In the mid 90’s Ed Templeton started documenting life around him. As a professional skateboarder Ed has been able to travel the world on skate tours, giving him the opportunity to photograph his vision of contemporary culture and life around him. Ed’s camera mainly points towards the people he encounters in his everyday life, seeking for truthful moments to capture.
You’ve said that skateboarding and photography goes hand in hand. This is true in the way, that most skateboarders film and photograph their tricks, so naturally a lot skaters own a camera, but can you tell how and why you got further this point, and got interested in documenting the life behind all the skating?
Seen through a photographers approach I realized it was a waste of my travel time, to be only shooting only my friends or the skateboard culture around me. We were crisscrossing the world making skate videos. I mean, here we are in Buenos Aires or Barcelona. Who gets to go to Barcelona for work? And whose work is skateboarding around in the streets? How blessed is that? I came to the conclusion that my camera should be a sponge, soaking up whatever was around me. I didn’t want to limit myself to the one idea that got me interested in photography, I wanted to shoot skateboarders, yes, and my own relationship, and then also the people and places we got to travel to. I started to switch seamlessly from acting the role of a street photographer capturing little slices of life in the city I was in to being a documentarian of the skateboarding culture I was taking part of. So anytime I left the hotel it was on. Anything is fair game! Having your camera ready is half the battle. When that certain thing happens right there in front of you, you’re ready to capture it. Of course, this was before everyone carried around a camera as an extension of their phones. Now almost anything interesting that happens is documented and shared instantly. But that fact is what makes being ready with a film camera even better now. It makes me even more excited to be capturing these moments on a slice of film, old school style, because nobody else is doing it that way.
Have you never felt like taking a part in the actions going on when you’re on skate tours, instead of documenting it?
Well I don’t drink or party really. I’m at parties, but I’m never really “partying.” So in that sense I have always felt like an outsider, even though I have always been very much on the inside. I was always the responsible one, the one who runs the company, and has to be sure to get everyone to the next city on tour. But I have felt that problem many times. For instance the times we are going to a swimming hole to swim or jump from a bridge into a river, I have to make a choice, will I jump off the bridge too? Or will I hang back and document it? Usually I was able to do both! I’m always thinking about the shot, so my brain is never quite 100% into the present moment. That can be both good and bad.
You got into photography with a close access to the subculture of young skateboarders. Did you feel obliged to convey the raw way of life?
It was similar to the first question. I had an epiphany 4 years into being a pro skateboarder that I had squandered a great opportunity to have been documenting this crazy life I get to live, and especially the even crazier people who inhabit it. I wasn’t going to waste another 4 years. I started shooting everything I could. The reason I started was because I was interested in the way fame, even the small amount of fame a pro skateboarder has, effected people. The pro skaters I was surrounded by were all interesting characters, with amazing stories that brought them into skateboarding. But they were also young and well paid. The mixture of fame and money created mini rock-stars. And the drugs and alcohol flowed, the women flocked, the hotel rooms were destroyed, etc. I wanted to capture that. I wanted to remember the time in my life, in my friends lives, when we were invincible, when the world was ours, the entire planet was our playground to skate on and destroy. And there are some raw parts of this life, it can’t be documented without the raw parts.
It’s fair to say you have a privileged life, in which you get to travel a lot and see the world possible more than most people do. You once said that you have to live a little to comment on one. Is this what your photography is about, to comment on life, because you’ve been given an extra ordinary life?
I guess in some ways that is accurate. I feel very fortunate to have been able to see as much of the world as I have, and to have been a pro skateboarder. I have been watching humans through my camera for 20 years now. It helps sharpen your eye. You see patterns as you grow older and you can see certain things before they even happen. I feel like stories can be told through bunches of photos, or even one single photo. But you have to have lived a little to understand all of the connections. The more you learn the more things make sense. I have a lot more learning to do, and a lot more of the world to see! In may ways I’m just beginning. 20 years is a good start, but I have much more to understand. I still have not published my book about skateboarders. But I’m finally starting to get it together. How do you condense 20 years of work into one show or book? It’s not going to be easy.
You carry your camera at you at all times, and you shoot a lot. Can you tell a bit about your working process when you photograph. How do you begin your projects? How many rolls will you typically shoot in a month and how often do you get them developed?
I try not to leave the house with out some sort of camera. But I’m not shooting obsessively. At times I do, but mostly it’s just there “in case.” I shoot photos from the car as Deanna drives around. And when I’m walking on the streets I am always thinking about light and distances so I can be ready if something interesting comes up. What is interesting though? Almost anything can become a series or be interesting to shoot. Just little human actions like lighting a cigarette, a skirt flipping up, wind blowing hair, someone staring off in thought. It doesn’t have to be super exciting, just something. My archive is filled with photos that could be best described as “Person Walking.” It’s hard to say how many rolls I shoot a day, because I don’t go out every day. I go out most days for a 2 hour walk when I’m at home. I go to the beach and pier in my hometown of Huntington Beach and shoot the people and scene down there. I may shoot as little as 15 photos, or as many as 6 rolls, depending on the day or the time I spend there. I shoot around 5 to 9 rolls a week I suppose. I feel like trying to shoot a roll a day would be wasteful. I would end up shooting useless photos if I was trying to fill a quota. I use a lab for developing and proofing. Then I make any prints I want to make at my home darkroom. Most of the time I am printing for an upcoming exhibition, so I hire my friend Dennis McGrath to come and make prints at my house. He’s a better printer than me, and quicker, and it gives me time to paint or work on Toy Machine. Plus he always needs money! But I also print my own stuff when I can. Each time I get a batch of proof sheets back from the lab I sit down and scan the proof, and then label each individual photo with the number and title. This way I can search for keywords on the computer and find the images I need. Then be able to find which binder the negative is in. I’m in the process of digitally archiving the entire back catalog. The proofs are all scanned for the most part, but the individual titling takes a long time. Any free moment I have I try to plug away at it.
You hardly ever use flash in your photography, what is your view on natural light vs. flash? Do you think the flash ruins the authenticity?
No! Not at all! I’m just too lazy to figure out the flash for my Leica. When it gets too dark I start using a smaller point and shoot camera with a built in flash most of the time. I need to get the Leica flash working. I like natural light, and most of the photos I take are on the fly and taken without permission, so using a flash is a dead giveaway that your photo has just been taken. It’s the asking people part that I think ruins the authenticity most times. I want the photo to be as if it was a fly on the wall. So you see what was really happening. I ask people too, but I realize I will not be getting them in the natural state they were in. They will be posing now. Of course there is no true “authenticity” in photography because you are seeing only what the photographer was pointing at, or only what the photographer wants you to see. But within that understanding, I think that there is an authentic type of street photography, documentary if you will, that does tell the truth. And that’s what’s interesting to me. Those are the photos I try to take.
Doing street photography you can never really be sure how people react when you take their photo without asking, have you ever got your self into any bad situations? Or do you always manage to take peoples photos without their notice?
I think, for me, that 85% of the time nobody notices. Another 14% of the time the subject sees me and either doesn’t care or is not willing to confront me, and then 1% that will be angry. I don’t have a confrontational style like Bruce Gilden or Mark Cohen, although I am as close as them for many of my images. I use a 50mm mostly, so I don’t have to be directly in someone’s face. But when I use a 28mm, I am right in their face. I am lucky to be living in southern California where there’s bright sun most days, so I can shoot on a fast shutter speed and take my photos walking by a person at full speed and still have the motion stopped. Most of the time nobody even sees me. And if they do, a big smile or a compliment can go a long way. One time in London I shot a photo of these thug-ish girls beating up a beggar woman. They saw me and one came over to me and demanded that I give them my camera. I just held onto it and said no, thinking she were going to start punching me, what would I do if a girl started beating me up? But her friend just yelled at her, “Lets go!” and they took off. That was my worst confrontation. Another time in Barcelona I shot photos of some police officers roughing up a guy as they tried to get him into their car. One of the cops saw me and started yelling at me in Spanish. Then he saw I was a tourist and made me give them my film. Luckily, I had just put a new roll in, so I didn’t lose any photos.
What do you value in a photograph ?
I just like a photo that speaks to me. And when I put my own photographs into the world I hope they speak to others. I have seen landscape photography that is very beautiful even though for the most part I find those types of photos boring. I like a photo where something is happening, but like I said, it does not have to be momentous. Often just being able to look at a persons face frozen in time is enough. They don’t have to be doing anything. A beautiful girl, a well dressed person, or a person lost in thought can make for great photos because they illustrate something, a place we all have been as humans, a shared experience. I think the people who shoot “nothing” have to have a very good sense of composition, color, or time. Like lots of William Eggleston. It’s just photos of stuff, but there is something that captivates you about the image. Maybe you have to also create a sort of context, even if it’s not expressly written out, about who you are as a photographer so a viewer will have an idea about where you are coming from. But a photo that illustrates the human condition is my favorite. Take Winogrand’s photo of the women walking past the man in the wheelchair. The lighting in that photo is crazy with the sun bouncing off the building and making striking beams of shadows that create a glowing triangle under their feet. But it’s the subtle action of them looking at the man as they pass that makes the shot. Or Tom Wood’s images of people on the busses in Liverpool. Nothing is happening but then all of life is reflected in the people’s faces. I love those images. I think people is what I value in photography. Images without people are not as interesting as the ones with people.
Your photos are characterized by their honesty and for being real. This is one of the most difficult parts of being a photographer – to make the subject so comfortable with your presence so they forget they’re being photographed. How do you manage to make yourself become invisible when you take pictures?
I think it’s just a matter of waiting for the right moment. In the case of the images of skateboarders, these are my friends. The subjects know and trust me. They know I am not trying to make them look bad. They know I always have a camera, and I have shot them hundreds of times before. They become used to me being there with camera in hand. So it’s up to me to sense when the “Truth” is happening and attempt to freeze a moment of it onto film. If I sense someone is acting then for me the moment is ruined. In the street, like I mentioned before, I don’t often ask for permission, so whatever inspired me to shoot in the first place is captured without any acting or knowledge of it being documented. In the case of my relationship with Deanna, it can be a real moment killer to bust out a camera and try to shoot a photo. But she trusts me and my vision and intentions for those types of images. But it tough to get a super authentic shot of your own relationship. A few times things happened and there was a camera I caught something real. But it’s not as easy as shooting other people. Many of my subjects I have known for years, so they know what I’m doing, and then even skate kids who I don’t know personally, know me from skate videos or magazines. That really helps give me an access to a younger crowd. Otherwise it might be very awkward for a 40 year old man to be approaching 15 year olds to take photos.
Earlier, you’ve been making a few zines, do you still tend to do more small publications, or do you prefer working in the format of books these days?
I would rather be working in books, and I have a few projects that I am working on. Of course my biggest project is called Wires Crossed and is about my life in skateboarding and the people that were in my circles. But I have been being offered more books lately and so hopefully you will see some bigger books in the future. I made a new zine this year called Make-Up Girls, which was a split zine with Clint Woodside. He started a thing called the DeadBeat Club and we plan on making lots more zines and selling them through that website. I think in general that a lot of photo books that get published are unnecessary. And the ease of making books these days doesn’t help that problem. It just makes it easier to put more crap out there. So I have been thinking its better to make a project count by spending the right amount of time and effort to make it worthwhile, and in that case it should be a book instead of a zine. But having said that I think I have plenty of work that fits the zine format perfectly, and its cheaper for people to get and collect. Those are positive things for sure. Many books today that are lavishly published could have easily been and probably should have been a zine. I know I don’t want to pay 60 bucks for a collection of photos that should really cost 10 bucks and be in zine form. But then who am I to judge what people do with their work? Do whatever you want. If people are buying it and you’re happy, then more power to you.
Does skateboarding still take up as much of your time as it did 10 years ago? Or have you been slowing down on it? If so, do you think it will have an influence on your art?
Yes, over the past 6 years I have been spending more time working on Toy Machine and working on painting and photo projects/exhibitions, and less time being a pro skateboarder. Late least year I had my worst injury ever at age 40, a severely broken leg. Both bones, sticking out of the skin and everything. So I’m not sure as of yet if I will be able to skate, and if I can at what level. It most likely will not be at the level I am accustomed to. Before the break I was having a great year though! I went on two tours, and was getting photos in the skate mags. Maybe the break was a sign to just stop trying to be a 40 year old pro skater and start putting real time into being an artist.
Do you think Skateboard-culture will continue to be recurring focal point for your photography as much as it’s been so far or will you focus more on other subjects?
Yes I think it will as long as I have Toy Machine and am working with a team of guys. Even if I’m not pro anymore, I will still have chances to be on the road and to be shooting photos of that lifestyle. Plus you never stop being a skater, even if you can’t skate anymore. So my photos will always be coming from a skateboarder’s perspective.
“What you’re seeing here (memory foam) is a selection of thousands and thousands of photos that didn’t make the cut … That’s why this isn’t a book yet, because it’s a real big task to whittle it down to something.” – Will it ever turn into a book, what the next step in this project ?
I think it will be a book at some point. But we really want to do a book together, meaning me and my wife Deanna Templeton. We both take photo shooting walks every day in Huntington Beach, and I think it can be a really interesting project if we each made our own book of exactly the same place and people and have them be published together and slipcased as one book. The viewer can compare and contrast how each of us approaches the same place in such different ways. I think her body of work from our hometown is incredible, and I think its drastically different than mine, yet we are together walking and shooting each day. It could be interesting to see the different ways we document the same place.