Ed Templeton is one of our favourite photographers at HUH., so when we found out he was releasing a book with London based publisher Aron Mörel, we were more than a little excited to say the least. We caught Ed at the Elms Lesters gallery, in-between his busy schedule, to have a chat about his artwork and skateboarding.
Portrait by Jonnie Craig
Hello Ed, how has the book signing been today?
It's been great, a load of people showed up.
Cool, so how did you first start taking photographs?
I feel like I had always been shooting photographs like anyone would, just with a point and shoot camera, to remember places I had been and things that I'd done. I especially started shooting pictures when I started to travel through skateboarding.
How did your snapshots progress into what they are today?
I think it was through hanging out with all the skate photographers like Thomas Campbell, Tobin Yelland and Christian Klein, all those guys had cool cameras. I think Tobin was the initial influence on me to start shooting people and my surroundings; he inspired me to take it a bit more serious. I think it was his approach to it that interested me so much; it made photography feel approachable for me. Before that I had been looking at photography books and thinking ?oh maybe I can't do that because the subject would be so crazy?, but Tobin's approach was great because it was so free and open, just shooting these amazing photos of the rad people he was naturally around, not choosing a crazy subject like all the famous guys do.
What year was that?
That was probably around 1995 when I started to realise that I'm on the inside of this particular subculture ? I had access. It was ideal because I'm a pro, I'm around these guys almost all the time, so I started shooting everything and everyone around me.
Was this around the time of the Brian Anderson, Jamie Thomas with Toy Machine days?
It was even earlier actually; it was Welcome To Hell days. We were filming around 1994 and '95, which is around the time I started shooting photos. I think Toy Machine's Heavy Metal video had just come out too, but do you know the slam section in Welcome To Hell where Jamie falls on his face and slides?
Well that might actually have been the first moment where I thought ??this is cool, I'm documenting a cool skate thing happening.'' I remember after that we went back to the house, he had a chipped a tooth, it was really terrible but I started shooting a bunch of portraits of him. It's funny to look back on those photos now, they were all blurry and kind of shitty, but that?s what's cool about them in some ways, there is an immediacy about it. I try to keep that feel to my pictures, I use very simple cameras with basic 50mm lenses with no filters or fancy stuff like that, I'm trying to retain an honesty to the pictures.
I guess in the skate world if you start doing those kinds of things you get called out on it fairly quickly...
Yeah, the skate community is really strange in a way. It's like, at my first exhibition at Alleged gallery in 1994, there were some Polaroid?s I had been shooting and some of them were of my dick. It was kind of a joke, making fun of the whole art show idea, I mean, I put 'Ed Templeton the art fag' on the door. But yeah, the skate community would always fuck with you if you did something different. At that time, putting yourself out there to do a show in New York was like putting yourself on the block, the New York skaters fucking hated me.
They were all so homophobic, all like ''Woah, Ed Templeton is just a fag, he's got photos of dicks in his show''. It was really harsh, but it's funny because years later I became friends with Harold Hunter and those guys and they all turned up at other shows being supportive.
I think I saw a video of Harold at one of your shows online somewhere...
Yeah, and in that video he's saying I'm cool and that, but the very first show, those New York guys weren't feeling it at all. I think they were just bummed out on some Californian dude coming to the New York scene.
It seems like the kind of reaction to be expected from the New York skaters at that time...
I think it's to be expected from skateboarding in general. Strangely, people look at the skate community and think they're young, they're into this stuff and that they should be enlightened, but in a lot of ways they're not; there is still a lot of homophobia and there's still a lot of general... I don't know what the word is...
[Laughs] Yeah, jockyness. I think with the growth of skateboarding and the introduction of the X Games has inevitably brought a mix of mainstream, but all the same things I like about skating and got into skating for are still there, it's just that it grew; some of the growth is bad but the core is still the same. I never want to come off saying something like ''the good old days were better'' because it's still the same thing to me. As I said, there is an amazing core of people that are into doing things like art and other creative things.
Yeah, so your artwork, did that come before photographs?
Yeah, painting came first; the show in ?94 at Alleged was all paintings, apart from the Polaroid?s of my dick on the door. I remember in 1990, which was the year I turned pro, I came to Europe for the first time and on the way home I remember just declaring that I was going to become a painter, I was so inspired. I was super na?ve at the same time but then after four years of work I had my first show.
Were the paintings similar to the Toy graphics of the time?
No, no, Toy was always separate. Although, I have done a few paintings of the Transistor Sect character ? kind of for fun. I always have to throw at least one in there, but the paintings were always portraits. I can't say they were good but they were of Deanna and different friends of mine.
Do you think skateboarding has helped you get where you are today with your art?
I think it was through skateboarding that I got that first show, clearly skateboarding has helped me a lot. I definitely don't think I would be where I am in the art world if it hadn't been for the fact that I had a name in skateboarding first, you know?
Yeah, so how did you get to know Aaron Rose?
Again, that came through skateboarding. Initially Thomas Campbell, one of the Beautiful Losers, who at the time was a photographer for Transworld magazine, came to my house and saw all the paintings I had been making which I had stashed away in closets; his reaction to that is what really pushed me. Thomas is one of the guys who I always cite as someone who I really think is the main reason I even tried to do any of this.
What was his reaction like?
It wasn't just like ''oh cool you paint?'' He was like ''what the fuck are you doing? Why are you stashing this away in the closet?'' So he gave me a schooling, telling me to give it away to friends and telling me that it needs to be out there for people to see and enjoy. He was the one who told me to send it to Aaron in New York, so I was like ''Alright''.
So you sent your stuff to Aaron, what did he think?
He sent me a big written letter back saying how he liked my stuff and offered me my first show.
Nice, what was the first book you made?
The first book was called Teenage Smokers, which was published by Alleged gallery around 1999. By this point Aaron had really grown from the grass roots gallery he was running in ?94 to becoming semi-legitimate. He had a roster of artists that he would work with and he had a great looking space. So as the exhibition date was approaching, I didn't really know what to do but one of the things I had worked on was a little series of...
[Laughs] Yeah, pretty simple. So Aaron suggested to make it into a book to coincide with the exhibition.
How did that series come about?
Well, it stemmed from skating at the HB park all the time, which was by my house. There were always loads of kids who would get off school and start smoking at the skate park. They fascinated me, so I started shooting Polaroid?s of them and it just progressed. That book is kind of weird now; it's grown to be some sort of classic and sells for like a thousand dollars. I saw one yesterday here in London for ?750 at the Woodfinch book store, and I've seen them on eBay for $1500. I don't know if anyone buys them or how the price even got like that.
I've always wondered if those 'rare' books actually ever sell?
I think they sit there. Although, I'm a book collector and I can admit to spending upwards of $750 on a book, I can afford it but it still kind of hurts; I definitely didn't grow up having any money, so it's still a lot of money to me. When you become a collector and you find a book that you want and you know it's incredibly rare you're like ''fuck, there's that book.'' It's hard to let it go. I usually try to work a trade; there is a guy at a book store that I know who I've traded things with before.
What was the $750 book?
It was a book by Peter Beard, a photographer I like. He made this collectors edition with Taschen that comes with it's own stand and everything. When I saw it, I was like ''fuuuck, I kinda want that,'' but I wasn't really willing to pay cash for it. As soon as the shop owner heard I was interested in it, he wanted to work something out.
Damn. So, back to your work, do you consciously commit to specific projects?
Teenage Smokers was definitely an unconscious thing. It might actually have been Aaron's idea to make it into a series and for me to work at it. These days I'm more conscious about my projects. I've been working on my book Deformer for a long, long time, collecting things for it and slowly gathering all the content. I had been working on that since '94, so it started out subconsciously but developed into something very conscious. I wanted to explore the environment I live in and how the suburbs affect people. It wasn't until 2005 that it got published with Damiani, so when they told me they wanted to do a book I was ready to go.
All of your photography is very diary like, was that a progression from your surroundings or was that from a specific influence?
Tobin influenced me a lot, he always had sketchbooks, but then someone who influenced both Tobin and me is a photographer called Jim Goldberg. He made a book called Raised By Wolves, which instead of just being photographs, there are loads of little notes on the pictures; I always loved that. There is so much more to photography than perfect prints and an edited selection, it's much more raw than that; it serves as a memory, proving places you've been and things you've seen. That is my approach to photography, as a visual memory to my life. I find it way more interesting to have all the surrounding things that build a stronger context for the images, especially with books.
Is there ever an outside influence on your books, from publishers for instance?
No, every book I've done, with the exception to the museum catalogue that just game out in Gent, I've done 100% myself. I've always been like ''it's my way or the highway'' as far as editing goes; mainly because I don't feel like I need it. It's funny; a lot of photographers really need an editor. Tobin really needs an editor for his work, Aaron and I have had have talked about this but don't get me wrong, he's our favourite photographer, but if you give him his own way he'll make a really weird selection that doesn't really represent anything. It was very hard for me to be hands off with that catalogue actually; I'm kind of weirded out by it.
How did you find working with Aron Mörel on Drinking The Kool-Aid?
Working with Aron has been great, he was really open to an idea that I?d had, which was to make special fold out images and weird cuts. I thought every publisher?s first response would be ''oh, that?s expensive, I don't want to do it.'' But Aron was really into it, so it all came together.
How do these projects affect your skateboarding?
Recently, I've been liking to say that I'm in a transition phase in my life. I've been a professional skateboarder my whole life while running my company Toy Machine. I mean I'm 37 now, so it's all changing. I never dreamed that I would last this long in skateboarding; I think it's down to a fortunate starting point. Professional skateboarding is a lot rougher on people who do it, the stairs are higher and the rails are longer. If you're currently a top pro, you have to really push your body to its limits.
Yeah, like Reynolds exactly. He jumps down huge stuff and he's lasted really long too. If you look at my videos, I've barely jumped down anything big and somehow I?ve lasted. I'm not actually too sure why I was liked as a skateboarder to tell you the truth, because I don't feel like I ever did anything that amazing.
I guess it has a lot to do with your style though right?
For sure, I'm not down playing myself completely but I still sometimes think, ''wow I'm glad I lasted this long.'' So I'm really happy and grateful for that. I think it has a lot to do with other things surrounding skateboarding, I mean look at Bam, he's not that great of a skateboarder but he's a funny guy and everyone loves him, so he's good in that sense. Skateboarding is definitely suffering as a result of my artwork succeeding, but the way I see it is that it would be stupid for me not to do it. To have two possible career paths in your life that are both based around things that you love and things that you would be doing anyway is like highway robber. I don't think a lot of people will get that chance. I already had the ones, I mean fuck, I get paid to skateboard - what could be better than that? And then here I am with an opportunity to get paid to make art. I don't want to lose that opportunity, even though a part of me clings to skateboarding, I've got to make these moves in the art world. Inevitably skateboarding starts getting hurt but it's unavoidable for me. My general skateboarding is fine, going on tour is great, doing demos is fine but then the actuality of filming is where it gets hurt the most.
Are you filming for Stay Gold?
I haven't really yet no, I maybe have around two tricks.
It's weird because skateboarding is all about the videos now ? it's totally different. I can go on tour and skate demos all day long but if you don't have a video part you fall off the face of the earth. Stay Gold is a ticking clock for me, I feel like if that video comes out and I'm not in it, which is very likely at this point, then the R word is going to come out. ''Ed Templeton Retires'' in all the skate magazines or something like that. Which is fine at this point I guess.
So you're retiring?
Well no, I don't ever want to use the word retire because I'm not really retiring. I will just have to announce that I'm retiring from video parts [laughs]. I'm retiring from actually getting enough footage to make an entire part, or a legitimate part for that matter.
Have you seen everyone else's footage?
Yeah, we actually had a meeting at Emerica recently with all the guys to watch all the footage; I was sitting there next to Reynolds like ''fuuuck.'' For me, it would almost be dishonorable to try and have a video part that wouldn't live up to what the rest of the team are doing. I don't want to be the boring section you always fast forward or the crusty old guy. I think if I could properly focus all my time in to making this part, it could probably make something that I'm proud of enough to put in with the other guys sections. Clearly not at the same level as those guys, but something that at least I would be stoked on. Like I said though, there isn't enough time for me to do that. If you're an artist and you get offered a museum show, you can't say no. As far as art career moves go, that?s a very big step and a great honour for me; I guess you have to pick and choose. I mean fuck, I lasted super long, I've been in some landmark videos in skateboarding which is amazing for me, I still work with my company Toy Machine, I still go on tour and do demos; I have no regrets. I'm still kicking it live. It's funny back in the Mike V days we had that saying, ''if you can't kick it live, you ain't shit.'' I think it's actually a James Brown quote but that's how I?ve always approached it. I've never been much of a video part skater. I've always been more of an ?in person? skater, skating contests and just skating street spots.
While chilling with your Leica round your neck?
And shooting photos yeah [laughs]. I can't really bring the Leica on skate trips though; it would get fucked up, so I bring the Canon.
It's probably for the best. OK thanks Ed and good luck with your show in Gent.
No problem, thanks.
You can buy a copy of Ed Templeton's latest book, Drinking The Kool-Aid, by clicking here.