In the Studio with Deanna and Ed Templeton

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This article is printed in the latest issue of British Journal of Photography magazine – a special edition with a double theme, Love / Ukraine. It can be delivered direct to you with an 1854 Subscription or available to purchase as a single issue on the BJP shop.

Photography by Emily Monforte
Assisted by Joy Newell

A couple since they were teenagers, the Templetons have lived in Huntington Beach, California, their whole life. We visit their home studio to learn about how they use the space together, and about their ‘claustrophobic’ relationship

Vegan, monogamous, and a couple since they were teenagers, Deanna and Ed Templeton live in an immaculate suburban neighbourhood in Huntington Beach, California. Located about 35 miles outside Los Angeles, HB – as the locals call it – is famous for its surf and skate culture. Visit the local mall, and you can pose on a stationary surfboard set against a massive oceanic mural. It’s also notorious for its preponderance of Trump supporters and mask-mandate protesters. A liberal artistic enclave it is not.  

Nevertheless, this is the city where the Templetons – two artists who are collectively known for their gritty photography, portraits, and paintings – grew up and have spent all their lives. However, although HB is a formative place for Deanna and Ed, it doesn’t define them. The pair met when he was 15 years old and she 18, and married four years later. Ed was a teenage skateboard star, and the couple travelled the world for his competitions. In 1994, he started to document skateboard life, establishing an immersive, dynamic aesthetic inspired in part by his love of Larry Clark’s work.

Deanna, who had experimented with photography as a teenager, soon joined him in making photos. Armed first with a point-and-shoot, a gift from her mother, and then a Canon AE-1 that Ed gave her, Deanna began to develop her own practice – although she is at pains to call it that. “I just started shooting,” she says, nearly whispering. Whereas Ed says he’s “more cynical”, an omnivorous street photographer who is “humanist/absurdist”, Deanna tends to direct her images. Like Ed, she’ll shoot two guys brawling on the street, “but then I’ll run up and ask the guy with the swastika on his chest, ‘Can I make your portrait?’”

Ed Templeton
Deanna Templeton.
Deanna is currently planning an exhibition of work from her 2021 book, What She Said – a candid and personal exploration of the emotional turmoil of adolescence

On this sunny day, we pull up to their modest two-storey home on a street so quiet that it feels abandoned. A tall man with kind eyes comes out to greet us. This is Ed: painter, photographer, and 2016 inductee into the Skateboarding Hall of Fame. He’s wearing Vans, a plaid shirt, and perhaps a few days’ worth of stubble – he has a quiet but probing presence. He invites us in.

Upon entering the home where the couple have lived since 2001, we encounter all the elements of classic American suburbia: comfortable furniture, tasteful decor, an abiding sense of order. It takes a moment to realise that it’s not all soothing aesthetic predictability. Hundreds of art books are arranged in floor-to-ceiling bookcases, the walls are filled with artwork (their own and that of others), and there’s a project in the works at nearly every turn. 

Deanna – small, slender, smiling and softly spoken – joins us at the dining room table, where there’s a maquette for a potential group show at the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco that will include her work. She has arranged carefully cut-to-size printouts of photographs, many of them from her book What She Said (Mack, 2021), on the scaled-down museum walls.

In the living room, a small table holds paints and paper for the graphics Ed creates for his skateboard company, Toy Machine. He can work comfortably while he watches TV, or he can gaze out at the pool, where the couple have placed large inflatables – a razor-toothed shark and a dinosaur – to deter the ducks that occasionally fly overhead from hanging out.

Ed, 49, and Deanna, 52, have separate offices and share a darkroom. “I have spent countless hours in there blasting early Metallica while printing photos,” says Deanna. The garage, entered through the living room, has been converted into a painting studio for Ed. Spending an increasing amount of time in front of an easel, he has recently published a book of “multilayered pen and ink scribbles” titled 87 Drawings, with Nazraeli Press. Artworks from his recent show at Roberts Projects in Los Angeles are being temporarily stored in a guest room downstairs. Both artists unnecessarily apologise for their presence.

The pair met when he was 15 years old and she 18, and married four years later.

“Some people use the word ‘claustrophobic’ to describe the way we are, but it’s just kind of how it is”

Deanna Templeton

The couple are warm, generous, and attentive, to others and each other. When one of them speaks, the other watches and listens intently. They finish each other’s sentences, not out of impatience but because they are deeply supportive of each other – each wants the other to feel and be understood. At one point, Deanna gently interrupts Ed to make a point, and she places her hand on his shoulder. He clasps his hand over hers, and they remain in this gesture of affection long after the topic has changed. 

“We’re creatures of habit,” says Ed, who runs through a typical day Chez Templeton. They wake up around 10am, and he checks social media on his phone – a “slight doom scroll” – while she makes the smoothies they drink every morning. Then they go to their respective work spaces in the house until 2pm, when it’s time for tea. Deanna will make a soy chai or matcha, and the couple will sit out by the pool and tell the other about their day. Then it’s back to work till 6pm. Deanna makes them both a juice, and they cook dinner together. This is followed by a walk around the neighbourhood, maybe 40 minutes to an hour, “every single day,” says Ed.

Evenings are for watching a movie. The Templetons have recently been working their way through films from Hollywood’s pre-Code era, although they also enjoy watching hockey. “Some people use the word ‘claustrophobic’ to describe the way we are,” observes Deanna, “but it’s just kind of how it is.” Ed adds: “Compared to a lot of people, our relationship would be considered very claustrophobic.”

For as long as they’ve been together, Ed has been documenting their relationship – including, in the early years, moments of sexual intimacy. They’d eventually like to publish the images in a book that Ed, whose initial influences include Nan Goldin, playfully calls Suburban Domestic Monogamy. “I look forward to it,” says Deanna, “because I think it’s going to be beautiful, just to look at our love. No one else might care to see it, but I’m happy he documented it.”

Change is on the horizon, and the Templetons will soon have a new setting to explore. They’re taking steps to spend roughly half the year in Amsterdam, where they have friends. They still love HB, and it will always be their home, but there’s something about seeing themselves described as lifelong Huntington Beach residents that feels lacking, says Deanna. “I just want to have on our record that we had this other experience,” she says. “It would just be so sad if this was it.” 

Kristina Feliciano

Kristina Feliciano has worked in photography as an editor and writer for more than 20 years. The former creative director of Stockland Martel, which represented artists including Nadav Kander during its 30-year existence, she now collaborates independently with photographers to edit their work and shape their projects. She is based in Los Angeles and also makes photo-based work under the name Chronic Chronicler.