The first of several books that prolific DIY photographer Glen E. Friedman has published over the last fifteen years, Fuck You Heroes is perhaps the most important documentation of underground phenomena of this or any era.
On the surface, and perhaps in its simplest beauty, Fuck You Heroes is just a collection of photographs. There are beautiful, amazing photographs in the traditional sense: blue skies, bright colors and sexy girls; and there are gritty, dark photos of alleys, freeways, riverbeds, and jails. There are some technically advanced photos, some shot in truly beautiful natural light, and a few that aren't even all that sharp. But get beyond the surface and into it on a deeper level and it's easy to realize why these photos are important to a generation of misfits to whom the subjects are iconic.
The name of the book comes from the idea of people who do things their own way -- the people who are willing to say Fuck You to society in general. And indeed, the era of this book's photographs, 1976 to 1991, represents an era when punk rock, skateboarding, and hip-hop were still dangerous. These are the people who did it first, and it's always easier to do it -- anything--after it's been done by someone else. These are the people to whom my generation looked for inspiration, motivation, and education. Their tricks captured our minds and left us in awe, wondering how they had done them. Their lyrics inspired us to learn, vote, be aware, keep our eyes open. And their energy motivated us to think, to get off our feet, to do something, anything that veered us from complacency. When they were first published, it was hard to look at these photos as fans of skateboarding, punk rock, or early rap, and not feel motivated. Even now, in 2009, fifteen years after publishing, and thirty years after the first photos in the book were taken, most of the photos are still so in your face that they are startling. Think of what they must've felt like in 1976, 1980, or 1987!
And that brings us to perhaps the final ingredient that made Friedman's photos, and this book, so compelling: The single theme that seems to run through his work certainly doesn't lie in the subject's commonality. The ideals of Jay Adams and Tony Alva's skate-filled days and party nights were certainly different than those of Ian MacKaye as he was laying the groundwork for making integrity cool. And the misogynistic, violent, and money-fueled personas of IceT or Public Enemy were certainly not congruent with those of Black Flag or DOA's do anything necessary to survive on tour aesthetic. The theme is that Friedman was there. He was there. We're talking about it, and he was there... and it shows in every photo. He lived this stuff, and you get the feeling that before every frontside air he shot, he was getting sweaty in the pool right with the boys... before he shot Minor Threat, he was in the circle for Government Issue... and before he shot the Public Enemy photos, he was having a deep discussion with Chuck D about police oppression and possible ways to deal with it. There's no way to fake the relationship a photographer has with his subjects, and this is the real deal.
Fuck You Heroes is a great book, an important document of a time that simply will never be repeated, an era of great change in the youth culture, when the kids had their say and changed everything that was to come.