Question: What role did you play in making over the Rev. Al Sharpton’s image?
Carol Friedman: Giving someone their style or bumping up their sense of style to be a better version of what it is, is part of the fun of what I do, and I actually approached Al Sharpton. They didn’t come to me. I approached his people because I felt that… I felt that his image wasn’t engendering the kind of trust that he should have for what he wanted to do in his life and I actually approached him at a party and criticized his what he was doing and his people got back to me and said, “Well what would you change and what would you do?” And I said, well, I’ll meet with him.
I don’t photograph anyone if I can’t meet with them first because if I don’t do that, then they’re just going to the dentist and they’re filled with fear. They don’t know who I am. Everyone hates their picture being taken and they’re nervous and they’re bringing all of that. When I meet with them they realize it is a collaboration and they look forward to coming back. In the same way that Sarah Vaughan tricked herself, it’s that similar thing. That said, I met with Al Sharpton ahead of time because if he wasn’t going to let me change him… That was the point. I wanted to… I wanted to just change his image, tweak his image so that it engendered the kind of trust that he is after in his political life and I just told him: “The hair, the hair, the hair is not right. I see you’re working on it. I see it’s getting flatter. I see it’s getting smaller, but I want to take it further. Can I do that?” And the people that were sitting around him were dying. They couldn’t believe I was talking to him about his hair, but that was it for me, so I said, “I know you’re going to the barber before you’re coming.” “Have her get as flat as you can.” “Really come flat. And also I wanted to give him a different look, more of a banker look, suspender look. I think someone in the press commented on his makeover as if it came out of nowhere. That was my makeover. Thank you very much.
So he came to the studio and, you know, we dressed him in his suits, but again tweaked it. You know, more of a kind of banker look for the reverend, and the hair, the hair was still wrong, so I said with your permission and you know I have this what I call glue in my hair and it is not a black hair product, so with his permission I kind of glued his hair down and that is the wonderful hair that you now see. Oh God, I feel like a plastic surgeon that has revealed someone. I am usually more discreet about my makeovers, but I think Al will be okay with it. Picking the music for him was really challenging because I told him that he would love the music and it was kind of I don’t think he believed me and that was… He said, “You weren’t kidding about the music.” He said, “I loved the music. Thank you.” And you learn everything about someone when they’re in front of your camera or I learn everything about someone when they’re in front of my camera and you see are people leading with their ego? Are they leading with their compassion? Are they leading with their sexuality? Are they leading with their intelligence? And then it gets all broken down and who they are fuses together. And again music helps that process. And I’m really fond of Al Sharpton because of what I learned about him when he was in front of my camera, not because of what he says to the press and I put on among other things, on his soundtrack was the original Sam Cooke version of “Change is Gonna Come,” and Al was very, very moved by it and there is no need to explain to anybody why, but that is all about the genesis of who Al Sharpton is, so again that is what picking that music is about. It’s hitting someone in their own deep consciousness of how they came up and how they were formed as professionals and humans and even children.
Recorded on April 21, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen