In 1986, photographer Glen Friedman made a photo of Ice-T, his ball cap turned to the side, leaning on a chainlink fence in Hollywood. This was long before Ice-T was a big name, a TV star, a mogul married to CoCo Austin. The photo captures an innocence and vulnerability that’s now long gone.
You see the same thing in Friedman’s photo of Tony Hawk, and even in his gripping photo of Public Enemy’s Chuck D. That’s a hallmark of many of the photos Friedmanmade of hip-hop, punk and skating personalities in the 1970s and 1980s, just as they were cementing their places in American pop culture. The best of these portraits has been compiled in a new photo anthology called My Rules.
The thing that’s most gripping about these portraits is not how young everyone is, but how passionate they are about what they’re doing. Guy Picciotto or Ian MacKaye are possessed of an energy, an intensity so strong they almost jump out of the frame. “This is a time when people really fucking cared,” Friedman says. “Back then it wasn’t about becoming famous, it was about doing something you love.”
Friedman first photographed skaters like Tony Alva as a teenager growing up in Los Angeles. Then he started photographing punk shows and icons like Black Flag and Minor Threat. Eventually he was turned onto hip-hop by artists like Ice-T, Run DMC and Public Enemy. At the time, Friedman says he was just making pictures of what inspired him. He had no idea he was creating an important historical record of some of the era’s most influential musicians.
“Those scenes were giving vitality to my entire existence and that’s why I documented it,” says Friedman, who is now 52. “Who the fuck had any idea that any of it would be import in a year or two of when it was going down. Shit was progressing so fast you just had to roll with it.”
Over time, his work paid off as many of the people he documented allowed him into their inner circles, leading to even more intimate photos. Even now, Friedman remains friends with most of the people he’s photographed. He plays softball withAdam Horovitz of the Beastie Boys and remains close with producers Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin. Many of the artists contributed essays to My Rules that acknowledge his work.
“GEF, Glen E Friedman, is a special cat,” writes Chuck D. “The capturing of what was going on in my life and head in the times of R&B (Reagan and Bush) culminated in some epic photos at the start of my career in Public Enemy.”
There’s also a forward by friend and artist Shepard Fairy that addresses why Friedman’s photos have endured. People might think was lucky, that he happened to be in the right place at the right time. “They’ve got it wrong,” Fairy writes. “When something becomes successful and a cultural reference point, people lazily assume that greatness was its destiny. Glen was completely dedicated to the scenes he captured, to the point where he often made them the right places and times, propelling them to greatness.”
It’s rare to see the kind of raw images that Friedman made nowadays, even of artists who are just coming up. Thanks to social media, everyone is a self-promoter and all the photos that get made have a certain level of gloss. No hip-hop artist is going to stare into the camera and reveal a little of themselves like Ice-T. Instead they’re going to look exactly how they think they’re supposed to look to sell albums and every photo they take will be splashed across the internet as soon as it’s shot.
Friedman acknowledges that his in-deep approach probably wouldn’t fly in 2014. He had his moment.
“Nobody lets anything marinate anymore,” he says. “You shoot it and it’s gone.”