As I wrote in the previous note, it’s a treat for me to receive books. Most any book is good, and photobooks are better. Depending on the giver, photobooks I already have can be as good as ones I don’t. In the process of return and exchange they allow me to browse a real store, in real time, and find a replacement I can handle before I transact and take home. A special pleasure, even for a reviewer.
The book store in St. Paul where with credit from Songbook I acquired Ryan Spencer’s Such Mean Estate (see BotW number 8) was also the source for Wayward Cognitions by Ed Templeton.
This week’s note, prompted by the Templeton acquisition, is about absent history, guilty pleasure, and life’s passage.
Photo-eye’s online catalogue has no listings for Ryan Spencer, but 19 hits for “Templeton.” I thought the handful of books and zines from Ed and his wife Deanna already in my library were sufficient. Encountering and handling this 2014 book, which I’d browsed past on virtual shelves, sold me on adding another episode in la vie Templeton.
For those who don’t know him or his work (the two are fairly inseparable; see ed-templeton.com for a survey of the life), the man is a Californian, an international subculture hero, a skate-boarder, product designer, and visual artist. As a twenty-year-old in the early 1990s he began to exhibit his art. The first three group shows he was in were: The Degenerates, World Tattoo Gallery (Chicago, 1992), 48 Hours in the Hole, Gallery X (Los Angeles, 1993), and Pathetic Masterworks, Alleged Gallery (New York, 1994). An iconoclastic debut, to be sure.
Templeton’s photographic endeavors recall photo-related touchpoints in my life. Those moments, and the encounters Templeton records, remind me of lives I admired, maybe even yearned or lusted for, but never lived.
In my early twenties, just discovering photography and personal freedom, I was smitten with Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand, and other exponents of the American photographic road trip as a rite of passage. One of the two or three books I carried with me through those years was Danny Lyon’s Pictures from the New World (Aperture, 1981). The episodes and the people Lyon recorded, while not a chronicle of a single voyage, reflected a vagabond spirit that fully incorporated photography as an extension of one’s engagement with the world.
Lyon’s whole life seemed to be an endless road trip. (I later encountered Josef Koudelka, Jacob Holdt, and others who elevated Lyon’s itinerancy to a calling, an essential aspect of their art.) I absorbed the grit and texture of those photographs, and longed to ride with a motorcycle gang, protest for civil rights, or be taken into the confidence of working girls, like Lyon did with Mexican prostitutes (or, earlier, E.J. Bellocq did with the ladies of Storyville, New Orleans’ red light district).
My later twenties shifted from wandering to considering the complexity of the place I was. Of course, I was a Midwesterner living in New York City, where Nan Goldin, Peter Hujar, Erika and Elizabeth Lennard, the photographers of Details magazine (Patrick McMullan, Marcus Leatherdale, and others), and even Francesca Woodman shone alluring light on a sexy, decadent, bohemian, loft-and-nightclub demimonde that was always about a step and a half away from me.
In short, photographs afforded me vicarious contact with worlds I hoped to emulate, or simply encounter.
Wayward Cognitions reminds me of these desires. It is an artists book, designed by Templeton, so its form and content are of a singular mind. Derived from a relentlessly mobile life, these images are in fact about transit and the transitory, about fleeting encounters in the spaces between here and there. This published collection differs from many of Templeton’s in that it does not focus on a specific subject (teenage smokers, teenage kissers, female skateboarders, among many others), Rather, it celebrates the contingent, peripheral awareness registered in passing. The book itself passes from an open eye on the cover and an early photograph captioned “childhood” to a questioning image of adulthood and a closed eye on its back cover. In between, the stations around the eternal track of life and death, eros and thanatos, spectacular and mundane, guide our travels and command our attention, however glancing it may be.
The pleasures of open eyes are many. The willfully peripatetic among us absorb a lot, as do those who look actively and intensely in search of revelation, insight, transcendence—whatever. But there are times we must give our passions a rest. And as for retro-regret, it never did much good for anyone.
Photographs by Ed Templeton
Text: Essay by Stijn Huijts
Design: Ed Templeton
Published by Um Yeah Arts, 2014
Acquired at Common Good Books, St. Paul, with credit from exchanged gift