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Book Review: Wayward Cognitions


Book Review Wayward Cognitions By Ed Templeton Reviewed by Blake Andrews I'd made it about halfway through Ed Templeton's new book Wayward Cognitions before an unwelcome question entered my mind: Would I care about these photos if they were by someone other than Ed Templeton?

Wayward Cognitions. By Ed Templeton.
Um Yeah Press, 2014.
 
Wayward Cognitions
Reviewed by Blake Andrews

Wayward Cognitions 
Photographs by Ed Templeton
Um Yeah Press, 2014. 160 pp., illustrated throughout, 8x10".


I'd made it about halfway through Ed Templeton's new book Wayward Cognitions before an unwelcome question entered my mind: Would I care about these photos if they were by someone other than Ed Templeton?

This is a thought experiment I play sometimes with photobooks and the results vary. Some books hold up well as collections of photos regardless of who shot them. Others lean more heavily on the author for meaning. The duality is roughly analogous to Szarkowski's Windows and Mirrors. All approaches are valid and there is no right or wrong way, but Ed Templeton's bread and butter until now has been the Mirror category. He's published thirteen books leading up to Wayward Cognitions and to varying degrees they've all been autobiographical. Yes, they have documented the outer world, but make no mistake, it's been Ed Templeton's world. Each book to date has been theme based, filling in a small slice of the Templeton identity puzzle. The more diaristic ones, such as Deformer and Cemetery of Reason, straddle a line between photography, intimate memoir, and unbridled creativity that is electrifying. They're a view into Ed Templeton's skate/art/punk universe and no one else's.

Wayward Cognitions. By Ed Templeton. Um Yeah Press, 2014.

If we judge Wayward Cognitions by the same standard, it doesn't hold up very well. This book tells me very little about Ed Templeton. Instead the focus is outward. "It's about looking, people watching, finding pleasure in the visual vignettes we glimpse each day," explains Templeton. Gone are his painted effects, whimsical scrapbook style layouts, his odd captions, his boundary-busting invasive voyeurism. In their place are found urban moments: A cat on a curb, a bar reflection, prone figures in public, etc. Templeton's casual editing tone remains, plus a few suggestive photos of Deanna — his signature motif. Beyond that, what remains is a patchwork collection of monochrome street photos. There are some good ones here to be sure, but not enough to carry the weight of the book.

Wayward Cognitions. By Ed Templeton. Um Yeah Press, 2014.

If Wayward Cognitions feels like an assortment of B-sides and outtakes, that's by design. Templeton says the title is a poetic expression for "stray thoughts," and that phrase gives a good sense of the edit, which Templeton controlled, along with sequence and layout. The pages flow quite nicely and without pretense, dancing around like prints tacked to a wall. The basic theme is grab-bag. It's "a new selection solely by the intuitive eye of the artist-photographer," according to the Stijn Huijts in the afterward. I enjoy it when artists stretch into new areas, something Templeton is clearly reaching for here. But in expanding the territory, Templeton — one of the strongest visual voices in photography — seems to have left his core behind.

Wayward Cognitions. By Ed Templeton. Um Yeah Press, 2014.

Part of that core has always been candid photography, and that's true here. "Nothing is staged," states Huijts. "Nobody has posed for the photographer." Fine, but if we've reached the point that those claims are distinctive, then photography is in worse shape than I thought. Unstaged and unposed may be necessary to achieve certain artistic goals, but they're not sufficient. Unless such images can stand on their own they'd better add up to something to justify being in a book.

Wayward Cognitions. By Ed Templeton. Um Yeah Press, 2014.

Huijts throws the burden of meaning into the viewer's lap: "Setting to work with no preconceived plan has not detracted from the fact that his compilation provides enough material to be able to speculate on possible contextual themes and motifs contained in the images." In other words, here are some random shots, maybe they add up to something, interpretation is up to you.

Wayward Cognitions. By Ed Templeton. Um Yeah Press, 2014.

Perhaps Templeton has earned the right to do that. He has a proven track record and still retains one of the strongest visual voices in photography. If he wants to publish a few stray thoughts that's his prerogative. But would I care about them if they weren't by Ed Templeton? I'm not so sure.—BLAKE ANDREWS

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BLAKE ANDREWS is a photographer based in Eugene, OR. He writes about photography at blakeandrews.blogspot.com.

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