The teeth, the tongue, the tip of the lips, the teenage kiss is a libido-laden minefield and in his latest book skater-cum-photographer Ed Templeton braves the battleground with his lens.
The achingly unhip amongst us just have to glance at skateboarders, photographers and the like before turning pretty leafy with envy, but Ed Templeton leaves green giants in his wake, mastering both disciplines. A pretty mighty skateboarder, Templeton’s fab flipping has seen him travel the world on his trucks. Along the way he’s taken some pretty spectacular snaps too and one particular aspect of his photographic curiosity has recently found its way into print, namely, teenage kissing. The book, published by Seems Books and with a foreword by Aaron Rose, provides both nostalgia and wincing galore. i-D online popped behind the bike sheds with Templeton to talk awkward pashing, tonsil hockey and the demands of being a teenage kissing magnet.
What came first skating or kissing? I kissed a girl before I skated. But I can’t say that my first passion was kissing. Those first kisses were really weird.
What do you remember of your first ever kiss? The wetness and coolness of the girl’s mouth. That first sensation has stuck with me. The awkwardness for sure.
What’s your fondest teenage memory? I remember making out with a French exchange student during the summer school I had to take to improve my grades. She was into the prolonged face-sucking, where you just stay locked together playing tonsil hockey for long stretches. I remember just drifting off and daydreaming about other stuff while we did it. Each kiss being 5 minutes is exhausting and semi-gross.
Can you tell us a bit about why you starting the kissing project? I had been shooting people kissing whenever I had the chance. It was just one of my general themes I would look for as I walked around, still is. I had shown so many photos of people kissing in my art exhibitions that Aaron Rose mentioned I should collect just those images and do a project. I did a small cluster of photos called the “Eulogy for Lost Saliva” that I exhibited around. But it was this year that Arty Nelson, a writer and curator called me up about doing a show at the Half Gallery in NYC. He specifically wanted teenage kissers. So I started preparing everything, and when word hit the publisher Seems, they called me and asked if there was a book.
How did you go about finding the subjects and did you get into any sticky situations when shooting? I come across people kissing everywhere I walk. I have some funny encounters – getting caught trying to sneak a photo of a couple. Usually I just smile or say something about the sweetness of love and it disarms people. In France I shot a French Legionnaire (army officer) kissing a woman near Notre Dame, he was pretty buff. He noticed me, and I could see him debating in his head if he should beat me to a pulp or not. Luckily he decided not to. Most people never even see me.
The photos were captured in cities all over the world, did you find that teenage kissing habits varied from place to place? In Paris the city is filled with romance, there are couples everywhere making out. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel there. In Spain too, the culture is very much out in the plazas and streets. Whole families live together, so the kids have nowhere to do their heavy-petting but on park benches.
Tell us about your favourite kiss in the book? My favorite is one of these kids kissing in Birmingham on the platform of a ramp we were skating. The kids’ hands, the skateboard in the background, the girl’s cleavage. It’s the embodiment of the Teenage Kissers series.
Projects such as these are now quite prevalent on the internet, with whole blogs or Tumblrs devoted to these kind of themed photography collections. What is your relationship with these relatively young means of communication? I started a Tumblr fairly recently (culdesacoflameness.tumblr.com) in some effort to be part of this internet social atmosphere. I just put artwork up, no photos. I do a photo blog (toymachine.com/ed)as part of the Toy Machine website. And the guys at Emerica footwear set up a Facebook fan page for me that I manage too (facebook.com/edtempletonofficial). I’m constantly in debate in my head going back and forth, should I delete all this? It’s a waste of time for sure. But there is something addictive about it all. I know it works when you want to get the word out about something. The thing is, we are living in an age of these technologies becoming normal. As a society we have yet to write the etiquette rules and figure out how to live with it all. I think we are in an addiction phase. At some point we will learn to use these with a more refined grace and distance.
Besides ‘Teenage Kissers’ could you tell us about three of your favourite photos?
Deanna, London, 2009
This is a photo I shot of Deanna, my wife, in a London hotel room. I love the silhouetting and the plaster on her thigh.
Margaret Kilgallen, Los Angeles, 2000
This is a photograph of a dear friend who died very prematurely. I like that it is only her shadow on top of her artwork. She was painting a mural at LACMA that has since been destroyed.
Listening to Johnny and a girl, Chicago 2008
This was taken on a skateboard tour. We were in Chicago. Our friend Johnny had taken a girl to his room and we were all listening to hear what he was going to do. I think this photo captures the fun of a skate tour.
Johannesburg, South Africa, 1998
I was in South Africa at some suburban mall that was identical to the shopping malls where I live in Southern California. I was walking down the steps to avoid taking the elevator and this young girl was just kneeling there praying with her balloon. I shot this picture and moved along. I love the strangeness of it.
Text: Sean Baker
Photography: Ed Templeton