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KNOTORYUS talks to Ed Templeton (Interview)

KNOTORYUS talks to Ed Templeton (Interview)

Not one to be pigeonholed, Ed Templeton has received critical acclaim as a professional skateboarder, painter, photographer, graphic designer, entrepreneur and clothing designer. Born and raised in Orange County, California, Templeton got his start in professional skateboarding life at just 18. He married his girlfriend of four years, Deanna, a year later and they've been each other's constant companion ever since. His first gallery show took place almost 20 years ago, around the same time that he founded his own skateboarding brand Toy Machine.  Now, at 40, Templeton has published several succesful photography books and toured the world with his paintings. Currently showing at the Tim Van Laere Gallery in Antwerp, Templeton's latest show 'Symptoms' shows his point of view on our symptomatic society and features work that mainly consists of 'in-between' moments.

In October 2012, late at night, I found myself commenting on one of @Tempster_Returns instagram photos. One thing you should know about me : although I will put a like under your pictures anyday, I never comment on IG accounts of people I don't know personally. Ever. This time though, Ed talked about a new exhibition in Belgium. I had to know where. About an hour later I get an alert: "@dominique_knotoryus It's at the #TimVanLaereGallery in Antwerp".

What. Had. Just. Happened?

6 months later I find myself sitting in front of the nicest OC'er you'll probably ever meet.

(I'm going to let you guys come in where I pressed record and Ed and I had just said hi and we're still talking about the night before when "Symptoms" opened. When Ed put the stacks of books he was carrying down, I noticed the "15 years of Lockwood" book. I probably should leave this out because it wasn't really part of the interview, but I kind of don't want to.)

KNOTORYUS : I see you've got Sven from Lockwood's book?

Ed Templeton : He gave it to me yesterday.

KNOTORYUS : He is basically Belgian skate royalty. Was he at the opening of the show?

Ed Templeton : Yeah, he gave me the book and we spoke a little bit, took a photo ...

KNOTORYUS : The book looks absolutely stunning, but you were just saying that opening a show is still overwhelming for you even though you've been showing your art for almost twenty years now ...

Ed Templeton : A lot of people come in with a lot of expectations. But I don't really stress anymore beforehand.

KNOTORYUS : Do you think people have big expectations about you or the work?

Ed Templeton : I think both. A lot of kids come up to me and say 'I follow you on Instagram'. They see this part of life that I put out on Instagram, but that's never the real thing you know.

KNOTORYUS :I'm following you Instagram as well and it feels kind of like your daily life : 'Now I'm going out to take my daily pier shot, the skateboarding girls, daily pelican news'.

Ed Templeton : People think I just hang out at the beach all day and shoot girls in bikinis. But the facts are different. It's much more boring! I wake up, sit at the computer all day and do stuff for Toy Machine, I go into the studio and paint. Usually going to the beach is like an escape, since I'm in the house all day. I just have to get out and take one walk at least, for one or two hours at most and then it's back to work. All those photos I just leak throughout the day so I get why you would think I'm there all day (laughs).

KNOTORYUS : But while it started as a kind of release, going out for a walk and taking a picture. Does it now feel like something you have to do every day?

Ed Templeton : No, there's no pressure with instagram, mostly it's kinda fun. Usually I'm shooting with film, and I shoot anything that I think is interesting. Instagram is a second thought.  I'm primarily concerned with shooting film photos and art photos.

KNOTORYUS : After almost 20 years of doing shows, you've now created a kind of forum for the kids following you on Instagram. Does it feel like you were just getting used to doing the shows, going to openings and people knowing who you are and giving you -whether you like it or not- feedback. Is it on another level with all those new and younger people following you through social media? Does it put more pressure on you? Or does it feel different, because I don't necessarily want to dwell on the negative ...

Ed Templeton : That's okay. I went a really long time without doing any social media. I didn't even have a cell phone until maybe two years ago. I refused to have one. All my friends were texting and I was not part of that. I had meetings and you couldn't get a hold of me so I had to be on time. Deanna and I were using pay phones in L.A., but those were disappearing and people were stealing the copper out of them. It seemed a bit dangerous, I wanted her to have a phone if she drove somewhere and she had to call someone. Once we got the phone the flood gates opened.

KNOTORYUS : You immediately went fully online ...

Ed Templeton : Yeah, the social media guy for my skate company came up to me and said there were all these fake Ed Templetons on Facebook and I didn't think much of it, but he told me it was not a good thing. If they put something out, it doesn't represent you. I allowed him to shut those kids down and set up a fan page. But to manage that page I had to get on Facebook, so I did. And what's interesting about it for me, is it started building a new voice. I have 59,000 followers on Instagram now and most of it is fun. But if I'm promoting a show or a friend has a Kickstarter project they want to promote, I feel like there's a real powerful voice there now. There's a lot of people who see that and take action in a way. And that's cool, I helped one of my writers start a Kickstarter project for funding his album and he raised the money in one day. And I really think that Instagram did that. So I think there's a real power in that voice. And with power comes a certain responsibility.

KNOTORYUS : The responsibility of monitoring the trolls that comment on your Skateboarding Girls. I have to say that I find you to be always, I don't know how to describe it other than “gentlemanly” about it. You won't take any crap, but you're not judging either. It's kind of a fine line : you take pictures of girls in bikinis, sometimes underage, so of course you get certain comments. Was it trial and error for you?

Ed Templeton :I'm glad you see it that way. With everything I do, I try to come from a position of tenderness. I'm not as interested in the kind of photography that's judging, like : 'look at this stupid person'. I never take a picture for that reason. Although there is a certain criticism when photographing those things. But I don't think it ever comes from a place of contempt. If something bad is happening to someone, or someone is subject to ridicule I want to discuss what's happening there. It's hard to sometimes have your intentions as an artist come through in a photo because there are a million people looking at it and a lot of people project their feelings onto it. I get really angry when someone calls me a paedophile, for instance. I'm not the one thinking about sex when I see these photos, you are. But at the same time I'm not naïve, sometimes things are sexy. When there's a girl in a bikini there's a level of sexiness and fetishism there. But I have to sometimes think: “are these people just trolling or being caustic and mean and trying to bait me into a certain debate?”

Ed Templeton at Tim Van Laere Gallery


Ed Templeton : I'm very aware of the fact that everyone can see what I do. Especially where I live. You get to see the photos from Brussels, but almost every time I shoot someone down there, it's like six degrees of separation. There's always somebody recognising someone and tagging them, and most of the time they comment “oh cool”, but some of the girls are like “you're a pervert”. So yeah, there' s a fine line. I'm very even in my statements. But as an artistic stance I present the photo without any judgment or statement and let other people judge that. But through that decision, a big debate sometimes starts.

KNOTORYUS : That is also what happened when you had your first exhibition almost 20 years ago where you put naked pictures up of yourself and a couple of other dudes and the skateboard community went apeshit.

Ed Templeton : Yeah, that was back in 1994. I took some funny photos of two of my friends penises, so we had a row of four dicks on the wall and it was just stupid. There were paintings with nudity in it. It wasn't that strange. But I think a lot of NYC skaters were homophobic in a way, couldn't understand it and went :  “this is faggot shit”.

KNOTORYUS : Has that changed over the years? I feel like it is changing in the hiphop community.

Ed Templeton : It's changed a lot, for sure. But it's funny, as it changes it stays the same, in a way. There's my generation, even the guys of that early show, they would come to my shows later and there was no weirdness anymore. They started understanding, I clearly wasn't gay and I was married so it got them thinking: “what does it matter?”. Especially in New York, there's so much diversity there ... But I think, the young skater kids now growing up in the Midwest for instance, they're still in that old mindset. I do hope through my position, as a skateboarder and always feeling a bit older than everybody, I get them thinking ...

Ed Templeton at Tim Van Laere Gallery

KNOTORYUS : Feeling a bit older than your peers, is that something you had since you were a little kid ?

Ed Templeton : Yes, my father left me when I was little and my father figure was my grandfather. To have that person from a much older generation be my father, I picked up a lot from that generation. Which is nice.

KNOTORYUS : You called this show 'Symptoms'. I kind of read into it that you criticise the fact that everyone is dealing with the actual disease or the after effects, but not going back to the reason that caused it. For me that's been something that's been always been interesting. I grew up in a family were there was a lot of hurt, my father died when my mom was pregnant of me so I never knew him but I did feel all the sadness. I kind of sensed all that, growing up. As I got older, I'd  think: “I feel this hurt but how do I deal with it?” And now that I'm older, you realize that a lot of kids went through the same thing, some other kind of big hurt or sadness. And I know that when I see art in any shape or form that I really like, and I research it, it's always by people that make me think about what happened to me... I don't know if I'm making any sense but how did you deal with your own hurt? You were 8 and your father leaves you, your family, your mom ...

Ed Templeton : I feel like skateboarding is what really saved me. I think that most people at the time that were drawn to it, came from broken homes. Almost all my friends I'd hang out with came from divorced parents. But as a kid you blame yourself, you think it's your fault. I just feel really lucky, I saw these kids skateboarding, got interested in it and it opened up a whole new world. Until then I was just floating around, had no interests. And then finding something that you really love.. A lot of people go a really long time without finding that. A lot of kids tell me they don't know what they wanna do. But because of that I became immersed in this world of creative people and music.

KNOTORYUS : Were you immediately focused? Toy Machine is almost twenty years old now.

Ed Templeton : In the beginning I was just a kid, it wasn't that serious but I was very into it. It wasn't passive, I would skate every day. It was intense, but there was no master plan. At first I didn't realise there were skateboard magazines or maybe even an industry.

Ed Templeton : Thrasher Magazine was already around and the first time I saw that I couldn't believe there was an entire magazine dedicated to skateboarding. You get to see some of the tricks that are possible and then you really want to be good at skating. A few years down the line you realize that you're pretty good and might get sponsored. The main point is that it introduced me to a lot of people that were damaged in some way. Skateboarding now is a lot different, kind of mainstream and the people come from kind of everywhere. But in the mid-80s, it wasn't really that underground but you would get your ass kicked at school because skateboarding was really uncool. And it was mostly like punk kids. As soon as I started skateboarding a friend gave me a tape and it was the Dead Kennedy's. So you start looking at their lyrics and you learn about politics and I think that really helped form me into who I am, instead of learning about politics from my grandparents, who are really conservative and right-wing and I developed my views in a different, punk-rock way. My grandparents are really super right wing. They're still mad that Obama was elected president. They're really old, they're probably slightly racist.

(both laugh)

Ed Templeton : I know. In retrospect I feel really lucky, though. Because at the time you don't really feel it happening, but when you look back, you see how those things helped. The shows and what I do with Toy Machine all comes from this strange mixture. I have a book called "Deformer", the name to me is what life does to you, it deforms you. I like to say it's kind of the opposite of shaping. Shaping implies building, I think it's the other way around, life bends you. Life is like a collection of things that happen to you, each person, like you, everyone is a creation of circumstances. Where you're born by chance, the environment, the things you trip upon, that's how your life is formed. "Deformer" tries to map that a little bit. The first part consist of letters from my grandfather. Letters he would write me about doing good in school, I kept them all. It's a photo book, but the first part is an ephemera of my life, trying to make a point: here's what I was given and the second part is photographs and how I processed everything in the suburbs of the O.C.

ED TEMPLETONMake-Up Girls, 2012 46 x 59 cm C-print ed. of 3 + 1 a.p.Courtesy Tim Van Laere Gallery, Antwerp


KNOTORYUS :I wanted to talk to you about the "Make-Up Girls" series, is that another themed collection like "Teenage Smokers"?

Ed Templeton : All these series I do come from just shooting, they're not a concept first. A lot of photographers decide a subject first and then go shoot. It's an idea first and then they go fill the idea. For me, it's shooting all the time in the streets. People making kind of action, people kissing or lighting a cigarette.

KNOTORYUS : But girls doing make-up, isn't that a moment when they wouldn't want to be photographed?

Ed Templeton : Nobody sees me, I do it very discreetly.

KNOTORYUS : That's the lurking aspect of it I guess, but that still has that pervy connotation ...

Ed Templeton : Yeah, I don't like the word lurking, but I use it myself... It's sort of slang, 'lurking', but in essence I'm just walking. I like the idea of capturing a real moment, if I walk up to a stranger and tell them I like them and want to take their picture, it changes everything. They might start to pose or say no. And so most of the time I'm walking at full speed when I'm shooting.

KNOTORYUS : Oh, really? I don't think a lot of people knew that. I certainly didn't.

Ed Templeton : I see something ahead of me and I just click as I walk by. It's not like Ï'm hiding behind a corner, stalking someone. A lot of times I'm walking in a straight line or we're going somewhere. And as I see things, I save them on film. There's a certain rhythm to it.

Deanna Templeton : (chimes in) But if they catch you, they smile at you!

Ed Templeton : And most of the time Deanna sees them first and points them out. But the times someone does see me, I smile and it's not like a sneaky thing. If they look up I say they look nice. I've never had any confrontations.  But yeah, the make-up series started when I was part of Nofound Photo Fair. They asked if I wanted to do a show. I went through my archive and saw all these make-up photos come up, so I told them I had enough to do a nice little series. The same happened with "Teenage Kissers" and "Teenage Smokers". Rose, the gallerist of Alleged Gallery, noticed that I had a lot of photos of kids smoking and she told me to do a show with them. I looked through them and I saw I had enough to make a book. So it comes like from the practice of shooting, I have like a million series in my head all the time. Always looking at little things, people kissing or smoking. I noticed I have a lot of pictures of girls in leopard skin print. So maybe in the future I'll have a "Leopard Skin" expo.

ED TEMPLETON Ruff Ryder, 2012 (acrylic and ink on paper 51.5 x 36 cm) Courtesy Tim Van Laere Gallery, Antwerp

KNOTORYUS : How do you guys do it? This being a couple for 25 years? Are you always together?

Ed Templeton : Pretty much! Most people would think our relationship is pretty claustrophobic because we're always together.

KNOTORYUS : I work with my partner as well, I understand that kind of thing. But we're only at 10 years, not 25.

Ed Templeton : I think there are many factors that contribute to this, to say one thing is the cause wouldn't be correct. (Looks at Deanna) But … when did I meet you, when I was fourteen?

Deanna Templeton : Fifteen.

Ed Templeton : Yeah, I was fifteen. All the teenage years into adulthood have been spent with Deanna. A lot of people form themselves and then meet their partner, but all that stuff we did together.. Discovering the music, the food, everything was done together. Usually I say communication is the real key, talking ... Having a best friend as a lover is sometimes crazy, it's a job too. It doesn't just fall into your lap. You have to kind of work to make it work.

KNOTORYUS : Deanna, I'm so glad you're here, I wanted to ask you: How did the whole Purple magazine thing go down?  (Purple Magazine published a fashion shoot that looked more than inspired by Deanna Templeton's work without crediting let alone pay the artist.) I probably own every copy of Purple because I am a fan, but I was baffled by what happened. Did you get any reaction from them?

Deanna Templeton : No, which kind of surprised me because a lot of people reacted to Ed's post on Instagram. People that he knew, knew the photographer (Mel Bless, ed.) and the editor (Vanessa Reid, ed.), so I kind of thought they'd come back and say something funny. Ed was in the same issue, so they knew we were going to see it!

Left up and down : Deanna Templeton "Scratch My Name On Your Arm"

Right up and down : Purple  S/S 2013

Ed Templeton : Yeah, I know Olivier (Zahm, ed.) and I shot this thing with Tracey Emin for the Spring issue and that's why I had it. I like Purple too but I normally don't get every issue, it's expensive in the States and I'm not on the free list (laughs). So we were flipping through it and I thought it was a lot like Deanna's photos in the first couple of pages, but I wasn't sure until I saw the Etnies logo.

Deanna Templeton : I'm just surprised because I know everyone looks at their Instagram so we knew they must've picked it up. They didn't even laugh about it, nothing. It's okay. It was funny though, the people from Etnies saw it and they were like: “Hey look at us, next to Chanel. We made it into the big leagues”. (laughs)

KNOTORYUS :I admire how you guys are so relaxed about it, though.

Deanna Templeton: The only bad thing is, I just wish to get what I did more out there. A bit of acknowledgment would've been cool. Just a small bit would give a big push. I'm not mad that they did it, do what you want, I just wish there would've been something that stated that they thought my work was interesting. But it didn't work out that way. But maybe through Ed, people will think: “Hey what is this series he is talking about, I wanna see this.” (laughs)


KNOTORYUS : Ed, which work here at the Tim Van Laere Gallery are you most proud of?

Ed Templeton : I'm just glad I had a lot of time to paint for this show, photography comes quite quickly to me. I shoot so much so it's easy to produce a lot of photos.

KNOTORYUS : When do you fit in the painting?

Ed Templeton : Every day. When I'm not doing Toy Machine style graphics then I'm painting. It's a lot of juggling of different things for sure. I have a lot of work, most of it is sitting at the computer doing graphic work. But I also knew I had a show so I would make myself sit in the studio and paint. Then I broke my leg, but luckily I'd done most of my paintings before I broke my leg.

KNOTORYUS : How is that going, how do you keep spirits high? During skating your leg gets fucked up in so many different places and you have -at 40- this immense amount of physio ahead, but you just get up get at it and create #EDSCOUCHADVENTURE on IG.

Ed Templeton : Instagram maybe helped me in a lot of ways. It is good to have a release for those kinds of things. I wasn't really depressed about it. I was more pissed like : “Ah this is really gonna make my life shitty for a few months," and it has. But I think it takes quite a lot to get me depressed. I also realise I'm living my life in a bit of a public way, especially through my skateboarding. Like it or not, there are a lot of kids and magazines looking at me so I've always had that voice, knowing that people are watching. But when I give an interview, I want to provide real content. Not just being a press release, or being really vanilla. I always thought that if I'm doing an interview I want to present some ideas and talk about things. Because those were the interviews that inspired me. Like the one I read with Ian MacKaye from Fugazi. I'd like to do the same thing for the kids that are watching me. Maybe if I was younger I wouldn't want people to know I was hurt because that might have damaged my sponsorship. But I'm 40 now, I don't really care anymore, I'm at the end of my career. There's nothing to hide, I just want to share everything. Maybe I just wanted sympathy too and people telling me to get better, “oh we're so sad for you”. It's nice to get that kind of love, there's always been a part of me that's been slightly attention-seeking and wanting those likes and stuff. I have to admit that clearly I get some kind of feeling from getting feedback.

KNOTORYUS : You also answer a lot of  questions on IG.

Ed Templeton : I've always liked being accessible to some point, I'm not a deity or cooler than anybody. This is a community, I like that. If you have a question, I just want clarity. I hate when people get the wrong idea. That's why I debate with people who try to tell me what I'm doing with a photo, that I'm being a perv. I want to explain myself. A lot of the time I'm wondering why I'm even bothering writing some of these assholes back. But people like you might be reading it as well, so I want to be clear. A couple of days ago someone said I wasn't shooting the right skateboard girls. I explained to him I was going to the beach and the girls at the beach aren't the same as the real skateboard girls, they're just transporting themselves to the beach. They ask why I don't shoot girls at Harada Skatepark, but I just say I'm not going to these places. I take my daily walk at the beach, and those girls are in beach gear. I'm not mocking them, I'm celebrating them.

KNOTORYUS : We've just talked about how solid your marriage is. But let's look at the longevity of Toy Machine : that's huge. Did you expect that?

Ed Templeton : Yeah, it's 20 years this year. I never expected it to go on for so long, especially during the whole crisis in 2007-2008. We've had to make some adjustments and pay cuts. I have a lot of control and as I went through the years, the main focus was staying true to myself. There's been a period in '97 that the entire team left at once, and everyone thought the company was going to go down. They just jumped ship. I work with Tod Swank and he does the business side, which I appreciate because I want to stay on the creative side. I've always been able to trust my choices. I see a certain talent in people, but it's not just  about skateboarding skills, they have to have a certain personality. And this has kept the team interesting throughout all the changes, great people that just capture the kids' imagination. So I think that's part of the success. The first year I did Toy Machine it was with a different backer, and he would try to control things and tell me what to do, which was quite a downer. So then I went to Tod and he told me to do what I want. He never tells me to do anything, so I was able to take some risks and put out crazy ideas. Especially in the early 90s, skateboarding was like really free, so I was doing some weird stuff. And I think that drew most of the audience in. I was young, I didn't really care if the company lasted 5 years so I just did what I wanted and made it fun and ridiculous. So that created a fan base I think.

KNOTORYUS : Are you doing anything special for the 20th anniversary?

Ed Templeton : Yeah, we're gonna do some special graphics and maybe try to throw a party. As I get older and older I wonder when I'm going to become irrelevant for the kids that follow Toy Machine.

KNOTORYUS : I think if you always channel your 14 year-old self, you'll be okay.

Ed Templeton : Yeah, that's true. I think the reason Toy Machine is what it is because I keep thinking about how I was as a kid. I am not trying to impress my peers. It's always childish and ridiculous. Dick jokes keep me young. (laughs)

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Untill May 4, 2013

Tim Van Laere Gallery

Verlatstraat 23-25

2000 Antwerpen


Ed Templeton on Instagram

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