Teenage Smokers 2 by Ed Templeton, reviewed by Sophie de Rakoff

Ed Templeton. Pro-skateboarder, zine publisher, fine artist and photographer. Beating heart of an unofficial collective of Californian artists (including Mike Mills and Thomas Campbell) who have skated their way through the last 2 decades of SoCal youth culture, still engaged and committed. Ed Templeton, as he stands on the cusp on being considered OG, looks again at the tribe that first put him on the photographic map back in the way-way back of 1999. Welcome to Teenage Smokers 2.

17 years after the publication of Teenage Smoker the small, unobtrusive photo book that is now a rare and collectible treasure, Ed Templeton has published a second monograph that is the spiritual sibling of the first. Highly accomplished and prolific in all his creative fields, it seems that this continuing body of work is coming to be known as Templeton’s defining series. Penn had his Small Trades, and Templeton has his Teenage smokers.

Templeton talks in the written prologue of rediscovering a box of forgotten Polaroids that were the core component of the original TS. For the most part shot in Templeton’s hometown of Huntington Beach in 1994, the Polaroids were quite simply candid portraits of local teenagers smoking. When Templeton investigated again his archive of unpublished images from that time, he was spurred to step back and take a look at his photographic work in totality; and what he seems to have embraced here is the realization that he has never stopped shooting kids with cigs.

Housed between the heavy card covers of this Super Labo offering, Templeton’s tribe of smokers takes us on a journey through the posturing labyrinth of adolescence. Meandering casually back and forth from 1994 to the present, the timeless face of youth is the song that these images sing. The natural daylight that Templeton favors holds his subjects and their cigarettes in a soft hand. Squinting, smiling, ignoring, the smokers hang with their friends or their thoughts, alone and in groups, cheeks sucked in, lungs expanding, oblivious to the future.

No stranger to sex and blood and graphic incidents, Templeton’s teen portraits has left that in another place. There is a glimmering sweetness to this collection of images that is not always found in Templeton’s other work. The black and white portraits also share in part an ongoing cultural conversation with more traditional American documentary photographers such as Mark Steinmetz and Joseph Szabo. But the Templeton stamp comes not only with the reoccurring hints of skateboard culture, but also more obviously with physical design of the book itself. With the P-touch graphics and a slightly sinister, cartoonish female hand gracing it’s raw cover, Teenage Smokers 2 suggests an abused high school notebook. Let us never forget that Ed Templeton is a multi-discipline artist who embraces the childlike power of creativity and channels it to enhance his art.

Teenage Smokers 2 by Ed Templeton can be purchased here.

Sophie de Rakoff is a London born, Los Angeles based costume designer who looks at a lot of photographs and buys a lot of books.

Ed Templeton

Ed Templeton