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Carol Friedman is a New York-based portrait photographer who has photographed music, art, and business icons for more than two decades. Her award-winning images of jazz, soul, and classical music[…]

Changing the Reverend’s image went hand in hand with revealing his inmost self through the camera.

Question: What role did you play in rnmaking over the Rev. AlrnSharpton’s image?


Carol Friedman: Giving someone their style rnor bumping uprntheir sense of style to be a better version of what it is, is part of rnthe funrnof what I do, and I actually approached Al Sharpton.  Theyrn didn’t come to me.  I approached his people rnbecause I felt that…  I felt that his image wasn’trnengendering the kind of trust that he should have for what he wanted to rndo inrnhis life and I actually approached him at a party and criticized his rnwhat hernwas doing and his people got back to me and said, “Well what would you rnchangernand what would you do?”  And I said, well, I’ll rnmeet with him.  

I don’t photograph anyone ifrnI can’t meet with them first because if I don’t do that, then they’re rnjust goingrnto the dentist and they’re filled with fear.  Theyrn don’t know who I am.  Everyone hates their rnpicture being taken and they’re nervousrnand they’re bringing all of that. rnWhen I meet with them they realize it is a collaboration and theyrn lookrnforward to coming back.  In thernsame way that Sarah Vaughan tricked herself, it’s that similar thing.  That said, I met with Al Sharpton aheadrnof time because if he wasn’t going to let me change him… rn That was the point.  I wanted to…  I wanted to just change his image, tweak his image so rnthatrnit engendered the kind of trust that he is after in his political life rnand Irnjust told him: “The hair, the hair, the hair is not right. rn I see you’re working on it.  I see it’s rngetting flatter.  I see it’s getting smaller, but Irn wantrnto take it further.  Can I dornthat?”  And the people that werernsitting around him were dying. rnThey couldn’t believe I was talking to him about his hair, but rnthat wasrnit for me, so I said, “I know you’re going to the barber before you’re rncoming.”  “Have her get as flat as you can.”  “Really come flat.  And also I rnwanted to give him arndifferent look, more of a banker look, suspender look.  Irn think someone in the press commentedrnon his makeover as if it came out of nowhere.  Thatrn was my makeover. rnThank you very much. 


So he came to the studio and, you know, we dressed rnhim in hisrnsuits, but again tweaked it.  Yournknow, more of a kind of banker look for the reverend, and the hair, the rnhairrnwas still wrong, so I said with your permission and you know I have thisrn what Irncall glue in my hair and it is not a black hair product, so with his rnpermissionrnI kind of glued his hair down and that is the wonderful hair that you rnnowrnsee.  Oh God, I feel like a plasticrnsurgeon that has revealed someone. rnI am usually more discreet about my makeovers, but I think Al rnwill bernokay with it.  Picking the musicrnfor him was really challenging because I told him that he would love thern musicrnand it was kind of I don’t think he believed me and that was…  He said, “You weren’t kidding about thernmusic.”  He said, “I loved thernmusic. Thank you.”  And you learnrneverything about someone when they’re in front of your camera or I learnrneverything about someone when they’re in front of my camera and you see rnarernpeople leading with their ego?  Arernthey leading with their compassion? rnAre they leading with their sexuality?  Arern they leading with their intelligence?  And then rnit gets all broken down andrnwho they are fuses together. And again music helps that process. And I’mrn reallyrnfond of Al Sharpton because of what I learned about him when he was in rnfront ofrnmy camera, not because of what he says to the press and I put on amongrnother  things, on his soundtrackrnwas the original Sam Cooke version of “Change is Gonna Come,” and Al wasrnvery, very moved by it and there is no need to explain to anybody why, rnbut thatrnis all about the genesis of who Al Sharpton is, so again that is what rnpickingrnthat music is about.  It’s hittingrnsomeone in their own deep consciousness of how they came up and how theyrn werernformed as professionals and humans and even children.

Recorded on April 21, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen