LP: Could you tell us a little bit about your new book and the process behind it? It’s pictures from different times, with no theme and not your newest work, right?
ET: Yeah, Tangentially Parenthetical. It’s a collection of images from all over the place. I’m not a project-based photographer, I don’t think of an idea, then go shoot it and put out a book. It’s like my entire life has been one single photo project, and there are different themes running throughout and these themes can be pulled together into various projects.
So, when my friend Thomas Campbell who does Um Yeah Arts came to me and said he’s starting a publishing company, it presented itself to me as an opportunity. Being so close to the publisher, I thought this is a chance to really do something purely the way I want.
The first book I did with him was Wayward Cognitions, which is a fancy way of saying ‘stray thoughts,’ and it has this graphic eyeball artwork on the cover, I feel like if I were to go to any other publisher and say ‘here is my photo book and this is the cover’, they would say ‘What are you talking about? This doesn’t look like a photo book’. The idea for that book was to collect photos that fell through the cracks and that didn’t necessarily fit into other projects or themes. It became a collection of misfit photos.
And then fast-forward to Tangentially Parenthetical, it was a similar approach. I wanted to utilise my entire archive to tell a story and not be constrained by any time, place or theme. I wanted to explain to people through photographs in a general sense, how I see the world at this moment using photos from twenty years ago and from yesterday. From Europe and Japan or anywhere I’ve happened to go, basically looking at the human condition.
LP: What are you looking at when you’re formatting a book?
ET: I think for me, editing and sequencing is pretty much the most important part of making a book. I’m telling a story through images. I hope that someone out there is looking attentively enough to pick up on some of this.
LP: Do you do all the editing yourself or does Deanna take part?
ET: I do, she helps for sure. I’m a pretty decent editor of my own work and I think not every photographer has that gift. Having said that, I don’t know if I’ve fully tested the idea of sharing my work with someone outside that seriously, so it ends up being where Deanna is the only person who sees it.
I remember one time she asked ‘Why did you choose this photo?’ And just her asking me, the way she asked ‘why?’ made me think, ‘wait, you don’t see what I see in this?’ She said, ‘it just looks like a photo of nothing’, normally she’s never that harsh and she wasn’t even trying to be. It kind of made me realise that as photographers, you sometimes get tied to the moment in which you shot the photo and the feeling you had when you shot it. It triggers something in you when you see it, something that you experienced, but that might not be the same thing that an outside person is going to experience when they see that photo, it’s not going to trigger that same emotion.
I think any success I’ve had as an editor of my own work has been that ability to step outside of myself and look at the work with a harsher lens. I actually do a thing on every project called the ‘harsh edit’, where I make a copy of the layout and start a new edit saying to myself ‘approach this as someone who hates you’. It’s a really interesting exercise. Think of a photographer that annoys you when you look at their work. You have to pretend that your work is that person’s work and play devil’s advocate on everything possible. It’s like putting yourself through a gauntlet and testing yourself. It helps me a lot. A lot of times stepping away is another thing that helps.
LP: Taking a few days to think about it?
ET: Or weeks or months, it depends on your deadline. For Tangentially I started creating folders of work. I have my archive, every photo I’ve ever shot at my fingertips (in theory that is). I can dig through and create ‘book folders’ – this is what I do for fun. A lot of times at the end of the day, I’ll just start a new layout, create an InDesign layout and start messing around like, ‘here’s an idea for a book’. And so Tangentially is something that I had been toying around with for a year and a half before it became something more serious.
Every night I’d spend some time looking at the photos. I would just look at it, add something to it, take something out, then have a new epiphany and bring a bunch of new photos in. The sequencing goes for a long time. You find connections between photos from different decades.
LP: Is it the same thing with exhibitions? Or do you ever work with curators from the gallery? Is it always up to you what’s on the wall and how it’s printed?
ET: That goes both ways, I do so many different things that I appreciate someone restricting me a little bit, or giving me some parameters. If a person says, ‘here’s the space, do whatever you want’ I have a tendency to go megalomaniac-style and I can’t control myself. Even that little show at the HUCK gallery was an example of that, I think, ‘OK, I have this much space, I’m just going to fill it with over a hundred photos’. The concept for that show was, ’I have tons of prints sitting around, I’m just going to go through all these boxes and find prints that work’. I taped off the space on the floor that I was working with and just made a big collage of prints, took some photos of it and used them as a map when I got to London.
I’m doing a show in May at Nils Stark gallery in Copenhagen. Nils visited the studio early this year and said ‘I want you to do a photography show specifically’. It’s funny that one of my galleries considers me as more of a photographer than a painter. I think my LA gallery considers me more of a painter than a photographer. So it’s really kind of a weird landscape to navigate sometimes, when you do so many things, how do people see you?
So he said, ‘I want you to do a photo show and I want you to not do your usual installation where it’s like a million images, I want you to do a very straight, clean photo show. Can you do that?’ That’s actually a challenge for me in a lot of ways, to come up with a small edit, and just have it be in a straight line. But I like having some direction for exhibitions. Gallerists are collaborators when you make an exhibition in their space, it’s a conversation between you and them and the audience.
LP: What to do you do to stay motivated? You shoot a lot in your hometown, do you do it as a practice or because you’re excited every day to take pictures? I think a lot of photographers find it really difficult to shoot where they’re from. I mean you travel a lot so it might be different, but for example, I personally don’t feel that motivated in London. I feel much more motivated when I’m traveling.
ED: I sometimes wonder about that. We get so excited to visit and shoot in London or Tokyo but I wonder if we lived there would the romance be the same for shooting?
Deanna was born in Huntington Beach and I was born in Southern California. And I think we both would have left had not circumstances with skateboarding kept us here. We do get to travel a lot and we have realised over time that the place that we grew up in, that we took for granted was in fact, a paradise. And the suburbia we live in is kind of fucked up when you compare them to the rest of the world. So the practice of shooting here in our hometown so religiously came from that realisation and the desire to document it.
After seeing societies in Europe and how cities are built and planned, they’re so much older than our 60 year old suburbia. The sprawl that we live in here is this weird offshoot of Los Angeles that was created in the 50s and 60s because of ‘white flight’. When segregation ended, black people were able to move into the cities and neighbourhoods, that scared all these white people out to create this ‘Valhalla’, a suburbia without black people. So I’m sitting here as a product of this weird white flight, I’m a child of my grandparents who basically moved here, probably because they were like, ‘let’s get out of this inner city that’s getting a lot more colourful’, you know? So it’s a really weird situation. That’s one reason I shoot here, but also I just like to shoot. It’s a daily practice. Like I said, my whole life is one big photo project. Every time I leave the house I’m thinking of what I can shoot?
LP: How do you work commercially? You’ve done some fashion and some other bits like that, right?
ED: I’ve been super-fortunate to not need to do commercial work. I have a “day job” with my skateboard company, Toy Machine, that keeps me busy and pays the bills. So for me, commercial work has been something I approached if the money is good and if it doesn’t conflict with any of my moral principles. The ones I started taking early on where only if it was something or someone interesting. So I would get a call like, “hey, do you want to shoot Justin Bieber?’ And I’d be like, ‘fuck that guy.’ No”.
But then I’d get a call, like, “Hey, do you want to shoot Raymond Pettibon for this magazine?” and I’d be like, “Yeah, that’s awesome! I want to shoot him for sure.” So I would do jobs only if it’s someone I liked.
I just have no desire to shoot Justin Bieber or Paris Hilton, and I even turned down shooting Johnny Rotten until Deanna was like ‘What are you fucking psycho? You should shoot that’. I was like ‘okay, you’re right, I’ll take that job’.
I have a woman, Sofie Howard, who works as an agent for me, but I think she sorta hates me, because I turn down 90% of the work that she brings me. So she’s been getting me jobs now where basically they bring the whole operation here to Huntington Beach and it’s been amazing, because I just wake up and shoot, I don’t have to drive to LA, they have it all set up and I just shoot a weird fashion thing right here on the streets and the beach in my hometown.
But then there’s the other side of that where morals get in the away. I was offered a major gig with a high-end fashion brand for shit-loads of money, it was almost sacrilege to turn it down.
I started researching them first. They had stopped doing fur, like every brand has, not out of compassion but because it’s a liability now and it’s cheaper to actually get fake fur. Outside of that they still use all these very exotic animals, snakes, alligator, kangaroo. They had just opened their own snake farm so they can breed their own snakes. They have to specifically peel the skin off of them while they’re alive to get it off properly. All for some fancy boots or a wallet, it’s just insanity. I had to turn it down because I just didn’t want to have it on my conscious. Maybe if they change their situation I’d be down to work for them.
I didn’t need the money to survive, I mean I even feel weird talking about it because there are people out there who might read this and be like “Well la-dee-fucking-da. You’re able to turn down all this money based on morals.”But the thing is the more I thought about it, the more uneasy I felt about it, it made me realise I didn’t want to do it. I wanted to walk the walk and I had the ability to do that. I’m a known person, I’ve been a pro skateboarder for so long and I’ve had some minor success in the art world. To me, doing that job ends up being an endorsement, it’d be one thing if maybe it was just a silent, anonymous photographer shooting their stuff and not getting credited. But I’m ‘Ed Templeton’ the outspoken vegan doing that and it ends up being an endorsement no matter what, and I didn’t want to lend my name to that work.
LP: yeah I totally understand that. Thanks so much for your time Ed!