When Richard Friedman came to Berkeley from Greenwich Village in 1968 to take a job at the Lawrence Berkeley Lab, it took a while for his eyes to adjust. One of the first photographs he took in the city (above) shows a street with the hills rising behind it. “What impressed me, coming from New York, was seeing distances,” he says. “My eyes were so accustomed to narrow streets and caverns of buildings that moving to Berkeley required changing the way I saw things.”
Friedman continued to take pictures, many of which, with the benefit of hindsight, have taken on historical significance. There are dramatic shots of People’s Park in the immediate aftermath of the 1969 riots when the military took over (above). There’s a photograph of Moe Moscowitz, cigar hanging from his mouth, at the counter of his eponymous bookstore in 1975. There’s counterculture in full bloom at the Berkeley Folk Festival in Live Oak Park in 1970, and there are several pictures of Caffé Espresso at Hearst and Euclid, where Friedman would spend many a happy hour in his early years in the city. “Long gone and very much missed,” he says.
While he’s not a photographer by profession, Friedman, who now lives near Piedmont Avenue in Oakland, can at least be considered a semi-professional. Some of his images have found their way onto book covers and CD jackets, and he has had several exhibitions.
He says he takes his camera out every day and it’s the “out of the corner of your eye” pictures that interest him most. “Something strange or a little different, or a geometric pattern that grabs my attention,” as he puts it.
Friedman, who hosts the weekly “Music from Other Minds” radio show on KALW, says he was very influenced by the New York photographer Joseph Holmes, whose work he describes as “absolutely spectacular”. The fact that Holmes took photos of ordinary life and people on the street made Friedman realize what a treasure trove he had of his own — more than 10,000 slides sitting under his desk. “I became very disciplined about cataloguing all my slides and digital images after discovering Holmes,” he says.
But it’s those images of New York City and Berkeley taken between 1960 and 1989 that seem to interest people the most. Asked whether he thinks the fascination is nostalgia-driven, he says: “I think we are all fascinated by how things change. I do wish I had taken more pictures back then. But film and developing were expensive, so cost was the limiting factor.
“I tell younger people to look closely at the world around you and record what you see because one day their photographs will be worth something. We tend to neglect our immediate surroundings and only take the camera out on vacations to foreign and exotic places. But forty years from now your own old neighborhood will look pretty exotic to another set of eyes.”
Friedman’s work can be viewed on his photo blog, as well as on a Flickr set focusing on period shots of Berkeley and Oakland. His images also pop up in Berkeleyside’s Flickr pool which is how we discovered him — and we’re very happy we did so.