All photos courtesy of Ed Templeton
Ed Templeton drew the graphic for his first pro model skateboard in 1990. Since then, he has been a regular tour de force in both the skateboard industry and the art world. While almost everyone who rides a skateboard considers themselves an "artist," very few have been able to make a successful leap into the fine art world. Templeton is one of those few. His work has been shown in some of the most respected museums around the globe. From his paintings to his board graphics, to his photography, to his skills as a skateboarder: he is, in my opinion, the best and most multifaceted artist that skateboarding has ever produced.
His latest photo book, Wayward Cognitions, is a collection of riveting images taken during his travels abroad and stateside. Shot mostly using a Leica M6 with a 50mm lens on film, printed in his home darkroom, and then scanned and laid out by the artist, this book is 100% Templeton's brainchild. Known as the Eternal Voyeur, it's not uncommon to find Ed lurking around his local suburban sprawl, Huntington Beach Pier, or the backstreets of some European town, snapping away whatever passes before his lens. This book shares those captured moments.
I had the opportunity to catch up with Ed to discuss photography, his company Toy Machine, and the legend's retirement from skateboarding.
VICE: Thematically, Wayward Cognitions is a departure from your previous photo books. Can you talk about the process of picking the images for this book?
Ed Templeton: I just wanted the freedom of not having a specific theme for once. Most of my books are very specific, to the point where the title of the book pretty much explains the subject matter. Those books have come from having a big archive to mess with. I just have fun searching for words and coming up with groupings. Teenage Kissers was born that way. I searched the word "kiss" in my archive and had so many photos of people kissing that I was able to narrow it down to "teenagers kissing"—although technically not all of the people in the book are teenagers. For this book, I had a title in my head before I even started thinking about what would be in the book. I was thinking about how my style of photography produces a lot of stray thoughts. All the photos that I shoot that are not shot for any reason or theme—which is most of them—are just stray dogs with no place to go. I just walk around shooting people, and most of it does not fall into the category of something that I will use for a future project. So that was the spawn of the title, Wayward Cognitions, which is a more poetic way of saying stray thoughts. Woman and Monkey, Santa Monica
Puddle Woman, London
The bulk of your book seems to be strangers passing in front of your lens, many of whom don't appear to realize you are taking their photo. Have you had people freak out on you?
I don't use a flash for the most part—only natural light. Also, I have developed a few techniques that make my shooting fluid and essentially unnoticed for the most part. Or even if you did see me, you would have some doubt over whether I was shooting you or something else. There's some acting involved sometimes, other times Deanna [Templeton's wife] helps me by throwing a screen, or talking to me really loudly so we look like we couldn't possibly have been shooting someone else. I also feel hyper aware of all the people around me. I'm not only thinking about the person I'm shooting but about the people possibly seeing me shoot them, including their partners. You can't go in with blinders on. That homeless guy passed out might have some buddies across the street watching him, or that girl doing cartwheels in a bikini might have a meathead boyfriend waiting to stomp some ass, so you have to be aware of the whole scene you are a part of. I pick and choose my battles for sure. I have passed on photos to avoid a likely confrontation. It's not worth it, there are other photos down the block. The times where I have just said screw it and went in shooting regardless of my surroundings have mostly turned out OK though. Nobody has freaked out on me.
My in-laws know I write about naughty topics, but we don't ever discuss that side of my work. I've always wondered if it's the same for you. You put images of your lovely wife, Deanna, in various states of undress and even occasionally in the throes of a sexual act. What does her family think about that?
It's strange. I kept everything from my grandparents, including the book Deformer, which is essentially about them and how they were instrumental in shaping me as a human. They would have really enjoyed seeing me published and have some degree of success at what I'm doing, but the nudity in there would be beyond their comprehension. I can't picture my grandfather being OK with photos of my naked wife with my penis in her hand no matter what the explanation. He has since died. My mother and grandmother are still alive, and they don't see any of my books or shows. I have not seen my dad since I was eight years old—I have no idea if he knows anything about my artwork and I don't care. My Aunt Margie and Uncle Bob are both super hip and have seen my books. Uncle Bob even came out to my last photo show in LA. But they are the only non-Christians in the family. The rest are certified born-agains. Deanna's brother and his wife would probably be pretty tripped out. I suspect they have googled me and seen some stuff, but they have never brought it up. My niece is 13 and she's on Instagram now, but she's not allowed to follow me. One time she was going to do a report about me for school, but then suddenly she said she couldn't, and that's when I think they Googled me.
I believe you to be one of the best, if not the best, talent scouts in skateboarding's history. Since the inception of Toy Machine you've always had the best guys riding for you. What's your secret? What do you look for in your riders?
It's sort of a gut feeling. I don't hang out in the streets with the guys and I'm not a hands-on team manager, so I need a rider who doesn't need to be babysat, who is out there doing shit on his own. You have to be able to blend well with the team, too. So talent is only part of it. I'm not going to sponsor the best skater ever if they are an asshole to be around. I would rather have the second best guy who's fun to be in a van with, and then use his own personality to promote him. I like to coax out the character of each rider and not have them be faceless rippers who nobody really cares about. You have to put yourself out there, that's what people connect with. I honestly don't know how I do it, there's no formula. Luck is part of it. Being open to weird shit is part of it. I want the freaks. I think good skaters seek Toy Machine out actually. We are not the big bucks type of company, so if you are riding for us it's because you want to.
In your opinion, what was the gnarliest, most heavy-hitting team in Toy's history?
At one point we had Jamie Thomas, Chad Muska, and Brian Anderson on the team—all dudes who would be megastars at different points in their careers. So there's a strong case for the Welcome to Hell era, but to tell the truth right now is the best team I've ever had. Leo Romero, Collin Provost, Daniel Lutheran, and Jeremey Leabres? And that's only half of the guys. My main job in the near future is laying this team down on tape, er, pixels.
Have there been any guys you can recall that got away? That you wanted on the team but it didn't happen or work out?
I passed on Chris Cole. Kerry Getz brought me his sponsor-me tape—I still have it somewhere. Bam Margera left the team right before he blew up into mega-stardom. Muska left before he became a mega-star, too. I was after Spanky before he went to Baker. Alex Olson was on flow but he went for Girl. There's more… I can't remember all of them! All of them probably worked out for the best. I think kicking Muska off was a tough one, and I like Alex, so it would have been cool to have him on. But really things work out how they're supposed to.
You mentioned Alex Olson. Long before getting on Girl, Alex went on a Toy Machine tour and was in the running to make the team. Why didn't that work out?
I'm not even 100% sure. I think for a few reasons. He was essentially couch-surfing from a really young age, and I think me being based in HB as opposed to LA played a factor. Also, I cared maybe too much about him and wanted him to get back in school so he could think about life after skating as well. But that may have been too overbearing for him. Like I said, things work out and he is doing all sorts of stuff outside of skating and will be fine without any help from me. There was no bad blood or anything. When he chose Girl I was sad but totally stoked that he was making moves and starting to go for it. Up until then he didn't even seem sure if pro skating was what he wanted to do, having grown up in it with his dad [Steve Olson] and everything. I was always saying, "You're a natural! You have to try and make it!"
In the final part of your Epicly Later'd episode, Deanna gets very emotional about the thought of you further injuring yourself skateboarding. You had a severe leg break a few years back. How does it feel now? Are you able to skate again?
I skate here and there, but for the most part I have retired. I have other things in my life and I don't need to skateboard for money. I feel very lucky that I don't have that pressure to come back and be a pro skater at my age. I started Toy Machine in 1993 for this very moment. Now that I'm useless as a pro skater, I can still be involved with the thing I love and be able to be around skateboarding.
The leg is as good as it can be. I still feel it when I take a little impact. I'm sorta scared to try anything that will put big stress on it because there are two plates in there and 21 screws, and they take away the natural flexibility of bones, which makes it more likely that the leg will break again right above the plates. I think about skating all the time. I need to make it part of my routine. My routine now is just to get up and work all day and all night.
What's next for you and Toy Machine?
We want to finally make another full length Toy video. Our last three have been incomplete because riders were working on other videos. We have been waiting for Emerica videos, Vans videos, etc. Now it's time to start making an official video that will be on the level of Welcome to Hell and Good and Evil.