Ed Templeton's "Wires Crossed" Interview
ED TEMPLETON'S NEW BOOK gives a rare inside look at the lives of some of the biggest names from 1995 to 2012. Along with a sneak peek at the pages, Burnett talks to Ed about the gross motels, violent Russian cops, the evolution of gender roles and what it's like to look back on skateboarding’s golden era.
You’ve probably shot a million photos over the years. What was the process of putting this thing together?
The big thing that took me forever to decide was, When is this body of work done? Obviously breaking my leg in 2012 at the age of 40 pretty much signaled the end of my pro-skateboarding life and seemed like a natural cutoff point for the project, too. I had been thinking about making this book since I started this documentation in 1994/95, so the idea of corralling all of it into a cohesive story was daunting. It literally took me ten years to extract this thing out of myself. I sat down and systematically went through literally every photograph I have ever shot to determine if it was about skateboarders and skateboarding and could possibly be included in this book. That took forever, too. Surprisingly, when I finished, it wasn’t as many photos as I thought it would be. There were ultimately 4,235 photos that I could choose from. My editing process from there was to cut that number in half. That first cut is pretty easy because you end up picking the best photo out of multiples and weed out all the crap. So then I took those 2,000 photos and cut it in half again, and again until I had roughly 500 images that could conceivably fit into a book. Each edit gets harder as you go, because you end up having to cut images that you love. The book is 264 pages and there are 459 photos in it.
How does taking photos on a big tour or trip differ from shooting pictures while you’re at home?
Hitting the road ignites your senses! Suddenly everything looks cool and picks up meaning because you are a visitor in a new place. I end up shooting dumb things that I would never shoot around my own house, probably because I figure I might never be in this place again, so I make a record of it.
Skater injured by product toss, Sequoia, California, 1997
Are there any differences shooting photos in Europe versus the USA?
You are much less likely to be shot in Europe.
How has taking people’s photos changed over time?
I have noticed since the complete adoption of cell phones and the dominance of social media in people’s lives that people tend to immediately assume you are shooting them to make fun of them on social media. They say, "Lemme see it," and you can’t show them because it’s film and they are befuddled. And of course everyone’s head is always buried in a phone at all times. Any smoke break, subway ride or free moment at all is spent looking at the phone, so street photography has been permanently altered.
Ed at Huntington Beach High in the TV days Photo: Sleeper
If you were to cast a skate trip for photography purposes, who needs to be in the van?
I prefer the classics—Ellington, Steamer, Boulala, BA, Gerwer, Greco, Bam, Harmony, Matt Bennett, Billy Marks, Arto, Staba. I never got to go on tour with the Baker crew, aside from some Emerica tours, but I shot them at home at the Warner Ave apartment a bunch. I bet those tours with Antwuan Dixon were a handful. I wonder what being in the van with big pros like Nyjah or T-Puds would be like these days? I have a feeling it would be headphones and iPhones 24-7, and that any shenanigans would be forbidden to photograph. Too much to lose. Do teams even tour anymore? I know Toy Machine does. Leo Romero is on the road nonstop. Modern day, I’d like to go on tour with William Strobeck and his crew. I bet they would be great to document. But I’m an old dinosaur and 100 percent not cool enough to get within 20 feet of those guys! Besides, William is doing a great job and wouldn’t want me horning in.
What’s been your most fucked hotel/motel situation while on tour?
We stayed at the Red Roof Inn once. We opened the door, stepped in and the carpet was crunchy. In my head I thought, They must have washed this carpet with some weird soap that left it crusty. But when I turned the lights on the entire carpet was completely covered in dried dead bugs—little centipede-looking things. We got a new room. A lot of times on Toy Machine trips we had a limited budget and so I would ask the guys, "Do you want to stay at a nice hotel where we get two rooms and all have to pile in and share beds and sleep on the floor, or should I go for the low-budget, neon-sign, rent-by-the-hour-type rooms and everyone gets their own bed?" And so sometimes we would stay in those places and the TVs in the rooms would have four channels of free 24-7 porn playing. There were cigarette burns on every surface and the sheets were crusty. You felt like you were going to get scabies if your skin touched them. I think Billy Marks and maybe Austin slept fully clothed in the beds. There were stains on the walls.
Ruling the wasteland in 2002, Polaroid style! Photo: Burnett
What were the high and low points of bringing your wife Deanna on all those skate tours?
I bet a lot of people would think, Unlimited sex! And they would be absolutely right. I was exhausted. Kidding. Actually, tour pretty much sucked for sex because of all the room sharing we did, so it was never as action packed as people might think. The downsides were when she didn’t want to stay in sketchy rooms. She also wasn’t going to be able to skate across a city with us looking for spots or run from the cops. Some pros early on didn’t want her on tour, but in many ways everyone acted exactly as they would normally act—cussing full tilt, objectifying any woman in sight, all the usual stuff. The upside in the early days was that she is three years older than me and was able to rent vans when I was too young to do so. She was a great designated driver, never drove sketchy and would always get snacks and water for people and she was always there to talk. She was the alternative team manager.
Who are some of the most photogenic skaters?
Erik Ellington and Elissa Steamer are a photographer’s dream. They have this gene that makes them completely ignore the camera. Sometimes they would say, "Come on, dude," and I would stow it. I think that’s why there are so many photos of them in the book. Matt B is like that, too. Other people were photogenic because they were always doing something funny or interesting. Caswell Berry and Billy Marks were like that—they always have their hands into something.
Lots of nude dudes in the book. Besides your wife, who have been some of the most-willing nude models?
Well, you ask this question as if I am asking people to get naked for me on a skate tour, which I never have. Brad Staba would just walk around semi-nude all the time because he’s a total weirdo in the best way, so I would shoot him since he was so brazen about it.
Go behind the scenes of the making of Wires Crossed in Ed’s recent Create and Destroy episode
When you’re on the photo hunt, what are some shot killers?
I hate the horns and shakas! Even people smiling and posing can be bad. For the most part I was interested in faithfully documenting people and things that happened. These photos are little nuggets of truth that speak to a certain time in our lives. When someone would ham it up or start acting or I could tell they were doing something in hopes I would shoot it, that would be a turn off.
You’ve got a section here focusing on skaters’ interactions with the cops. What’s the hairiest interaction you photographed?
The craziest one might have been the one we both have photographs of—when Josh Harmony tried to snatch his board back from the cops in Russia. He was trying a trick down a marble hubba. Right as he landed the trick the police suddenly bum rushed him and took his board away. They were yelling at him in Russian. In a panic, Josh snatched his board back from the cops and made a run for it. The cops chased him and one of them caught him by his shirt and tackled him onto some steps, pinning him down with a knee on his chest and grabbing his hand and tweaking his fingers. I think the photo you got is the best one. In the book I have one from a different angle. Our Russian handlers were there right away to explain to the cops who Josh was and they diffused the situation and after ten minutes of negotiation, they let him go.
Jim Greco, Huntington Beach, California, 1998
Tour van chaos with Billy Marks, Diego Bucchieri, Josh Harmony and Caswell Berry
Police ticket a group of skaters, Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, 1998
What is your opinion of cops in general?
I avoid them. Gangster plus jock equals cop.
The section that covers girls at demos and teenage lust seems pretty shocking, even though it wasn’t that long ago. Is the age of boob autographs and dildos at the demo over? Is this what they mean by toxic masculinity?
A lot of the stuff that happens now and back then at autograph signings was total theater. All the pros are sitting at a table and there are media people around and a crowd of fans, so inevitably someone steps up to the plate and does something to call attention to themselves—from kids asking you to draw on their face to females asking to have their breasts or belly signed. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard in a total Butthead voice, “Sign my butt.” It’s the joke that never gets old at a demo. Any dildo stuff was purely comical. Even the word dildo is hilarious to me. On an old Toy Machine trip we went into a sex shop and ended up buying all sorts of funny items, including a penis pump and a 12-foot-sword dildo. They would just be laying around in the van to trip people out. There’s a photo in the book of Billy Marks—he stuffed it through his zipper to look like it was his, and one of the female fans from the demo posed for a photo holding it. Everyone was laughing about it; it’s harmless. We used it to smash Oreo cookies in our hotel room—Gallagher style. When Lesley Martin from Aperture asks me about toxic masculinity in the interview, it’s about reassessing some of these old photos in light of the evolution society has undergone over the last ten years. Toxic masculinity wasn’t a commonly-understood phrase then, so we have all upgraded our understanding of power dynamics and gender roles. Looking back, a lot of the stuff happening on skate tours has that vibe of “boys will be boys” with the “show your tits” signs and all that. I think that is what is powerful about photography is that we have this record to look back and see how things were and compare them to how things are.
Kerry Getz and Satva Leung making out, Laconia, New Hampshire, 1998
The photo of Kerry and Satva making out with the two girls on the couch is one of your masterpieces. What’s the story with that one?
It was 1998. We had a Toy Machine demo in Laconia, New Hampshire, the same week as Laconia Motorcycle Week, a famous biker rally that started way back in 1916. The town was total chaos with bikers everywhere; hotels were long sold out, people were camping in tents on the streets and in people’s yards. Hordes of bikers were thundering through the streets with topless women on the back seats. We dominated our demo, as usual, and then ended up partying at someone’s house—maybe the shop owner? I think they had cabins we could sleep in because we couldn’t find a hotel. So we are at this house and there’s plenty of weed and beer being consumed, and all these local girls are there, so nature takes its course. I think maybe those girls were sisters? Kerry was making out pretty hard with one of them and I think Satva was just talking with the other one, so when I started shooting I think I said something like, "You guys should be kissing, too!" As a joke they went in for a kiss and at the last second Satva stuck his tongue out and my flash went off at that exact moment so it looks like the girl is sucking on his tongue! It was pretty funny and everyone was laughing—except Kerry and his girl who were in their own world. I shot a lot of photos that night and the next day. The famous photo of Elissa jumping off the bridge from the cover of the Jump Off A Building video was shot the next morning at the same house, because it was right on the river at Weir’s Beach. We actually got busted by the cops for jumping off of it and Kerry ended up getting a ticket.
Ali Boulala (being held back by Aaron Pearcy) clashes with a security guard trying to kick him out of a video premiere, Santa Ana, California, 1999
Is it possible to have an appropriate encounter with someone of the opposite sex when you’re the cool pro skater who just came to town and they’re a fan? Or does the power imbalance make this always inappropriate?
I think it’s appropriate if the person who is interested in hooking up with the visiting pro skater is of appropriate age and the relationship is consensual. One-night stands happen all the time between consenting adults, and many people enjoy that type of encounter. It’s not anything I ever did, but I imagine both parties like putting another notch in their proverbial belt, be it a fan being able to brag about saying, "I fucked this person; they were on the cover of Thrasher!" or a pro adding another sexual conquest to their quiver. I’m sure most of them were mutually respectful, but I imagine getting completely hammered and having sex with someone and waking up with regrets could be weird. I think a power imbalance becomes problematic if the sexual encounter is unsolicited and/or if the parties are working for the same company or industry and one has a higher position than the other which would imply an abuse of that power, like in the case of the comedian Louis CK.
At the same time, you had a closeted gay team rider and a woman on the team for much of this. What have Elissa and Brian said to you about their time in this environment?
Yeah, I interview both Brian and Elissa in the book and both of them talk about their experiences on tour surrounded by testosterone-fueled young men. Each one was dealing with such a unique personal situation but they were also in exactly the same boat as everyone else on tour—they had their lusts and desires like anyone else and were figuring out their lives the best they could. We all were. Elissa had a boyfriend at the time and was suppressing her true feelings a bit while Brian was completely unwilling to take that step at that particular moment. And with all the homophobic language being thrown around in skateboarding and even in the same van, you can’t blame him for not wanting to come out. He had a lot to lose. Even if he knew Toy Machine would have been fine with it, there was so much more to consider. He has even said before that the fact I would have celebrated him coming out made him less likely to do it, because he didn’t want his sexual preference to define him or to become the poster boy for gay skaters, and I fully get that. Ultimately, I think he timed it perfectly. The world had caught up a lot more and his personal growth enabled him to do it on his own terms.
Another big chunk of the book covers people using drugs and alcohol. What are some big themes you can draw after being surrounded by and documenting users of drugs and alcohol for so long, especially seeing them going from teens to adults?
Self-medication was a constant on the skate tours, and aside from skating, the next important thing seemed to be the procuring of weed and beer. So much time was devoted to that. I think many people needed to keep a certain level of buzz going to function. Many of them talk about it in great detail in the interviews which was fascinating for me to hear about. Of course this was when weed was totally illegal, too. The big theme after talking with them is that they are all sober now and loving it. After hearing their stories, I’m personally glad that I skipped drinking and drugs, even if that made me the proverbial dork or nerd on tour. Hearing about drugs from someone like me who never did them doesn’t hold as much weight as what Justin Regan, who was a full-blown addict, has to say about them.
Bam Margera, Amsterdam, 1999
There is also a heavy injury section.
What has been your worst injury?
I’ve been hospitalized seven times for head injuries, broken ribs, wrist, tailbone and my neck. Then in 2012 I shattered my tibia and fibula with a compound fracture. At age 40, that was the last nail in the coffin for my pro life. Shooting photos of injuries is a favored pastime with skaters. It’s a receipt that you can show your friends—proof that you lived through some shit.
Did you invent the photo where people hold up their bloody hand in front of their face?
Ha! No. That must have been one of our photo forefathers.
What do you miss most about your life as a pro skater? What are you glad is over?
I miss everything about it. I miss seeing an obstacle and just knowing what I could do on it. After my leg break, the messages from my brain to my body did not translate. I would get so frustrated that I couldn’t do what I used to be able to do. I miss demos and tours. I loved being on the road, finding skate spots, new food, random encounters with people. I can go on a road trip now but it doesn’t have that same edge as when you are with a group of skaters ready for anything. I’m glad I don’t feel obliged to jump down shit anymore. Next time I get hurt on stairs will be falling down them because I’m too old and shaky.
Brian Anderson, Dortmund, Germany, 1999
What’s the last nude selfie you shot?
I had to do an archive search for that one. Apparently the last one I took was in 2015.
What advice would you give a supportive mother who wants to purchase this book for their child who loves skateboarding?
This book is not nifty photos of people skateboarding, nor is it a collection of skateboard graphics. It is NOT for kids. This is an adult book for people 18 years old and up. It’s for people who like photography.
Erik Ellington, Paris, 2003
Is this book being shown in exhibition form too?
Yes! The exhibition will open April 14th in Maastricht, Netherlands at the Bonnefanten Museum. Then in 2024 it will be at the Long Beach Museum of Art in California. RVCA has been very generous in helping fund both the book and the show through their Artist’s Network Program.
Congrats on the book. Last question: what does the name Wires Crossed mean?
Every skater I know has a loose wire that makes them the perfect amount of crazy which enables them to be a skater. You gotta love pain, risk and chaos. I’m not sure I successfully answered the question of what makes a skater tick in this book, but I do think it’s a great time capsule of a certain era in skateboarding as told through my life and the lives of some of the best and most unique skaters the world has ever seen.
Elissa Steamer, Mike Maldonado, Brian Anderson, New Jersey, 1999
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