Ed Templeton has a new book out. It’s called ‘Wayward Cognitions’ and it contains a selection of work carefully curated from his extensive, spiderweb-wreathed image archive. Ed doesn’t have Skype, so we rang him up on a real telephone and asked some questions about the new book, death, and Skype sex.
Hi Ed. How are you?
I’m feeling OK. The overbearing fear that I’m 42 and there’s not enough time left in my life to do what I want to do is pretty low today. I’m happy and a bit stressed, but that’s been my general state for most of my life. I think everyone I know is in that state too, so probably everybody is constantly stressed. That’s what happens when the gadgets invented to make our lives easier in fact allow us to pile more things onto our plate. I’m fine.
Your new book, Wayward Cognitions, must have been a bitch to put together. How long did it take to choose what you wanted to go in it, and how did you make those choices?
It wasn’t too bad of a bitch. The pain in the ass part was combing through the parts of my archive that aren’t digitally archived. But I didn’t have to comb too hard because I quickly filled the general page count I was shooting for, and after that it was just a matter of arrangement and sequencing. Some images were pushed out and others needed to be found and put in. It would have been nice and leisurely if Thomas Campbell the owner of Um Yeah Arts hadn’t submitted to the book to the distributor, DAP. Suddenly a deadline was placed on me, and I had to kick it into high gear. My June and July of 2014 was spent printing everything for the book, then scanning it and cleaning it, and laying it out. Soul crushing hours clicking away until your wrist is buzzing. I had been looking and playing with ideas for most of 2014, but the deadline really made me decide finally whet was in or out, because I barely had time to get all the practical work done before the deadline. As far as choosing went, I had a very loose idea of what I wanted, in my head I was looking for “weird” photos that were total misfits as to what I do with them. It would have probably have been a lot stranger if I stuck to that 100%, but I ended up putting some more conventional street photos in as well as the story I was telling developed.
Did you run out of room? Like, was there stuff you really wanted in, but you ran out of pages?
Oh yeah. You can tell by Toy Machine ads, or my exhibitions, I don’t know how to stop. I’ll just keep adding images and suddenly we have a 350-page tome that no people want to buy because it costs 90 bucks. So because I hate really overly big books I limited myself to a manageable size. I filled it very quickly. I wouldn’t say there was something I “wanted” in and couldn’t, it was just that there is too much to choose from. When there is no theme or time limit or anything restricting what you can put in it opens up your entire archive. So having enough was not a problem. I always do something I call “the harsh edit” after I get to a point where I think I might be done. I approach the images as if I hated myself; I take the stance of a critic who is just looking for anything to jump on. I end up taking even more images out when I put it through that ringer. I think it helps to look at your work from different perspectives and treat it like you might someone you’re jealous of.
Do you think other people see what you see when they look at one of your pictures?
That’s the million-dollar question! I think as the photographer you have to trust that people will see what you saw and feel the way you do about an image. If you start catering your work to your audience or what you think your audience would like you take the risk of self-censoring, or dumbing down your work to appeal to everyone. I go into it assuming that everyone has consumed as much photography history as me, and will get the references, and understand the social signals being used and shown in the choices I make. You have to deal with the misunderstandings. It’s those misunderstandings that help educate the people who want to really understand why I did what I did. I think of this in terms of Instagram a lot lately. There’s a lot of my followers who cannot fathom why I go around shooting photos of “random people” or I’m called a “creep.” I get so frustrated, but then I realize that out of 114,000 people how many will be familiar with the history of street photography? How many will have seen the work of Garry Winogrand or Henri Cartier-Bresson? I’m not on those guy’s level, but the spirit of street photography in which they worked is how I work too. Those guys made a living walking the streets shooting random people and museums are filled with their work. So I need to understand that I’m putting up work, however fleeting (stupid iPhone shots of life on the pier in HB) that has a foundation in a tradition that goes back to the 30’s and 40’s. Walker Evans was secretly shooting people on the subways of NYC with a camera hidden in his coat. But I can’t expect a general audience to understand why those photos might be interesting. So I don’t know what people see, I just hope they approach each image with an open mind.
Do you have a favorite photo that you took?
No. I might be able to choose a few favorites from each specific theme or series in my head, but not one image overall. I don’t even shoot in a way where I’m striving for that perfect image. I shoot in much smaller increments. I hope that each photo has captured a mood or feeling, but I don’t have that one image with everything perfect that can encapsulate who I am as a photographer. So I suppose I waffle on that question, Sorry.
What’s your all-time favorite photo taken by someone else?
It changes over time I think. I tried to think of the first image that popped into my head when I heard that question. My mind was blank. But then an image of Larry Clark’s came to me, its a B&W photo of a man laying on a bed holding a baby in his arms and taking a drag from a cigarette. The light is amazing on the folds of the sheets and pillow, and a shadow cloaks the mans’ eyes completely, but the baby looks right into the camera. Compositionally, it’s a perfect photo, and the gravity on the face of the man, and the fact he’s smoking near a baby make this an all-time great image to me.
Is legacy important to you? The obvious answer is ‘I won’t care when I’m dead,’ but do you care if people are still interested in your work after you die?
It would be nice. We all want to make a difference with the work we do and have all the crap we leave behind mean something to someone. If you pour your mind and your efforts into something of course you hope that it is valued both when you are alive or after. I don’t have children, so the artwork I leave behind will be my only legacy. Caring though, like you said you can’t care when you’re dead. That’s like old white racist people who don’t want to be buried next to black people as if the property value of the earth they are buried in will go down even when they are literally unable to be affected by it. It’s ludicrous to worry about it. I think books are a good legacy. However many escape future landfills may be handed down through generations. But I bet all of them will be recycled over the next 100 years.
If you could own any piece of art in the world–painting, sculpture, whatever–what would it be?
The Beethoven Frieze by Gustav Klimt.
For the nerds: what do you primarily shoot with these days?
I use a Leica M6 with a 50mm lens. No filters or frills. I use Kodak Tri-X B&W film, and Kodak Portra when I shoot color film. I sometimes use a Fuji GF670 medium format rangefinder camera, but not that often.
Last question: you don’t have Skype. How do you have Skype-sex?
The last time I engaged in long distance sex it was over an old-fashioned telephone line with graphic descriptions about what we both were doing to each other. No visuals needed. We used to have to commit things to memory you know? Never underestimate the spank-bank capacity of people who grew up without the Internet.