Ed Templeton, born in 1972, is from Huntington Beach, California. He is a skateboarder, artist, businessman and photographer. Ed has previously been featured in our Leica Portrait series and our Rolling Through the Shadows series. We caught up with Ed to talk about his upcoming exhibition “Plastic Plant Places,” running from October 16-October 22 at Leica Camera’s Photography Unplugged, part of Photomonth in London.
PLASTIC PLANT PLACES
I noticed two threads in this particular selection of photographs, one about how in our youth we approach the world with an exploratory wanderlust for climbing, jumping, looking, and lusting. Another is the zeal we all have for mark-making, whether it be making our mark on the world through actions, or more literally through graffiti or tattoos. These marks we leave behind are signals, each one sending messages to the people tuned in to that frequency and open to various interpretations, same as photographs. -Ed Templeton
Q: The title of your exhibition at Leica Camera’s Photography Unplugged during Photomonth is titled “Plastic Plant Places.” Where did this title come from and is there any special meaning behind it?
A: It makes me think about some strange doctor’s office with dusty fake plants and a flickering fluorescent light. The title was sort of a free-association type of thing. I was talking on the phone with the lovely Clara from Leica UK and she asked me to come up with a title for the show. I was perplexed because this selection of photos does not have a specific theme and so an obvious title did not enter my head. Then I realized that titles are fun and do not have to be so definitive. I had been thinking about the word plastic, and then plastic plants popped into my head, and how strange they are. So then the alliterative Plastic Plant Places popped into my head. The title is like a photograph, it can mean nothing or everything depending on what the viewer brings to it.
Q: How does the human element, especially with your work in general and the images in this exhibit that connect with people, fit into the “plastic plant places?”
A: This selection of images pulled from my print archive crosses over a few of the major themes in my photography. I think the theme most represented is my documentation of the skateboarding sub-culture which is a documentary look at what life as a professional skateboarder is like. Most of the time is spent getting to or waiting for the physical act of skateboarding to happen. These young men and women are living life in a fast and brutal way on the streets. Injuries, boredom, playfulness, and drugs are all part of the lifestyle that I see as a microcosm of the human element in its purest state.
Q: What do you hope, if anything, the viewer takes away from looking at these images?
A: I think a photograph can be a powerful memory jog, a voyeuristic look into another’s life, a shared experience, a satirical illustration and more all rolled up into one. It depends on the human looking at the image and what baggage they bring to it. And that is saying nothing about my intent. There are two forms of intent, my reason for shooting the photo in the first place and then what I hope the photo will convey. In saying what I hope the viewer takes away I am tainting the free and open interpretation they may have gotten from it. But having said that, I hope the viewer can sympathize with me in the beauty or the ugliness of what I have shot, will laugh along with me at the funny parts, and will be illuminated with the peek into my world, or at least the world as I have captured it.
Q: Do you have a favorite shot from this exhibition? If so, which one and why?
A: I really like the one of two boys looking at a porno magazine while a girl is sitting on the curb. This was shot in suburban New Jersey during a skateboard tour. It is the morning after a drunken night for Elissa Steamer, the girl on the curb, who was sick and about to vomit. Elissa was the first female pro street skater and this is a look at what tour was like for her surrounded by testosterone fueled boys. Brian and Mike, the boys in the photo are also pro skateboarders and the closest of friends with Elissa, who could care less about the magazines and comments about women. I think the photo encapsulates what being on tour is like, and tells a story quite visually without needing the explanation. But it also works outside of the paradigm of skateboarding as an illustration of the human condition.
Q: When were these photos taken and how did you choose these particular ones for this exhibit, especially given your extensive archive of images?
A: The oldest photo in this group is from 1999, the self-portrait I shot in a bathroom in Texas. The newest is the one of the pelican flying which was shot and printed in 2013. A lot of them are from around 2007 I noticed. There was no rhyme or reason to the choices. I started looking through boxes and pulling prints that I liked. Another factor was the size, we needed 16×20 inch photos for the show so I had to choose from that size particularly. Luckily I have a room brimming with boxes of prints, so I just chose images that I thought would give a quick snapshot of the kind of photos I take.
Q: In your previous appearances on the Leica Camera blog, you mention the Leica M6 is your camera of choice. We’re a fan of your Instagram feed and your perspective to Huntington Beach – what camera do you use for your color images? And how does your approach vary when shooting color and shooting with your phone or digicam versus your M6, if at all?
A: When I shoot color film I most often put it through my Leica M6. But if I’m going out guns a blazin’ with two cameras I will have B&W in the Leica and color in a Fuji GF670 which is a 6×6/6×7 rangefinder or maybe my old Canon AE-1. Sometimes I have a small film point and shoot camera like a Contax or a Konica in my pocket as well. All the stuff on my Instagram is just shot with the iPhone. The approach is almost the same, but the size of the iPhone and the ubiquity of them in society make it real easy to shoot street photos with them. The iPhone does everything for you, and they are virtually invisible if you can act like anyone else with a phone out there. With the Leica I am constantly thinking about light and distances. I want to look through the viewfinder to compose, so the act of bringing a camera to your face of course draws attention. I have channeled my inner Cartier-Bresson to try to become as invisible as possible. Fly on the wall style is my favorite because I feel like you are seeing a true moment uninfluenced by the photographer’s presence. But having said all of that, there are only four photos in this exhibition where I was shooting unnoticed (And one of those is a pelican!). The majority is about the skateboard subculture and the people in the photos know me or know I’m there.
Q: You’re known for pairing images with text – can you tell us more about why you do it?
A: I have actually added text to most of these images. Sometimes I think a story would enlighten the viewer as to where I am coming from. It’s hard to control viewer interpretations, and some photos without context might send a bad impression. For instance, in this show there is a photo of a girl standing at a bus bench. I was doing what I normally do when I’m the passenger in a car, I was shooting photos from the window. We came up to a corner and I saw this girl standing there. I was framing up my shot as I had been doing to most people we passed when suddenly the boys in the front of the van yelled something at her. I forget what they said, but the nature of cat calling is usually sexual and sexist. I still shot the photo, capturing her look of chagrin. I wanted to add text to that to explain where I was coming from, and the embarrassment I felt after it happened. Once I got the photo back and saw her look and that the photo was in focus, etc, I realized the photo could be used with some text to illustrate the nature of boys, and in this case skater boys who I was specifically documenting. If you are interested I did a whole series and book called The Seconds Pass, which is 100% photos shot from a moving car.
Q: All of the images presented here are in black-and-white. What draws you to shooting in black and white?
A: Robert Frank said “Black and White is the color of photography” and I really like that statement. I think taking out the color gives a photo a timeless quality. I think color can ruin a perfectly well composed photo, and conversely color can sometimes raise a mediocre photo into a beautiful one. I just like uniformity and the starkness. There’s also a practical reason, I have a darkroom at my house and can make prints anytime I feel like it. Color printing uses harsher chemicals and I don’t have the equipment for that.
Q: Most of the photographers in our Rolling Through the Shadows series mention your name and work as their favorite photographer/inspiration. How does this feel to know your work is so inspiring to others and you’re a leader in the skateboarding/photography world?
A: I feel very blessed to be a part of skateboarding. It’s a cliché, but it really did save my life. Tripping over skateboarding and punk music in middle school saved me from the surely mediocre life I was slouching towards. I had a super long pro career, was world champion twice, and still run a skateboard company, but the community is the real sweet spot. The people I met and who taught me when I was young were not only skateboarders but artists and musicians, and it’s that community that made me who I am and afforded me the opportunity to travel and see the world. So I owe everything to those people who mention me, they inspire me just the same. I’m only trying to return the inspiration I got from my forefathers, and I expect the youth to do the same.
Q: What’s next for you in terms of projects or exhibitions that you’d like to share with our readers?
A: I have lots of stuff going on! My new photo book Wayward Cognitions will be published by Um Yeah Arts this December. And the prints I made for that book will be shown at the Bonnefanten Museum in The Netherlands. Finally, I’m working towards an exhibition of paintings early next year at Roberts and Tilton gallery in Los Angeles.
Q: Is there anything else that you’d like to share with the readers of the Leica Camera Blog?
A: Check out the Deadbeat Club, we make photography zines by young photographers who shoot film. I just came out with a new zine with them called “Staring at the Sea, Staring at the Sand” that shows every photo from a single roll of film and the proof sheet.
Thank you for your time, Ed!
– Leica Internet Team
See the full lineup of Leica Camera’s Photography Unplugged events at Photomonth here. Learn more about Ed on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and his website.