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"Portrait of Tobin".


by John O'Brien

(Artworks Bookarts, Santa Monica) Ed Templeton's take on the arts is aptly summed up in his 'about me "in the nutshell" version' of a bio he sends out as part of his press kit. In it, he concludes: "I live in Fountain Valley with my wife Deanna where I paint in my garage. I travel the world skateboarding and taking pictures." And that is that. He doesn't brook any excessive historical meditation, or court any radical theorization. Most importantly, he sports no specific academic affiliations. Ed Templeton is an outsider and damned proud of it.

Once you can get past the irony that undercuts this seasonally hip "new inside outsider" attitude espoused by Templeton, the work he puts up is pretty interesting stuff to look at. Central to the exhibition is the book Teenage Smokers, a compilation of photographs capturing kids in various places indulging in the habit. Laid out and designed by him in the form of thirtysome odd images with a smattering of hand written text inserts, the book works the same way an everyday picture album does. It's just pictures, not photographs, of some kids hanging out.

The difference with this album compilation is that instead of compiling the specialness of a memorable moment’s existence, Templton's lens catches his subjects all doing the same thing; he photographs them as they are each enjoying a smoke. So we get to see them in their unedited glory as they preen, they choke and grimace, they strike up postures that mimic poses from movies and vintage photographs. We get to see them as they disobey the rules and grab a breath of prohibited tobacco smoke in the company of their peers, uninhibited by authority of any sort.

What is of general interest in this kind of 'natural' anthropology is the way the author serves up the kids’ own preconceptions as much as he documents the everyday existence of other subjects. The rapidfire technique common to the snapshot doesn't allow for a formal pose, it usually happens in the flash of time between poses. Much of the imagery is therefore off center, the subject leaning into the next moment when the smoke will be exhaled. The backgrounds are a medley of parks and external environs, where presumably skaters congregate and mostly we are led to look at the faces of the smokers. They are almost always caught while taking a drag. It is almost embarrassing to participate in the display of their teenage transgression.

For Templeton it seems these teen smokers are the new Olympians, harbingers of independent activity. His authorial gaze is coextensive with the photographed subject; he's totally into it. Whether one agrees with this identification or not isn't the point. Rather, you are forced to explore the tension between the perception of the photographed subjects, as they take a drag and forge ahead in their self styled rebellion, and the resolute way they manage to elude clarity. This is the voyeuristic tension that most comes to the fore, and in doing so structures the most poignant aspect of Templeton's gaze: the participating in the frailty of being human.