All photos courtesy of Ed Templeton, except where noted.
Ed Templeton is an undeniable photo icon, but first he was just a kid from Huntington Beach who really loved skateboarding. Though he’s since been exhibited as a renowned photographer in galleries across the world, Ed will forever be a skateboarding legend — as a former professional skater, founder of the iconic skate brand Toy Machine and as skate culture’s most beloved documenter and ambassador. This isn’t to say Ed’s art is limited to skating, however. Prolific beyond description not only as a film photographer — from countless books and zines documenting youth, sex and society to commercial work for T Magazine and Dazed & Confused — but as a painter, sculptor, gallery curator and skate graphic designer, Ed is truly in a league of his own. Still, though, Ed is just a dude living in Huntington Beach with his wife Deanna (also an incredible artist in her own right), walking the pier everyday and snapping photos of daily life which he posts to his rabid following of over 160,000 followers on Instagram, usually with the hashtag #DailyHBpierPhoto.
No longer skating — he had a gnarly accident in 2012 that broke his leg — Ed is nonetheless incredibly active, shooting daily while working with Deanna, running Toy Machine and continuing to bridge the art and skate worlds for over 25 years and running. Ed took some time to talk with Not Mad about Instagram and debating with his followers, his evolving relationship with skateboarding, his lack of desire to ever use drugs or alcohol and inspiring a younger generation of artists and skaters.
I stay up on your Instagram all the time and I love it, especially your daily Huntington Beach photos. Your profile doesn’t feel like that of a major, aloof photographer but rather someone roaming around his hometown exploring people and moments… how does Instagram enable you as an artist? What is it about Instagram that draws you to it?
I held out super long on even having a cellphone. I was by far the last of all of my friends, and I didn’t have Facebook or obviously Instagram or anything, I didn’t even have a phone. I’d go on skate missions with the guys, be following them in the car and lose them. I used to carry a print out with super micro-type on it all my phone numbers and it was folded up in my pocket at all times. Because I’d go to payphones and call people. Payphones…people started ripping them open for their copper and stuff and there’s less and less payphones everywhere and so you know, once I lost these guys if I couldn’t find a payphone I would just have to drive home.
That doesn’t happen anymore because everyone has cellphones… part of it was that, and I held out pretty long, so what I think happened was once I discovered Instagram, or social media in general, I kinda went all in, head over heels into it. Probably more than I should have. And at first, I got kicked off of Instagram two times for posting…nudity. Laughs. Stuff like that. And then I finally figured it out. I guess the same things I like about it are the same things that everyone likes about it — you get that immediate crowd response to whatever you put out there, the likes and the comments and that’s kind of fun stuff….
You know, I’m strictly analog, I use film for all my art shows, so for me Instagram is a fun side project. Nothing I put on Instagram for the most part is something I would use in a show, sometimes I post my film photos on there but anything I shoot from an iPhone, that’s the end game. It’s just going to exist on Instagram only, which freaked me out because there’s a big worry about photographers saying ‘don’t put your stuff on Instagram because they own it.’ So I kinda went into thinking, ‘I’m just gonna shoot stuff I obviously don’t care about for an art show or for a book,’ it’s just strictly for Instagram. And it’s become an extension of the photography in a way.
I get that feeling looking at your profile.
Yeah, so when I walk on the pier I’m shooting film, Instagram’s an afterthought. Like I’m not really that serious about it, in a lot of ways. Most of the time when I see something cool I’m shooting film and then if it keeps happening or if it’s a mellow situation I’ll shoot it on Instagram for fun too. I walk around there now and it’s like ‘hey the Instagram guy what’s up!’ which is kind of blowing up the spot, kind of killing it.
Right. But in a way it’s kind of become another way for you to connect with people without even intending to initially.
Yeah it’s an awesome connection, it’s really great on that level where, you know, I’ve had people say they almost follow me only just for the news; I get comments from people who used to live in Huntington who had to move away who love seeing a little glimpse of HB all the time, what’s happening…[me and Deanna] go down there almost every day just to get out of the house and it becomes almost a dependable news source.
It kind of took on a life of its own in that way.
It’s a playful thing. I wasn’t trying to design anything to gain followers or stuff like that because my Instagram is a lot of other stuff too. I run a skate company, so I’m putting skate stuff on, I’m putting art fliers for art shows, or zines or something, so the HB stuff is just a percentage of it. It was just about creating the hashtags, I thought, ‘you’re spending the time making this stuff and it’d be cool if you could create a hashtag that’s a little unique’ because a lot of people do these hashtags like ‘photography’ and there’s a billion people hashtagging the word photography and I wanted to make something more specific, so #DailyHBpierPhoto is something that only I would do, which other people have started using which is cool, too. It’s almost become its own community. Using #EdsPhotoArchive or #HBpierPelican or…at one point I was doing #SkateboardingGirls but I felt like that was kind of an othering and I didn’t want to do that so I stopped that.
Still though, I guess what you’re kind of saying is that you’re still exploring, still innovating on the go.
Yeah, there’s this idea that you have this voice that as soon as you post something you can echo it out a ton of people and get feedback and have debates. If you follow me you’ve probably seen some of the debates. People will think I’m a creep for shooting someone in a bikini or there’s a homeless guy and it brings up the whole, ‘is it cool to shoot homeless people or not’ issue. I try to approach it super objectively, I only put up stuff that I can defend. I make sure that if I click post I’d better be able to defend this because someone is gonna get mad at some point and I want to be able to put out why I’m doing it. That’s why I don’t put up stuff like ‘hey, look at this asshole everyone!’ I don’t ridicule people, I’m just trying to be an objective photographer. I’m shooting what I see, that’s the good stuff and the bad stuff; it could be a beautiful pelican one day but the truth is that there’s a homeless population that lives down there too so I don’t want to shy away from that.
Well that’s what I was going to ask — do you feel that with your other art, you have the same hyper awareness of ‘okay, if I’m putting this in a show, I have to be able to defend it?’ Do you feel like the responsibility of social media is that yeah, you are more responsible for your art and what you create?
I don’t think about it for painting that much. I mean, I’m not painting that much stuff that’s indefensible anyway but yeah it’s definitely not the same type of form. When you put a painting in a show there’s nothing like the commentary you get from posting something on Instagram… It’s mainly just a social media thing. I came from before computers, so I’ve watched this happen, whereas someone from your generation, you pretty much had computers from day one. So I remember a time before the internet, which is kind of insane, and I’ve watched the evolution, and I kind of understand the seriousness of what happens…sometimes kids don’t really realize that if you hit send….whatever, it’s gone. It’s out of your control. Everyone is screenshotting it or saving it or it’s miles away on some server somewhere. So yeah I’m pretty careful with comments…I try to be super evenhanded.
Right, because you do interact with the people commenting.
Oh totally, I love interacting, if people have questions I like answering them, if people debate in a respectful way I like debating them. But I’m also really quick to block people. This isn’t a free speech zone, this is my Instagram, I don’t care, I don’t want to hear it. If you’re taking the time to just say something is lame…it’s different if you’re like, ‘hey, I have a problem with this and this is why’ then I’m like ‘oh, let’s talk about that.’ That’s awesome, that’s interesting. But if you’re saying ‘hey you’re a fat idiot,’ that’s the guy I don’t want, I don’t ever want to talk to you on social media again or give you a voice on this stage. It’s like a crank caller situation. If someone is just coming to talk shit, basically trolling, there’s not really a space for it because I just klosh it immediately. I don’t know if that’s the right way to do it but that’s how I do it.
No, I mean, I think it’s a rare opportunity to curate your own personal space in a world that doesn’t really provide for that.
Obviously skateboarding is a huge part of your life, if not the most important part. Has your experience with skateboarding — as a skater and documenter of it — changed as you’ve gotten older? What is it about skate culture specifically that attracts you so much?
Yeah, I think it’s changed, it’s like anything, everything evolves as you go. Even the idea of shooting for me, photography in general, all kind of came from wanting to shoot skate culture specifically. Back in ‘94 I realized, ‘oh man, look at the life I get to live as a pro skater,’ I had already been doing it for four years and wasn’t shooting for those first four years in a serious way. But then, of course, immediately that evolved. The impetus was ‘I’m going to shoot skate culture’ and then of course as soon as you have a camera on your shoulder all the time you start shooting everything, and that evolved into being a photographer of everything, not just skate culture. You know, my own relationship, street photography, whatever. And then, also over the years, the people I’ve been surrounded by have changed. In the early days everyone was in one van, and hotboxing the van, and getting drunk in the van, and things evolved to where it was like, okay, half the people don’t want to smoke, and so now there’s two vans, like the stoner van and the non-stoner van. Laughs. You know, little things like that. As the landscape changed, our touring schedule changed, everything evolved.
To go back to what you were saying about changing, how some people got sober and some didn’t, I heard in another interview of yours that you are sober and were sober during a lot of these earlier escapades…are you still sober? Mostly?
I was never a straight-edge kid, but essentially I was straight edge, I just didn’t want to subscribe to a group, because a lot of those straight-edge groups in the early days were just as bad…
Yeah, pretty gnarly.
Yeah, like beating up people for drinking, and I didn’t want to be associated with that. I just personally didn’t do any drugs or drink really, and even now it’s like I don’t drink or do anything but I mean I take Advil, a glass of wine here and there…I’m not strict, I never had x’s on my hands. But for the most part, yeah, I don’t really do anything. I don’t smoke, I never did acid or tired shrooms or anything even.
That’s awesome. It’s just rare to hear that, you know, from somebody who is in your line of work, with your background.
Yeah I don’t know what it stems from. I think I can kind of trace it back to having two parents that were kind of getting wasted and stoned, and seeing them and their friends and being so scared, having them passed out when you’re little and you don’t know how to wake them up and your brother is freaking out and crying…I think there were some moments where I was like, ‘I don’t ever want to do this,’ as a kid. And then when I got into my teenage years my friends were doing it and it just…it just kept with me. Part of it was a fortunate situation; the friends I had peer pressured a little bit but it wasn’t a deal breaker, it wasn’t like ‘we don’t wanna hang out with you if you don’t get wasted with us.’ They were pretty much okay with me [not doing it].
So yeah, it was luck, and part of it was fear, I was kind of a wuss, I was scared to smoke, I didn’t know what would happen. Lots of factors.
Well I think it’s dope.
Over time I just looked at it…through skateboarding, I was like, ‘I can be a role model in some way, I could be the flip side of the coin’ because I feel like skateboarding has a bad image with parents and stuff. So it was like, ‘here’s one guy who’s probably more on the nerd side who is also a pro skater…’ yeah, I don’t really know. But the act of doing that was photography because I always felt like an outsider. I’m a participant as far as I’m there, I’m driving the van, I’m in the hotel rooms, at these parties and things, but I’m not really in it. I’m not letting my inhibitions down through alcohol, so I always have my wits around me and I would just see it for what it was. And because of that I felt like I was an outsider and therefore I was documenting it. I always felt like the adult in the room at all times, even though I was around people my same age.
Yeah, wow. I’m just finishing up college and everyone is getting fucked up all the time and on those rare nights when you’re sober and everyone else isn’t…it’s humbling kind of, really shocking. It makes you not want to do anything ever again.
It’s a touchy thing because I’ve never wanted to use it as as like a holier-than-thou situation. It’s just that I personally don’t want to do this and like I said I was around all that, never judged anybody, it was just a personal thing…I don’t want to lose control…I just watched so many stupid things happen because of it and almost no good things happen because of it. The other part of it is that I guess some people have that need to lower their inhibitions to do stuff and I never had that. If people got drunk and were like, ‘let’s get naked and go skinny dipping!’ I was able to do that without being drunk…I guess I was able to fly the freak flag without the drugs.
Totally. I know you look up to certain photographers, and I was wondering, do you feel like you have a connection with a younger group of photographers and skaters, who maybe look up to you as an icon? Do you see yourself serving as a mentor of sorts for an up-and-coming generation who grew up looking at your work?
Yeah, I hope so. I hope I do, I think I do…that’s been a great thing. I think, through skateboarding for sure, having that platform…because in one way I had notoriety from [skateboarding], I had success in the skateboard world from 1990, you know? So for the last 20, 30 years, I’ve been this public figure in skateboarding, and all the kids that followed me when I was 18, and they were 18, they grew up and kept following me, kept wondering what I was doing. Just like I do with all the old guys.
It’s kind of interesting to have been around for so long because then you get to hear it and you get to see it…I run into old guys who are like ‘oh man, I was there in 1990 when you did this contest’ or something but then I run into kids who grew up watching “Welcome to Hell” and these videos we put out. So I’m already like 25, 28 doing these videos and they’re 14, so there’s a whole younger generation who knew me from that and then have watched me. This is the benefit of social media, that I get to hear it; I get a lot of kids saying, ‘I started shooting photos because of you’ or ‘I tried being vegan because of you’ or ‘I got into art because of you.’ That’s amazing to hear, it’s a humbling experience, it’s awesome. So I think that there’s definitely a connection. I love to mentor young people, I’ve always been a share-the-wealth type of guy instead of hoarding the wealth.
Here, locally, there’s this art center downtown and I went to meet with the lady and they said, ‘we want to give you this big solo show here’ and I looked at the space and was like ‘this is so huge.’ I want to show local photographers, I want to take this room that I can’t even fill because it’s such a big space — let’s give this room to five local photographers who shoot Huntington Beach and let them have a forum. I love doing stuff like that. Any chance I get to hook up a young photographer or people who are just starting out — because I know how much that one break really, really helps. I feel like I had those breaks of skateboarding and stuff, people who ran galleries would be like, ‘oh, we know you from skating, Ed Templeton, yeah let’s give you a show.’ Which is a huge favor, you know.
Yeah. You already had your foot in the door.
Yeah, so I want to spread as many breaks as I can to as many people. I want to pay that forward, or whatever that’s called. Spread the love back down if I can.
Jackson Howard is the co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of Not Mad. He spent three hours in bed last weekend watching hip-hop music videos from the mid-2000’s.