Ed Templeton’s “Wires Crossed”

July 26, 2023 | Miss Rosen

Mike Maldonado, Iowa, 1998; from Ed Templeton: Wires Crossed (Aperture, 2023). © 2023 Ed Templeton

The year was 1990 and SoCal skater Ed Templeton went pro, ushering in a new era of sport, art, and business that could only emerge from the underground. Just 18 years old, Templeton stood at the vanguard, winning the first of his two World Skateboarding Championships before launching his own skateboard brand, Toy Machine, in 1993. But Templeton had more than a mind for business; he was the rare artist-athlete who began chronicling the explosive underground skate scene from the inside looking out.

Over the next two decades, Templeton documented life on the road amid a tight group of friends blessed with an inimitable blend of raw, gritty glamor that fueled their creativity. Now Templeton looks back at the era in Wires Crossed, a new book and exhibition that brings together never-before-seen photographs with contemporaneous journal entries and hand drawn maps of the tours to create a richly layered visual memoir.

But wait — there’s more. Templeton also invited skaters Elissa Steamer, Erik Ellington, Brian Anderson, Justin Regan, and wife Deanna Templeton for a series of conversations at the end of the book that look back on the era, providing perspectives that add depth, nuance, and context to the photographs. “There’s a lot of toxic masculinity in the book so you need Deanna’s voice, the wife of a pro skater who lived through it all,” he says. “And Brian Anderson, who was closeted at the time, and is probably the most well known gay pro skater now. It’s not just my voice.”

That level of awareness speaks to the community itself, one born on the margins of mainstream culture during the Reagan years. Amid the campy pageantry of ’80s life, punk struck a chord among disaffected youth. As a self-taught artist, athlete, and entrepreneur, Templeton embraced the DIY ethos of punk from a young age while growing up in Huntington Beach, California. “Skateboarding was completely do it yourself; you’re out in the streets, looking at the environment, and inventing stuff,” he says. “It felt like an outlaw thing, because businesses and property owners didn’t want us to skate. So there was constant conflict.”

The “us against the world” mindset defined Gen X, and helped spurn a revolution in independent media. “A lot of the influences came from people that I was surrounded by who were doing creative things like zines,” says Templeton, who traces a direct line to legendary zine maker Gary Scott Davis, who self published Skate Fate while simultaneously working as graphic designer for Transworld Skate, where he did the artwork for Templeton’s first magazine cover in 1990.

As the analogue era came to an end, advancements in technology made print media more accessible to make and affordable to produce with zines quickly becoming the medium of choice throughout the underground. Blending the punk aesthetics of Jamie Reid and Linder Sterling with the Dada sensibilities of Marcel Duchamp, with a splash of turn of the millennium insouciance, zines prefigured social media’s obsession with memes, themes, and identities — while bestowing on the beholder a singular object of art in the age of mechanical reproduction. “At the very beginning, we would like make a photo zine set and give it to our friends. There was no money involved,” Templeton remembers. “I don’t even know why we did it. It was just a cool thing to make a zine and pass it out to people. I was influenced by the Discord Records style of keeping things low-fi and making them accessible. We even conducted some of our skate demos as if they were like a Fugazi concert. We didn’t charge for a demo. Instead you had to bring a can of food and we’d donate it to a local food bank — do something that was community based.”

Along the way, Templeton began collecting books by Larry Clark, Nan Goldin, and Jim Goldberg — artists who reimagined the photo diary as a cinematic expose inside a rarified world few had ever seen. As insiders moving among underground scenes, a new generation of photographers expanded the boundaries of the medium to include both artists and communities outside the narrow confines of the establishment.

The year was 1994, and Templeton was 22. As he paged through their books, he knew what he needed to do. “It was like, shoot your friends,” he says. “And then it hit me. Look at the friends I’m surrounded by. Look what I get to do. I’m in a rarified position. I would be skateboarding regardless of getting paid or not, but I am getting paid and traveling the world to skate. And then it hit me. I had wasted four years if my life as a pro because it dawned on me what I could have been documenting. From that point on, I took it very seriously.”

From the beginning, Templeton approached photography as an author knowing this would be a book, though how the story would be told had yet to reveal itself. Life had to be lived first. “I had no idea when I started I would end up having this super long career and didn’t retire until 2012,” he says. “I was shooting continuously this whole time and never knew when to end it.”

For Wires Crossed, Templeton delved into his archives, revisiting his collection of sketchbooks where he kept maps and daily notes from life on tour, recording the basic details of date, place, and noteworthy detail. As he paged through the journals, Templeton discovered notes he kept about the photos themselves, and began unearthing long forgotten stories from his days on the road, which he scanned and added to the book, bringing the ‘90s zine aesthetic to new heights. “At the beginning, I was shooting pretty obsessively, but really had no concept of where they would end up. I just knew I wanted to do it,” he says. “I had the camera all the time, so all my friends on the tour were aware that I had it, but they also forgot about it because it was ubiquitous at that point. We’d have someone from one of the skate magazines with us too, but it was different when I shot something because it wasn’t seen as a direct pipeline to the public.”

And with that came a level of trust that matched the realness of the moment that forms the heart and soul of Wires Crossed. “I feel thankful that they had the vision to see what it was,” says Templeton. “Erik Ellington and Elissa Steamer were perfect subject because they completely ignored the camera all the time. Erik said something like, ‘Hey, that was my life, then. I’m different now. I understand that’s part of the record and I’m not ashamed of it.’ He was fine with showing photos of him hooking up with girls or him doing drugs. I guess he sees the importance in it. I couldn’t do that without that trust, then and now.” In its essence, photography is the act of seeing and being seen: a space of mutual recognition that demands both respect and care. From the outset Templeton met this responsibility with grace, seeking moments only insiders ever see.

Ed Templeton: Wires Crossed is published by Aperture. The exhibition is on view through September 17, 2023, at Bonnefanten Museum , in Maastricht, The Netherlands.

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