Damiani, Bologna, 2008. Hardbound. 175pp., 150 four-color and black and white illustrations. 10½x13¾".
Deformer Photographs by Ed Templeton published by Damiani, 2008
I first came to know of Ed Templeton sometime around 1990, when he began
appearing in national skateboarding magazines as an up and coming young pro. Like
Templeton, I was a teenager who had immersed myself in skateboarding and
photography as means of self-expression, discovery, and escape from the trials of
suburban American adolescence. Much like photography, skateboarding thrives on its
ability to use the detritus of the modern world as raw material for individual expression.
For many of us, skateboarding was not an activity separate from the rest of life, but rather
a kind of athletic manifestation of a particular worldview in which individuality,
creativity and freedom from prescribed limits were top priorities. Templeton works very
much within this vein in Deformer, presenting a seamlessly integrated view of his
photography and his life.
Set up in scrapbook style, Deformer combines Templeton's photographic work
from the past decade with pages from his sketchbook journal and artifacts from his
childhood—snapshots, letters, report cards, written memories. Divided into two sections,
the book first sketches out the details of Templeton's less than ideal childhood, then dives
into his encounters with the larger world. Themes of damaged lives, the loss of innocence
and the failure of institutional authority run through both sections. Letters from
Templeton's grandparents offer a glimpse of a moral compass, but the photographs,
which show a darker and more complex reality, undermine their clear-cut views on
religious and patriotic virtue. Sex, children with adult vices, the homeless and
handicapped abound, often juxtaposed with images of crosses or American flags.
Deformer, photographs by Ed Templeton, published by Damiani, 2008.
The photographs have a rough, casual aesthetic and make no claims of containing
the world within their frames. Working outside of the "decisive moment" tradition of
street or documentary photography, which strives towards distillation and self-containment, Templeton makes photographs that are, much like the letters and snapshots
in the book, fragments which acquire their meaning only in the context of his life
experiences. In looking at the world, he is really examining himself. A disturbing
sequence showing two children making out reflects back on pictures of Templeton's long
time partner, Deanna, after their first sexual encounter as teens, the sweetness of latter
countered by the depravity of the former. Deanna's presence throughout Deformer often
brings a warmth and light otherwise all but missing from the book. However, even this is
complicated by vestiges of a dark past in the form of her teenage suicide letter. Deformer
reveals a world where everyone has been wounded, where our shadows are long and
fixed in place.
Aaron Rothman is an artist, photographer and occasional writer. He teaches photography at Arizona State University and has been a contributing writer at Photo-Eye since 2004. He lives in Phoenix, Arizona with his wife and daughter.