Born in Orange County, California, in 1972, Ed Templeton started skateboarding in 1985 and by 1990, had turned pro. He took up photography in the mid-1990s, and has since been exhibited in the Palais de Tokyo, Paris; International Center of Photography, New York; and Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (among many more). He has published over 50 magazines and books, including the award-winning publication Teenage Smokers; his latest zine, Lick, will be published by Cafe Royal Books in January.
BJP: How did you get into photography?
ET: I had been shooting before, but I had an epiphany in 1994 that, as a professional skateboarder, I was living a life not many got to live, and was surrounded by an interesting cast of characters, so it was negligent to not document it. At least that’s what I thought. That idea was probably spurred by seeing Nan Goldin and Larry Clark’s work.
BJP: What does taking photographs have in common with skateboarding?
ET: It has a lot to do with it actually. I shoot people in the streets so you have to be aware of your surroundings and aware of situations. Always be looking 30 feet ahead.
Then there’s general creativity. We can all shoot a competent photo, but in the street you have to be creative with what things are presented to you as you move through an environment. Make snap judgements in your head about what you are seeing, and how it might translate into a photo that will line up with your vision and voice. Just like skating through a city – you’re moving so fast you don’t have time to deliberate, you just make choices quickly.
Coming from skating also means you’re comfortable with street life. As skaters we are often in unsavoury areas, and you have to become part of the street fabric and not be apart from it. I feel like I learned that from skating. However it doesn’t work as well when you are 44 years old and don’t look like a street urchin anymore!
ET: I shoot straight up documentary photos of the people and things around me as I move through life. I do very little travelling to go shoot a specific thing. I just shoot wherever I am. No frills. All film. The photo itself and what it is of and how it’s composed and makes the viewer feel is everything. Content is king. I don’t care about beautiful prints if the photo is boring. I shoot mostly black-and-white since I have a darkroom at my house and can make most of my own work there. That’s it in a nutshell.
Presenting all the things I shoot is a different story. I’m open to all sorts of ways to use photography as an artist. There’s lots more than just the traditional style of framing and hanging photography. I have done silkscreen editions, collaging, painting, writing on photos and other ways to utilise the photographic archive I’m building each day. So finding collections of images by typology, location, or general theme is one of the ways I have presented work in book or zine form.
BJP: Why have you published so many zines and photobooks?
ET: The book is the best forum to see photography in. You have a captive audience who is going to flip through a collection of photographs laid out in the sequence you arranged spread by spread. There’s no better way to subliminally tell a story without words. So any chance I get to publish I will take it, as long as I have something worthy of printing.
BJP: You’ve worked with many different book publishers, why is that?
ET: The main reason is being invited by these publishers! And what is cool is that each invite brings its own set of challenges and limitations. The publisher Editions Bessard out of France invited me to make an accordion book, a format I had always hated. But it was fun to find something from my archive that would fit that format, and then to try to overcome the limitations.
Other times we are limited in size or pages, so I limit myself by a narrow theme like teenage smokers or some other typological parameter. I feel fortunate to have been invited by these publishers to make books. I see it as an honour and privilege to be able to publish books so when I get the chance, if I have something we both think is worthy of spending the time and money on, I will jump at the chance.
BJP: Why did you want to work with Cafe Royal Books?
ET: I think Craig [Atkinson] from CR sent me an email out of the blue, I don’t fully remember now. But I collect photobooks and spend lots of time in bookstores so I was familiar with Cafe Royal, and when they invited me I was thrilled to do something with them. But it still took a year for me to have the time and headspace to come up with something for them.
BJP: How did you get the idea for this book?
ET: I keep different folders on my computer with various themes. I’m trying to digitally archive all my photos using scans from the proof sheets. I’m not 100% done yet (and may never be), but I love doing searches for various keywords. I didn’t have a folder called “lick”, but I did have one of people eating and from there I saw all these people eating ice cream I had taken over the years. So that made me think about licking in public. It’s kind of similar to kissing, except it’s sugar instead of a human you’re making out with.
I searched for “lick” and a few came up. And from there I searched for every instance of the act of “licking” I could find. From that group I made a selection for this zine. With a small print run zine we can do things that are a little on the fun/frivolous side, and I think a zine called Lick comprised of photographs of people licking things is quite fun, and yet still showcases street photography since all of these photos are images I shot while out documenting human existence. It’s just one of those narrow parameters to set up to limit the floodgates.
BJP: Where do the images from this book come from?
ET: It’s a little bit of everything, mostly from my archive. I didn’t set out to try to get photos of people licking, but it happened enough that I started keeping an eye out for it. A lot of my series have come after the fact rather than setting out to shoot it. And I don’t really go out “after” anything when I’m shooting, but rather I start noticing trends and then after a while actively keep a better eye out for them as I’m walking around. That’s how Teenage Smokers came about. I wish I could say I thought of the idea first and went to out shoot it but in fact I had so many photos of kids smoking – I suppose I was naturally drawn to them – that it took a friend of mine to point it out me, saying, “Hey you should do a series on that.” I agreed and starting looking for them.
The cover photo of Lick is my friend’s daughter Evan Cassidy, from when I shot her for KidsWear magazine. The colour and light was amazing, her piercing eyes, and the intensity with which she was enjoying the ice cream kind of made it a no-brainer for the cover. Hopefully that image jumps off the shelf and makes you want to pick it up and see what’s inside.
BJP: There used to be this truism that you should never photograph someone eating…
ET: True! People hate to be photographed while eating! Not all of the photos are of people eating, we have some blood, finger, and guitar licking in there too. However, I don’t think anyone looks bad in the zine – well, maybe one lady. I think licking an ice cream cone looks really cool usually. Eating ice cream is such a base act, fundamental pleasure is being had when one indulges in ice cream. And photographically it’s sorta rare to actually catch someone mid-lick, you should see the failures! Aside from a few, these are candid photos in the streets of people I don’t know, and who have not seen me shooting them although I’m only a few feet away.
All they do is show someone in that moment where they stuck out their tongue to taste something. But I don’t know what any photo ever “does.” It’s a gut reaction really. One of those things like, “You know it when you see it.” Why do we love somebody? A piece of art, a photo, can be loved by one and hated by another. No doubt some people will flip through this zine and think it’s the dumbest thing they have ever seen. Others will see, understand, and enjoy the moments I have captured and assembled here.
Lick by Ed Templeton is available to pre-order. It costs £6 in the UK, £7 international, via www.caferoyalbooks.com