousness. His images have been in the magazines we read and on covers in our record collections. It was a pleasure catching up with him while he was in London for the opening of the ‘My Rules’ exhibition. I began by introducing myself and told him that I had seen The Beastie Boys on their Ill Communication tour and Fugazi in the same year. “Better late than never” was his response. What followed is I think the most successful interview I have ever conducted. Enjoy reading what he had to say, you might learn something. I certainly did…
How did this UK Show come about?
Because the new book was coming out, I had been talking to people about bringing the My Rules show to Europe. I spoke to several people but Andy Holmes is an old friend who helped arrange the ICA show which was in 1997. We always talk off and on, another friend introduced me to the people at ATP, Barry and Deborah. When those forces got together, Andy and them then it was on! They made it happen.
and this is a brand new space?
The space is exclusive to this show, it’s been used for many different things and it has got quite a history. It was a publishing house and a recording studio in the past, somehow we managed to nick it just for this event. I don’t think it is going to be used for anything like this ever again. We got to use it this time, It is a great space for this whole body of work.
This time around the images shown are bigger than any you have exhibited before?
More than half the images in this show, maybe even three quarters of them have never even been on display before. They are from my new book, a lot of them are from those great sessions that people have seen in the past but are different images from the same days. They are printed larger than I have ever printed for an exhibition before. They are about 20″ x 30″ every single one of them. Technology these days is so advanced for printing that many of them look better than they have ever looked as well. Not only bigger but better, better quality and with more detail, it’s pretty amazing.
Ian MacKaye. Minor Threat. The Barn. 1982. Torrance, CA
How long was the process of digging through your old work once you had started?
The process of building this book came about because the original films which built my first book Fuck You Heroes have deteriorated. They usually have a life of ten years or so. They actually lasted fourteen years after the last printing of the book. At that time I was told during that last printing of the book that I had to replace six of the one hundred or so pages, I was also told that next time I print the book I would have to start from scratch. Rather than re-make the same book again I wanted to make a whole new book, a fresh perspective on a lot of the same images. The Fuck You Two book was out of print for two years, I thought I would combine the best of both books and have a bit of a re-edit and make it bigger than ever. I then added about thirty percent which no-one had ever seen before to the mix, aiming to present them in a different way than they had ever been presented before. It took about three years of work to get it all together and finally get it printed and out, not to mention the forty years worth of photography that’s in it. Putting the book together took a lot of time editing through the proof sheets, negatives, chromes, slides and seeing what would work best with the format of the book and alongside what was already selected.
You mentioned that whilst looking at an old proof sheet you had previously overlooked you found more new images than you thought on further inspection…
Absolutely. When you are doing the photography at the time, on the day, you are looking for something very specific, be it for an album cover, a full page photo of a band, a publicity photo or something like that. Sometimes, once you have shot the film that is your goal. You notice good photos but you forget about the others, you only remember the one you had to deal with. Other times on the proof sheet there could be different exposures on the roll of film and the proof sheet makes it all one exposure, all 36 images. For an example with the Public Enemy It Takes A Nation Of Millions cover there was one photo on the proof sheet that I had never even printed or even looked at closely because on the proof sheet it was just blown out and over exposed. When I looked at the negative while making this book I realised that this one image is better than any photo from that day that had ever been printed, at least in my opinion.
So the album cover could have looked completely different?
Well the album was supposed to look different anyway. The photo they used on the album was one I protested about them using because I didn’t like the composition on it, it wasn’t right to me and wasn’t the best photo at all. Because of the cassette format they insisted that we use that one because you could see more bars in it unfortunately. My great artistry wasn’t able to shine through as I hoped it would be, I even threatened to scratch the negative in fact. While they were putting together the cover we were all discussing different images and they said Glen if you scratch the negative we won’t have an album cover and will have to go with a graphic so I didn’t do it. I wanted my picture on that cover, I knew it was going to be the greatest hip hop album of all time so I compromised on that. Years later I was able to publish what I thought was the best photo from the session in my book The Idealist which is another image from that jail cell shoot from half a roll I shot that day with Flavor and Chuck. Then while making this book I see another image, the one which was over exposed which it turns out was even better. There were many surprises, lots of Run DMC photos, lots of Beastie Boys photos and some Black Flag photos that no-one has ever seen before. There is a Tony Alva image of him doing a frontside air on a ramp that has never been seen before anywhere, I don’t even remember seeing it at all and here it is in my archive next to a bunch of other photos. Maybe it’s because the air wasn’t that high back then plus the lighting, it’s really back lit, there’s a beautiful sun coming through. It’s the first shot of Alva in the book or the second by his essay. It’s not in the show but it is in the book, it is an iconic image of him that no-one has ever gotten to see before. These things do uncover themselves every once in a while, it’s really great.
Chuck D & Flavor Flav. 1988. New York City
So that proof sheet opened up a whole re-evaluation of things?
Everything was being re-evaluated not just the Public Enemy photos. All my work, I was going through everything I could possibly find. I’m sure there is still a box which escaped me somewhere which I didn’t get to look through or forgot. Everywhere I thought there was good stuff I went and looked through. I looked at it all pretty damn good, I am totally happy with the outcome. I think the book is fantastic. Everything about it is pretty fucking great so there isn’t going to be another. No part two on this one, this is it and that is really how it goes. Besides my own work, the words from twenty two of my most interesting subjects really put it over the top as a tome of incredible quality and inspiration I think, certainly to me it is.
My Rules is the same title you used for your zine in 1982 and maintaining integrity and control as a photographer is of utmost importance. Where any of the rules you live by passed down to you?
That’s a really good question. There is nothing I can remember that was directly passed down. I think it was just a culmination of years doing what I do, living in the environment I live in and experiencing the things that I did which gave me that moral compass and integrity. It was a necessity, I think as child of the sixties, being somewhat independent having divorced parents, not really being an athlete and being on my own path, a bit of a loner at times meant I could really delve into my art and my own mind. That’s sometimes unhealthy for some people but I was really very into what I did. I never really got high or did drugs or drink or anything like that. Those learned behaviours were not something I was encouraged to learn or interested in learning. That puts you in less social circumstances with your peers when you are a teenager, because of that again it makes you a bit of an outsider but it helps you define yourself and your own way. All the partying and stupid shit that people like to do, not that I didn’t do stupid kid shit because I did plenty of that right, I hung out with a lot of badass people and was even forced to do some things which I didn’t want to do because of peer pressure at times. But I never made it a habit, it was not something very interesting to me and it gave me the ability to understand that my own thoughts and my own ideals were really very significant. There was a professional baseball player that I happened to meet when I was about twelve years old at a game. He befriended me, he was a bit of a legend. He was really very gracious and he told me “believe in yourself, I do”. From the question you asked I have to say that that was a pretty big deal for a twelve year old trying to find his own way and stumbling through life as a nerdy kid. I never got good grades at school so not that kind of nerd just not the best athlete, not the best anything. Dock Ellis was the baseball player that said that to me and it was pretty heavy, it was really good.
When looking back through your work to make this book was there a certain period of time there that you were fondest of?
I can’t say there was a particular time I was most fond of. I am in most awe of some of the earliest skateboard stuff because I was so young. I was fourteen when I took some of those pictures, I am in awe of some of the times we had at particular pools. It reminds me of when we were trespassing and doing so many dangerous things in order to skate pools. Today you would get shot at, not that we didn’t get threatened with guns back then because we did. Teenage high jinks are not as easily excused nowadays as they used to be I don’t think. I also think back to the punk rock shows too, the venues that we went to to have shows and what was going on at these shows. When you think back sometimes the pictures remind you of it more than your own memories. It’s all pretty unreal. It might be happening in one way or another now but not to the degree that it did. It was ground breaking. Kids putting on their own shows was just something that didn’t happen, we were a very motivated group of people back then. Our generation really made shit happen. To do things outside of the mainstream was really very difficult and we just did it because there was no other choice. Even when I think back to the hip hop era, the places i went and the things that I did. I’m reminded by some of the stories of the first time going to this neighbourhood or that neighbourhood. As an outsider although somebody very interested in the culture and very much a part of it. I didn’t live in Watts, I didn’t live in Hollis and it’s not about it being dangerous. I felt in danger a couple of times but so did the people that I was with. I didn’t feel in danger because of my race or because i didn’t belong there. I felt in danger when there were people playing with guns around and stuff like that. Culturally it was really significant to me, going to places i hadn’t been before with some of the guys and some of the groups and I learned a lot. All of these different memories are all very significant to me, I can’t say I was most fond of any particular one.
Do you often re-live some of those early bowl sessions in your head?
I certainly do sometimes yeah. There are a lot of memories, I can remember the days, people yelling at me, getting in a crouched position somewhere or getting a particular shot. Some of those memories are definitely etched into your brain. I remember riding my moped down to the Dog Bowl, going in there and it being like this oasis. I remember going to the first skate park ever, I wasn’t even taking pictures I was just skating. I remember skating at Paul Revere and at Kenter.
We took a sort of pilgrimage to Paul Revere one time…
I think it is a pilgrimage that people should take, it really is the birth place of banked skateboarding. Paul Revere for the big stuff and Kenter for the smaller stuff. Kenter was more of a long ride up there in the canyon. Skaters like Danny Bearer and these old guys from Brentwood and then my generation and the Alva’s and the Dogtown generation all created that type of skateboarding. That’s where it came from those school yards and that led everyone to vertical, it was the next step. It’s good you made a pilgrimage there, I respect people who have done that. You can still skate it today they have re-paved it since they made the Dogtown film. When they made the Dogtown film I asked to have my interview there because I actually went to school there. I didn’t just skate there that was my seventh and eighth grade school. I took photography one there at those same Paul Revere banks which is pretty fucking cool when you think about it. Those banks are pretty big, much bigger than Kenter. Big Blackie we used to call it sometimes and there’s a corner you pump out of to get speed. I skated that place as recently as a few years ago, it’s fucking fun, it’s scary as shit in some ways. The Dogtown movie is right before they re-paved it, it hadn’t been paved in twenty or thirty years. It’s still fully skateable which is pretty awesome.
Can you describe the excitement of the scene when you were growing up skating. Do you feel it is different to what is happening now in any way?
I couldn’t tell you what it is like now because I don’t go there now. I would hope and imagine that it is as exciting for kids now as it was for me when i was a kid and I’m sure in some ways it is. In other ways it can’t possibly be because there was so much innovation going on that set the standard and really the blueprint for what was to come. It was all happening then. It was like writing the letters for the language that everybody would use later on. Certainly there are new tricks and stuff but they are all variations on something the foundations had been laid for. I’m sure kids who do it today get that same excitement in a lot of ways that we had. It’s not like we knew we were developing something that was going to last forever, we were just doing what came at the moment. Everything was in the moment, no-one thought of a future or thought anyone would give a shit about them later. There was no skateboarder that anyone knew even from the sixties and we were in the seventies. No-one remembered those people unless you had met them yourself. It wasn’t like they were idolised or had books about them or anything like that.
Jay Adams. The Teardrop. 1976. West LA.
Photography as a craft is different now. You can point a camera, reel off a hundred shots to get one and be able to see that you have it straight away. I know this isn’t your method of shooting photos. Do you remember the first ‘Eureka’ moment when you got the shot and had no doubt in your mind it was there as you envisaged it?
I have been very lucky with that in a way, I have got a good eye. The first time I ever shot a roll of film I got it. Polaroid was the first thing I ever shot pictures with when i was ten years old, family stuff and I said “that’s a fucking perfect photo”. When I shot 35mm film for the first time, that first roll of black and white film I ever shot, that is the same day as my first published photo. There were several shots on that roll but two in particular I thought were great. I showed some to Stacy Peralta and those guys and asked what they thought after using a pocket instamatic for a while and they said “you should send them down to the magazine, this shit is good”. I just did it, I fucking knew it. Thing is, back then you don’t get to see it immediately at all. You have to wait like three or four days, maybe a week for your stuff to get back to you. It would get processed and come back and i would be in awe of it, of my own photos. When I take photos I use film but when I’m shooting very often I will know I have a great shot, that it’s perfect. I don’t know for several days whether I really got what I thought I got until I see the film or the slide or the proof sheet or whatever. So when you do get it, I am in awe of the whole process. I’m stoked that i get it but I never know that I have it until I see it. Very often you are shooting and you say “oh man I got it, that is a fucking great shot, shot of the day” It’s usually the last shot on the roll, sometimes the first, funny how that works sometimes. But you know it, you feel it but you don’t know until it comes back. Sometimes you are looking for that shot when it comes back but something has happened, the film was exposed out the front end or something has happened or it’s there but it’s out of focus but then you find another one on the roll. Usually my instincts are pretty fucking good, I will get a lot of good shots on the roll, more than I think I have sometimes which is great for me. I have learnt over the years that I have to give people what I want them to use because if I let them pick they will pick the one I don’t love, you’ve got to be careful.
How do you feel your personal brand of skateboard photography has influenced future generations?
I don’t see much of it having much influence these days unfortunately, I wish that it would have had more influence. I think my photography is inspiring to a lot of people but they don’t take enough away from it. Skateboard photography these days is more based on the trick. There are so many good skateboard photographers and I think skateboarding photographers in general are the best breed of photographers. I really think they are a very special breed because they travel but they work with architecture and with humans and the interaction between the two. Therefore they have an interesting ability to mix the two very well. Where they fail these days in my opinion is concentrating more on the trick than on the character of the human and the style of the person riding. They should let the videos take care of the tricks, the still photographers should capture the essence of the human riding. I feel as though if they could take something away from my photography it would be the perfection of composition and character that I strive for. If you are going to use a fish eye lens, use it in a way that isn’t cartoonish, use it for the correct reasons. If you are using a telephoto, that is a tough one for me. It takes away all the humanity, all the depth. It’s good for video or if you are just trying to capture a trick but if you are trying to capture someones essence you want to be up close and personal. I feel my photos were all up close and personal for the most part and that’s what I always strive to do. That and get the peak point of performance and action that you could with the most intensity where the most energy is being exuded from the rider that there is and all that at the same time. The character, composition, intensity at the exact right five hundredth of a second, snap it right at the right moment like you and I do.
Has anybody got you fired up to shoot a skate photo recently?
I don’t remember the last time I took a skate photo. It might have been of my friend Steve Olson. I did some pictures at the Venice skate park not too long ago when I was using my last roll of Kodachrome film. We did a piece for Skateboarder magazine and they gave me a two page spread. Kodachrome was a film that we used all through the seventies. I always used it for everything and I loved it. It was my favourite film and they stopped making it recently and they stopped processing it. They stopped making it but for two or three years you were still able to get it processed but there was only one place in the world that still processed it at that point, it was a very difficult process. They announced the last date that they would ever process it so I had to shoot my last roll of film which I shot at Venice skate park of Alexander Olson with his father Steve and a kid name Haden McKenna. I think Jesse Martinez might have been on that last roll too. All good skaters, I had never shot any of those guys before other than Steve Olson my old bro. That might have been the last time I shot skating, I might have done it since then but I don’t remember off hand. One person that inspires me that I would like to maybe shoot one day who I have seen skate and thought Fuck! That guy has got it, he is an absolute natural and reminds me of the guys I used to hang out with. He is obviously way bigger with his tricks but his whole style is very inspiring to me as a modern day skater. This kid is doing it and I would have a great time shooting him for real, Greyson Fletcher. There might be more modern guys who are good that I haven’t heard of and I’ve seen some good guys but I also like nice people. I’m not going to shoot photos of an asshole who thinks he is hot shit or thinks he deserves this shit. No-one deserves anything as far as I’m concerned. I’m not easily impressed and I don’t need someone coming to me with some attitude, brother you haven’t seen shit compared to what I’ve seen, you can kiss your own ass and get the hell out of my way. These hot shots, people making all the money and whatever, I’m not inspired by that I’m turned off by it. You come to me respectfully and I come to you respectfully. I respect all the people that I shoot generally for one reason or another whether it’s blood, attitude, ability or their own character. I wouldn’t shoot someone automatically because they won a contest or something, i don’t give a shit about that. It also takes the right location too, to shoot a skater isn’t just about them it’s about where it is. Where I saw Greyson in person was at the Vans pool party at the Combi Pool a couple of years ago. That has to be one of the ugliest venues I’ve seen, I couldn’t shoot a good skate photo in there. If I was forced to I could and I could make it work but I wouldn’t want to. With the ceiling and the lights it was all too much, I like a clean background and I don’t want to get up looking down into the pool to get that clean background.
Steve Olson. Backyard Pool “Doris’s”. 1983. Orange County
Subjects you have shot have changed things. Tony Alva and Jay Adams changed what was deemed possible. Black Flag and Minor Threat changed the music scene in positive ways and Public Enemy changed the music industry. Do you feel another wind of change coming where elements of our culture will affect the public consciousness, positive revolution of some kind?
I’m hoping that the seeds that were sprouted by the occupy movement could be that, I just only hope for that. We live in such incredibly militaristic times that people don’t even realise how everything is being watched, beat down and controlled. To have revolution like we used to, I’m not saying it is impossible but it takes a lot better education of the masses. People are too distracted by their entertainments, by their drugs, by their alcohol, by their video games to care as much as I do, to care as much as a lot of people do. Some people could do all that and still be a revolutionary and do good things but it’s much harder these days. There are less people willing to fight, willing to believe in something. A lot of people don’t even know that there is a better way, they don’t have the education to understand that a better world is possible and they have given up on it. I hope that some of those seeds that sprouted in the occupy movement will grow. It’s been hard, they keep stomping it down and other movements around the world. Like the women in Pussy Riot, people with extremely strong beliefs and values which allow them to get beaten and abused in order to get their points across because they know they need to make an important statement and have things understood by other humans. I hope that it will come, how and where I can’t tell you. I have hope that it is going to come, it’s part of the reason I do what I do. Why I make these books and exhibitions is to excite people and let them know that there was a time and still could be a time where people are rebellious and do things for the good of doing them not because they are going to become famous or look cool or get money. Because it was something they had in their heart that they wanted to do and a way to express themselves. I want people all over the planet to always feel free to express themselves as they want to and to fight for things they believe in. It’s not just about making money, the word is integrity, my rules.
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova & Maria Alyokhina. Pussy Riot. 2014. New York City
You’ve not only captured shots of great artists at work but moments of inspirational teenage idealism. Positive role models using their voices as a platform. As these scenes have matured with age do you feel that aspect of them has waned? Who do you feel holds that torch for the new generation?
I’m not a part of that new generation so only somebody that age could really tell you that. I’m not someone who is keeping their eye on the young people necessarily. I do keep my eye on things that are interesting and exciting to a degree but it’s not my place to make that decision or decide who holds a torch, they have got to grab it themselves. That’s part of why we expose them to these works to hopefully light that torch for somebody, to make them know this is possible. It is possible but I think it is a lot harder now, we don’t get to marinate in our own juices any more like we used to. Now if something is interesting, you have an idea depending on your access. Hundreds of millions of people around the planet could know what you are doing in a matter of moments. If you don’t get to develop a little bit inside yourself before you come out with your ideas they usually aren’t as strong. Easy come, easy go. Quick ideas are just as quickly gone, sometimes but it’s rare some stick. When you think of Tony Alva or Black Flag or Run DMC these people worked at their craft for a long time before people heard of them, years before anyone took their picture. Years before more than their own little crew of four or five people knew about them. It was years before anyone heard of Tony Alva outside of his immediate crew and Jay Adams. Minor Threat, those guys weren’t around for very long but they were playing in bands for quite a while. More people know about Minor Threat and buy their record this year or this month probably than the first two years they were around. People were playing in small night clubs. They didn’t go to big stages. Nowadays the world is a stage. Youtube is a stage and people can see you immediately. There are rappers who have never put out a record who have had 15 million views, they may have never even played a club. Recorded in a bedroom, some friends and an iPhone, 15 million people know about you already and you have an ego the size of Mars. How can you develop your art when you are getting praised and have only been doing it for one second. It’s a warped sense of reality. A lot of these guys are still around, these originators and they have good heads because they knew it took some time. Chuck D worked in a record store, people had normal fucking jobs. They weren’t too good to hold a normal job and do something. They saw the human side of life not the superstar side of life. That’s all gravy for all of us, we all know that. No-one thinks they deserve it for anything other than the hard work they put in, not just for being born. Kids now, the younger generations feel so entitled to shit. That is what is going to kill this planet. You aren’t entitled to shit, even if you do great shit, fuck you! I have done great shit for many many years and people still fuck with me. People still don’t respect what I do and treat my work like shit and steal it and whatever else. Imagine that, fourteen I first got published and people still disrespect my work and me. That’s alright, that’s life and i’m not crying about it I’m just saying. If you think you are hot shit and you are entitled to this and that, Fuck you, you aren’t entitled to shit. Even if you do work, I work my ass off and I am serious as fuck about all this and I still get disrespected. Does it hurt me? No. Does it make me stronger? Maybe. Do I give a shit other than talking about it in this interview as an answer to your question? No. It’s just fucking life but to the young people who think they are entitled to anything, Fuck You!
What would you want a fourteen year old who has just started skateboarding, taking photos or really exploring music to take away from your show?
That I really cared about what i was doing. That it meant everything to me and that it was my life, it was my life line, it was vital to me. If it’s not vital to you and you are doing it because you have nothing else to do or because you are bored or because you want to be famous then quit now. That’s what I want them to take away. They can see when they look at my photos that I fucking meant it. What you can take away is, whatever you are going to do, fucking mean it. Take life seriously and mean it. If you are going to do something, do it the best you can. If you can’t do it well, even when you’re doing it the best you can, then go and find out what it is you do great and then concentrate on that. If you love doing it just continue to do it, do it from the heart. If it’s not from the heart then it’s not worth a fucking penny.
One of the pivotal points in your career was having that first photo published in Skateboarder. In the current digital age magazines that we all held dear are disappearing off the shelves. How important do you feel printed publications are?
The problem is that there have been so many printed publications in the last twenty years after desktop publishing became available. Print doesn’t have the value it used to. To be in a magazine twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years ago and before meant a lot. It was very high quality work, the craftsmanship extremely excellent. You couldn’t get in a magazine unless you were fucking great. You couldn’t write for a magazine unless you knew how to write. In the last twenty or thirty years in print, because it is so easy to make books and magazines now so much shit comes out that it’s no wonder it is all fucking dying. It’s because it is shit, it deserved to die and didn’t deserve to be in print in the first place. If it’s all online and people have to sift through all the shit to find something good then fine. If something is great it should be printed, it’s easier to read, it’s easier to save, it becomes a tome and something very special and that’s good. I think it’s unfortunate that some great magazines, some great writers and some great photographers may not have that print outlet like they used to. Print used to mean something very special, you were only in print if it was something extremely well done. It had become a place, particularly in skateboarding and music where the writing was just bullshit. People were just filling space in between advertising in most magazines and that is all that has been going on for twenty or thirty years so if they are fading away then fuck them, good riddance. Something special that needs to be read and needs to be seen, hopefully there will be enough people who will appreciate it that someone can print it and make an edition you can hold, read and see. As for pictures, most photographs look better online when a picture is lit from behind so what are you going to do? Something special, if you need it to be bigger than on a hand held device then you need to look at something real on either a bigger screen or a book. Look at my book, very few screens are as big as my book unless you are putting it on your TV. There is something about it being tangible that is good. The problem is quality, they have put quantity over quality in the last thirty years and that is a big reason behind why a lot of it is going away. I believe if it was still the high quality that it was when I was growing up many of the magazines would still be around. Unfortunately there are good ones disappearing too because there are so many shitty ones. People have less money to spend on publications, you can’t afford to print them anymore because there are less people wanting to view your magazine. It’s not only the bad ones disappearing, the good ones disappear because the bad ones take everyone else down with them.
Andy mentioned that you were one of the first people to encourage him to get an email address and quite early on you started a blog and embraced using the tools at your disposal. How do you value digital media?
I think digital technology is great for communication. There is no doubt about it, being able to communicate with people around the world at your own convenience at a very low cost compared to what we used to have to pay dialling phones. The communication which people take for granted nowadays, I don’t. I think it’s amazing, I appreciate it and I respect it and I can’t live without it probably. I think it’s great that people can share things right away, instantly. It does lend itself to a lot of shit being published and over saturation but I would rather have it than not have it. Just like the previous question with so much shit you aren’t going to see all the good because it is going to take you longer to find it. It was never easy to find the good records, it was never easy to find the good skate spots back then. Now every community has their own public skate park. I think being that much more hungry taught you to fight and survive and look for things in a way. Not only do people not deserve things but they also take them for granted. Going to a record store and looking through all the covers to see what appeals to you, reading the NME or Sounds and finding out what’s new and interesting because some journalist who really cares and loves this stuff and isn’t just filling space in between ads is talking about it. I think there is a lot of good that comes with these new technologies, the nature of it is that some people will use and abuse it and put shit out there making it harder for the good stuff to shine through but if you look for it you will find it.
Dogtown Tiles Graffiti. Tony Alva. 1977. Beverly Hills, CA
He also mentioned however that you don’t have an Instagram account. What are your reasons for that?
The main reason for not using Instagram is that I have my books. I don’t need people to see my photos two inches by two inches and just share them with people and have them think they have experienced the beauty of the photo. Plenty of them may have been taken from the books and put on Instagram by other people and that’s fine. If I do it then people will be looking for me to put something inspirational on Instagram. As a method of communication I think a good image is worth a thousand words but as far as i am concerned if you have something to say unless it is to your close friends, it’s as if Twitter isn’t short enough. Now people can’t even make 140 characters all they have to do is take a fucking picture? I have warmed up to it a little bit, in some ways it is good. I enjoy seeing friends pictures on Facebook or whatever it just isn’t my form of communication. If I was to start doing that I would be unable to live my life. I see images all the time that I would like to share and then I would become one of those people over saturating the media. I’ll share it when it’s really important. It reminds me of all the shit I see that passes for art these days. People make a scribble and they think it belongs in a fucking gallery, well that’s bullshit. It just doesn’t make any sense to me when I see the shit people put out there, it is pure shit. Unless you are going for the social scene, that’s fine, it’s a good thing to do going to a gallery and meeting people. But most often the art that is in there is just total bullshit. They need to take some time and work on something, become a craftsman, do something that demands my respect not because someone said it was cool or beautiful or prophetic. I don’t see it and I don’t see it in 99 per cent of what is presented out there today by artists and skateboarders who think they are artists in particular. Some of them are good friends of mine but what they are doing is not important, it’s not interesting, it’s bullshit and more people need to call them on it. Go back and skate and do what you do well and let the people who really do this shit well do what they do. Anyone who thinks they can do everything, oh I’m famous at this so I’m going to do this now and everyone is going to kiss my ass because I can put a squiggle on a piece of paper and i’m that great of a skater or i’m this great a musician, Fuck you. You did one thing good, maybe you can do a couple of things good but if your art isn’t good I’m going to tell you it isn’t good. This whole Instagram thing and people telling their stories and everyone getting all this attention for shit, I just think it’s corny and it’s a waste of time quite frankly. It’s a waste of my time. I get caught up in it, I’m trying to communicate and I have to brush through pages and see different things and tun things pop up on my phone or whatever else. Luckily i’m able to turn most of it off.
Do you have any memories of Slam City Skates?
Yeah I remember coming to London and the crew from Slam City Skates bringing me up to a contest in Northampton the first time I met them. My first memory is of us driving there in a van and me telling them all of my old skate stories on the way there. It was the first place I ever met Ed Templeton, I’d never met him in California before. I met him and Deanna and they were vegans. We were all just newly vegans, this was in the nineties. I had a great time hanging out with them there. I remember a guy named Andy Hartwell who worked there who made his own T-Shirts, I still have the T-Shirt that he made me. It said the birds in French I believe and it was printed inside out. Sharon Tomlin also worked there, a very cool woman. She showed me all around London, turned me on to HobNobs which were vegan at the time, she was vegan and brought me to some great places to eat. We also had a get together, when we discovered HobNobs, I can’t remember whose apartment it was at. They had the BBC programme Skateboard Kings on VHS. I couldn’t believe that they had it, I remember when they filmed this thing in Dogtown and everyone was going around with the BBC. I went to that pool after they did it and I remember what was being done but I had never gotten to see it. I was just in awe of seeing it. i remember seeing the Phil frost painting out front when it was fairly new, it must be twenty years old by now that painting out front. Phil’s a great guy. So what do you think about that? I have got a lot of really good memories of Slam City. I have a good memory. that’s what happens when you don’t get high and you don’t drink, you get to remember stuff. Plus they are fond memories because everyone was very nice, very decent people. I also recall that Rough Trade was in the basement of the skate shop. Slam helped to sponsor my show at the ICA too so the store name was on all of the fliers.
What’s your favourite Rick Rubin produced release?
He has produced so much fucking shit, I can’t even imagine all of the stuff he has produced. Almost every hip hop record he has ever made is great, from the Beasties to Public Enemy to L L. Even the later stuff with Jay Z and some of the Kanye songs although he is just out of his mind and I’m not a fan. His rock stuff too. He has made a lot of people sound incredible, he helps pull the best out of people. he has produced a lot of stuff that I can’t stand by the way, a lot of really horrible sounding stuff. I respect the shit out of him, Rick has what me and most of my best friends have, a passion for music. We fucking love it and he fucking loves it more than I do. I love what I love, he loves much more, a wider spectrum of stuff than I do. Some of the recent things he has played for me I can’t stand but he knows and loves music like very few people on this planet and that’s part of the reason he is so good at it. My favourite record of Rick’s? Barkmarket comes to mind, he may not have even produced that he may have just put it out. Some of those early Beastie cuts, Paul Revere stands up to this day, that backwards beat. It’s The New Style, Rhyming and Stealing and Jack the Ripper from LL, Rock The Bells, I’m Dangerous which is maybe the second or third hip hop record he ever made. It’s Yours by T La Rock, the first hip hop record he ever made is fucking dope!
What advice do you have for someone starting out and looking to follow your path?
First of all, please don’t take any of this the wrong way, I’m not hating on ANYONE other than frauds, I just care so much about things it makes me passionate in the way I communicate. I have all the hope in the world in my heart and mind. Humans are good and will continue to do good things, it’s just at this moment in time there is a lot of disappointment, and certainly some evil based on ignorance and misunderstanding, but I still have a lot of hope! Many of the answers to a better world exist, but greed and laziness become a filter or a barrier between the bullshit and the greatness that could be.
As far as following in my path… I say this with love: The yellow brick road no longer exists, so they are going to have to make their own fucking path.
Interview by Jacob Sawyer
All of the photographs in this interview were taken during a visit to the exhibition. We encourage you to go and see them as intended for yourself. Alongside rooms full of Glen’s photographs there are audio installations from Ice-T, Ian MacKaye, Alan “Ollie” Gelfand and an unreleased audio interview between Jay Adams and Glen E. Friedman. This exhibition is on until Sunday 18th January at 14 Henrietta St, Covent Garden WC2E 8QH. More information about the show from ATP HERE.