Social Media

Book of the Week: Selected by Brian Arnold

Book Review Wires Crossed Photographs by Ed Templeton Reviewed by Brian Arnold "My first exposure to Ed Templeton was in the great documentary Beautiful Losers, a film that looks at a school of artists in the 1990s that fashioned themselves around the fringes, a sort of DIY collective that grew out of west coast punk, skateboarding and street art..."

Wires Crossed. By Ed Templeton.
Wires Crossed
Photographs by Ed Templeton
Aperture, New York, 2023. 264 pp., 278 images, 8½x11x1¼".

"At worse, one is in motion; and at best,
Reaching no absolute, in which to rest,
One is always nearer by not keeping still." 
 — Thom Gunn, “On the Move ‘Man You Gotta Go”

"We thrive in the wastelands…" 
— Ed Templeton

My first exposure to Ed Templeton was in the great documentary Beautiful Losers, a film that looks at a school of artists in the 1990s that fashioned themselves around the fringes, a sort of DIY collective that grew out of west coast punk, skateboarding and street art. Some of the artists featured include Harmony Korine, Cheryl Dunn, Margaret Kilgallen, Mike Mills and Ed and Deanna Templeton. Templeton isn’t as prominently featured in the movie as some of the others, at least that’s how I remember it, but he does offer an interesting interview. He cast himself as a sort of ethical outlaw, someone on the frontlines in the war against capitalism and institutionalism, but also loyal to his wife, doesn’t do drugs, and practices veganism.

I loved Beautiful Losers but never really investigated the artists included, at least not for several years until writing a review of What She Said, Deanna’s book about her teenage years in Los Angeles. Writing about this book was an important experience for me. I’m the same age as Deanna and grew up seeing west coast punk bands in Denver; the whole iconography and feel of What She Said reflected something back to me important about my own youth. More so, my teenage daughter was the same age as Deanna was in the reproduced diary pages, and I felt a new resonance of empathy with her after seeing Deanna cope with similar kinds of issues.

I then took a deep dive into the Templetons’ work (I recommend the amazing Nazraeli Press book Ed and Deanna did together, Contemporary Suburbium). I became convinced that Ed and Deanna Templeton represented everything we thought Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon did, artists seeking absolute freedom along the margins of society but without the self-destructive tendencies of Kurt Cobain, proving that true societal rebels can have healthy adult relationships.

Ed Templeton’s work interests me on many levels, part personal narrative and part social documentary, an insider among the outsiders, creating works that reveal powerful and unexpected looks at countercultures while also containing moving personal stories. I like to think of Danny Lyons but inspired by Henry Rollins instead of Marlon Brando. His newest book, Wires Crossed published by Aperture, feels both like a visionary artist’s book and a midcareer retrospective. It chronicles the photographer’s life on the road between 1995-2012 as a professional skateboarder, and includes photographs, journal entries, newspaper clippings, drawings, maps and interviews. Collectively they portray a hard-fought life defined by pushing boundaries, traversing America and Europe looking for an intangible, quickly-fleeting freedom found only by skating and life on the road.

Both Beautiful Losers — I love the idea of an ethical outlaw — and What She Said provide clear entry points for Wires Crossed, an image/text diary of Templeton’s life on the fringes of social norms. The book is divided into 11 loosely conceived chapters, each delineated by a map marking a different tour by a group of professional skaters, and each with its own theme (run-ins with the law, sex, Europe, interviews, injuries, etc...). Each of these is composed using a collage of photographs, drawings, newspaper clippings, diary entries and character notes, collectively telling the stories of young renegades looking for absolute freedom:
We felt like outlaws operating outside of the social order, getting away with what we could as we toured across nations searching for skate spots, validation, and cheap thrills. I tried to record what this lifestyle was on film, shooting both the triumphs and disasters, the blood and the boredom, the self-medication, the effects of fame, the lust, and the endless marginal moments. (p.224)
The book uses time beautifully, flowing freely back and forth as he shares his memories. Each chapter opens with a map, marked with tour dates, but that doesn’t necessarily reflect the chronology of the photographs and stories that follow them; maps of America illustrate tours in Europe, and pictures from 2009 are juxtaposed with some from 1999. This in no way distracts from the personal narrative; indeed, it strengthens it because the identity Templeton writes with today is composed of memories of the life he portrays, and memories inherently come in bits and flashes. Perhaps most striking is a chapter on skateboarding injuries he experienced or witnessed. The injuries he shows us are many and severe, including skin-burns from concrete and asphalt and life-altering concussions — we even learn Templeton survived breaking his neck (the pictures of Deanna’s worried face next to his bed in the hospital are really sweet). These stories are physical and harsh, but in context also function metaphorically, reminding us that a true quest for freedom comes with remarkable pain.

The final section or chapter of Wires Crossed opens with a reproduction of a sketchbook Templeton made on the road, bound with a Fugazi poster, and follows with interviews he did with Brian Anderson, Elissa Steamer, Justin Regan, Erik Ellington and Deanna Templeton, a group of artists, skaters, friends and lovers intimately involved with his life and career in skateboarding. Like many, I know Templeton through his photography, but in the skating world he is a big name too, he even founded his own brand, Toy Machine. The interview with Deanna is most interesting to me, as we learn more about the timeline of their relationship and how they weathered his life on the road as well as his traumatic injuries. I do want to say more about Deanna’s involvement with Ed’s work, too. Working with photographic diaries, his partner will obviously be a recurring character, and I find her presence in his photographs to be quite striking. In addition to being a thoughtful and interesting artist herself, she has a strong presence on film, appearing as partner, lover, model and muse. She doesn’t feature as prominently in this book as she does in some of his others (we learn in their interview together that wives and girlfriends weren’t really allowed on the road), but her presence in this book does provide nice moments of sensitivity and love amidst all the grunge.

If you were interested in What She Said, Wires Crossed will be a perfect shelf companion. The similarities are many and it feels like the diaries Ed offers pick up chronologically shortly after Deanna’s leave off. What She Said ends when the couple finished high school; Wires Crossed begins with the couple in their 20s, married and trying to make a go of it as artists. Ed Templeton’s books can be expensive and hard to find, so if you are unfamiliar with his work this book is a great place to start. If you are already a collector of his work, this offers something totally new, working as both a retrospective and an artist’s book.

Purchase Book

Read More Book Reviews

Brian Arnold
is a photographer, writer, and translator based in Ithaca, NY. He has taught and exhibited his work around the world and published books, including A History of Photography in Indonesia, with Oxford University Press, Cornell University, Amsterdam University, and Afterhours Books. Brian is a two-time MacDowell Fellow and in 2014 received a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation/American Institute for Indonesian Studies.