LOS ANGELES — Skateboarder-turned-artist Ed Templeton has a new photo series, titled Hairdos of Defiance, that focuses in on the quintessential “fuck you” hairstyle: the mohawk. Since the early ’90s, Templeton has documented youth culture and rebellion from the outside looking in. For years, he had been an influential skateboarder, and was known primarily for his skateboard company, Toy Machine. This experience has likely helped him to avoid the pitfalls of “othering” the subculture he documents; quite the contrary — Templeton and his fans seem to have an equal reverence for each other. Just as Templeton remains fascinated with kids in the counterculture, they remain fascinated with him.
On the surface, Templeton might appear like the status quo that his subjects rebel against. He is well dressed, well groomed, tall, slightly overweight, handsome, and white. His demeanor is laid-back, which is perhaps why his subjects are able to seem relaxed and at ease in his photographs. There’s a casual, almost candid quality in the photos, which is typical of Templeton’s style. His subjects look “cool,” most likely because he himself thinks that they are.
Growing up in the suburbs of Huntington Beach, it’s not a long shot to guess that Templeton looked up to the punks. In his recent book that collects this new series of work, he admits, “I was afraid of these kids, but they welcomed me into their world because I was a skater, and so I hung out with them quietly listening and learning.” That pseudo-reverence, curiosity, and admiration of individuality reads through his work. The photos, on view at Roberts Projects in Los Angeles, are markedly human, and it’s clear that the subjects aren’t performing for the artist, but that he has successfully captured the essence of them instead. Templeton succeeds in what many street-style photographers aim to do — to capture and show audiences what is right in front of them yet what is blind to them.
At the opening of Hairdos of Defiance at Roberts Projects, gallery owners, collectors in suits, and older wealthy artists mingled and were surrounded by teenagers with skateboards and 20-somethings in street gear, all waiting for a chance to talk to Templeton and get his autograph. To the art world, Hairdos of Defiance is a collection of work that is technically and aesthetically skilled and gives them a bird’s eye view into a culture that they would otherwise not get. But for Templeton, the act of putting the skaters, punks, and weirdos in a gallery setting is about telling them that he sees them, and that they matter.
Ed Templeton: Hairdos of Defiance continues at Roberts Projects (5801 Washington Blvd, Culver City, Los Angeles) through April 21.