Ed Templeton, Wires Crossed

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2023 by Aperture (here). Cloth bound hardcover, 8.6 x 11 inches, 264 pages, with 278 images. Includes numerous annotations, journal entries, maps, and drawings by the artist, and interviews with Brian Anderson, Elissa Steamer, Justin Reagan, Erik Ellington, Deanna Templeton, and the artist. Designed by Ed Templeton and Karina Eckmeier. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Also available in a limited special edition of 30 with gelatin silver print hand painted by the artist, in a specially designed slipcase.

Comments/Context: For artists and collectors of a certain age, Ed Templeton is a familiar figure. Over a three decade career, the 50-year old photographer has boasted numerous exhibitions (e.g., here), published dozens of monographs (e.g., here), and established himself as a durable presence in the art world.

If you are the teenage son or daughter of an artist or collector, you may also be familiar with Ed Templeton, but for an entirely different reason. Templeton is an OG skateboarding legend, a two-time world champion (now retired from the pro circuit), and the founding creative force behind Toy Machine, a major skateboard brand which playfully self-identifies as “bloodsucking corporate scum”.

At first blush, these two worlds—skating and fine art—would seem to have little in common. But there is some crossover in the mental approaches and skill sets. Both are individualist pursuits which require years to master, and tend to attract obsessive iconoclasts. Templeton is one of several contemporary photographers to come out of the skateboarding scene. Matt Stuart, Jeffrey Ladd, Glen E. Friedman, and Templeton’s pubescent skate buddy Jason Lee also have a foot in both camps. But probably none can match the dual achievements of Templeton, who has gone full vert in each field.

Approaching mid life at the nexus of dual strands, it seems only natural that the two wires might cross. In fact Templeton has contemplated just such a project for decades, but until now it hadn’t reached fruition. When I interviewed him in late 2020, he was knee deep in his archives, nosegrinding through scans and mockups of what he envisioned as a diaristic photo skating memoir. The working title Wires Crossed was named for the occasionally misfiring synapses of boneheaded young skaters, but it might’ve applied also to his intertwining career paths. That was three years ago. The book remained in flux as the pandemic and other projects took precedence.

Finally, steered into form by Aperture, and with support from the RVCA, Wires Crossed has become a reality. By all appearances it was worth the wait. The handwritten title page summarizes the 264 page tome better than I can: “A seventeen-year non-linear photographic survey straddling the intermediate space between subjective and objective on the subculture of skateboarding and its endemic customs and rituals between the years 1995 and 2012.” Whew, that’s a mouthful, and a fitting prelude for the deluge to follow. Concentrating photos, drawings, diary entries, interviews, and anecdotes into a firehose of material, Wires Crossed is Templeton’s skateboarding magnum opus.

The first photos in the book begin around 1995. Templeton was already well into skateboarding by this point. Born in 1972—in Huntington Beach, where he has lived ever since—he started in the early 1980s. As recounted in his 2008 monograph Deformer, he’d survived a broken home and childhood trauma. Skateboarding became a refuge and an outlet for preteen angst—later informally codified in the Beautiful Loser movement—and it gradually shaped Templeton’s adolescent identity. Committing himself fully, by 1990 he’d become a sponsored tour regular. For working pros of the era, the lifeblood was video. Every few months Templeton and his skating crew would pack in a van, then road trip to various skate parks around the United States. They hopscotched city to city, crashing in cheap motels while carousing, exploring, mingling with fans and groupies, and exemplifying youth culture. The primary assignment was simple: skateboarding. With luck, and over time, each tour member became iconified into a skating brand, publicized through singular tricks on video. Nice work if you could get it.

It’s around this point that Wires Crossed first picks up the Templeton trail with his hand drawn map of The First Summer Tour 1990. Arrows overlay an outline of America, zigzagging a route up the West Coast, across the plains and eventually to Boston. This was the first of several maps drafted by Templeton, who was a budding teen artist as well as an athlete. He created one for each trip, a dozen of which appear in the book (including one from Europe 2007). Although they vary in quality, it’s fair to say they became better over time as Templeton devoted more time to them, and his illustration skills matured. They document cities and routes in whimsical doodles, with paths sometimes circling back over themselves likes wires crossed. Scattered chronologically throughout Wires Crossed, the maps serve as informal chapter breaks. More importantly, they provide a rough timeline and narrative framework to a photobook which might otherwise careen into hodgepodge.

Templeton toured for years before taking any photographs. But the everyday spectacle nagged at him, and he felt he should document what he was seeing. “I would always see something going on on the sidelines that I would want to shoot,” he remembers. He began photographing in earnest around 1994. Influenced by Nan Goldin, Jim Goldberg, and Larry Clark, he viewed the camera as a tool to record and understand his immediate friends and surroundings. This outlook has continued more or less to the present. As he explained to me “my entire photo practice has been almost 100% whatever falls in front of my face as I navigate through life.” While on tour the things falling in front of his face sometimes included bodies or skateboards. Wires Crossed features a fair number of airborne stunts and horizontal bodies, but only as sideline features. Templeton generally avoided the wide-angle dynamism of, say, Thrasher or Transworld. He focused instead on personalities, and their daily routines. 

Wires Crossed is thus an insider’s exposé of tour life. Skate days were sometimes humdrum, sometimes frantic. When not sidewalk surfing, tour mates played grabass, set pranks, mugged for the camera, or dozed off in the rental van. Templeton’s wife Deanna, sometimes engaged as a tour driver, appears candidly in many photos. Elsewhere pictures of injured friends or kissing teens evoke the casual mood of snaps caught in passing. His colleagues Elissa Steamer, Brian Anderson, Bam Margera, Mike Vallely, Erik Ellington (if they aren’t familiar names, ask your teenager; alternatively, several are interviewed in the book’s appendix) and many others pop up regularly, amid hordes of anonymous fans.

Wherever the tour landed it seems, Templeton didn’t have to search far for content. A parade of interesting people and places “fell in front of his face”. The resulting photos approach the diaristic intimacy of his heroes Goldin, Goldberg, and Clark, and the free-wheeling hedonism of road trips shot Ryan McGinley or Mike Brodie. Notably, Templeton himself did not transgress. He’s long lived an ascetic life of veganism, sobriety, and marital fidelity. “I was always the sober guy, and the owner of the company,” Templeton explained to me, “so I always kept my head about me while essentially enabling the behavior of the kids around me.A cool remove from which to observe hijinks. 

Templeton’s primary tool was a handheld Leica loaded with b/w film. He also shot color negatives at times, and several formats of color Polaroid. All are strung throughout Wires Crossed in pleasantly disrupted rhythms, sometimes in formal grids, sometimes salon style in the fashion of Templeton’s exhibitions, occasionally as single images on a page. The heterogenous design never falls into any trope for long, but the photos are loosely clumped into thematic blocks. A segment on general tour life leads to photos of adverse interactions with authorities (Skaters were typically anathema in the 1990s. Sample headline: “Youths Lectured Downtown.”). A few entertaining sections of vice follow, exploring sexuality, drugs, and alcohol. The book’s final and biggest section is devoted to various skateboarding injuries, of which there were many. Templeton photographs mishaps from cuts to skinned knees to broken bones and deep lacerations. He shares x-rays of the screws in his own broken leg, his black and blue buttocks, and Deanna crying at his hospital bed. Ah, the life of a skater.

The open vulnerability of Templeton’s photos is given a personal Mctwist with the addition of his notes and drawings. Just about every page in Wires Crossed features handwritten interludes of some sort, including diary entries, captions, and doodles. Long journal entries are reproduced directly from original facsimile. In fact, there is no formal type of any kind until the appendix.

Templeton’s illustrations sometimes spill onto photo surfaces, with colorful paintings filling skies, and watercolored washes lending “real” scenes a dream-world edge of surreality. He cites Peter Beard’s overpaintings as an influence, and Jim Goldberg’s Rich and Poor and Raised by Wolves. There are shades of both here, not to mention Allen Ginsberg and Boris Mikhailov. Comparisons aside, Templeton’s interjections maintain a signature style. They mark the work as unmistakably his, and unify these various stunts and tricks and into a very personal statement.

Wires Crossed seems primarily a photo monograph targeted at an art audience. The opening question of Templeton’s appendix interview gives that away quickly, framed at “those who know you primarily through your photography.” But it might be equally directed at the skateboarding community, and in fact it’s sold through the Toy Machine site as well as photo bookstores. With pictures, anecdotes, and informative interviews, this is a goldmine for skateboarding fans and historians. Like Gabriella Angotti-Jones’ I Just Wanna Surf (reviewed here), it offers a perspective on a subculture normally accessible to insiders only, packaging it safely for the art crowd. “It haunts me how much I missed,” Templeton told me ruefully. That may be true, but he also managed to document a ton. Photo fans and skateboarders are both the happy beneficiaries.

Collector’s POV: Ed Templeton in represented by Danziger Gallery in Santa Monica (here), Robert Projects in Culver City (here), Tim Van Laere Gallery in Antwerp (here), and Nils Stærk Gallery in Copenhagen (here). Templeton’s photographs have little consistent secondary market history, so gallery retail likely remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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2 comments

  1. Pete /

    Looks great : D

  2. Charles Johnstone /

    What a great review Blake. This has been a very popular book at Dashwood and London Offprint. Happy for Aperture to have a big book like this selling so well. They need a couple more like this to get back on that first tier with Mack and Steidl where they belong. It helps everyone in our small world when Aperture is doing well.

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