A boy is dared by his peers to toss a large rock from a freeway overpass into the river of cars below. The slot machine arm is pulled and the wheels start spinning. The cartoon gears are revealed inside an empty head straining to make a decision. The duality of the brain debating the outcome while good and evil teeter on a sliding fulcrum—darkness and light swirling together into one—turn the yin yang into a grey circle. In a millisecond, the synapse that triggered the decision fired an electric pulse and the muscles carried out the task. At the moment of release, this stone is a meteor dropping through the vacuum of space, descending upon our planet, looking down from above at humans eating pink slime, scampering to and fro in cars, along roads, in and out of cities clustered with buildings and cloaked in smog—oblivious to the impending obliteration. The kids, with faces pressed to the sooty chain link fence, watch as the rock drops in a wilting, slow-motion arc, following the trajectories of moving cars until the projectile buries itself, with a dark hole, through a car’s windshield and into a man’s chest. A collective, “Oh, shit!” is squealed as the consequences now flash before them. Too late to be helpful, they run.
From a descending airplane, the city of Los Angeles looks just like mold growing in a Petri dish from high school science class, thriving unperturbed until a love-struck couple decided to carve the words “San Andreas Fault” through the fuzzy growth with the needle of a compass. Our first astronauts must have looked down on earth the same way we observe an ant farm sandwiched between two panes of glass, marveling at them diligently carrying bits of leaves through the tunnels and building complicated underground cities. A child with a garden hose—without a single consideration of wrong or right—could obliterate that ant population in an instant. Our planet is no different: Balanced precariously on the edge of potential extinction, our lives are, at once, extremely precious and cosmically insignificant.
A beautiful young woman in half-unhooked overalls walks along the boardwalk with a baby, using her left arm to clamp the baby’s face to her swollen right breast. Legs dangling akimbo, the baby’s eyes are wide open, taking in colors and forms in myriad shades of dark and light, blur and focus. Seeing most things for the first time, this child’s observations are totally objective. Having no pre-conceived opinions so far, perceptions are simply deposited into the memory bank for future regurgitation … or to be forgotten.
An obese man with a unkempt beard and a train conductor’s hat sits on a rascal scooter, his belly spilling over his waistband and out from under his shirt—the pale skin acting like a signal mirror beaming the sun into my eyes. Periodically, he bleats out a few phrases in a monotone voice: “Believe in Jesus” or “Jesus loves you.” His mobility vehicle is adorned with religious stickers, a rubber squeeze horn, and an American flag swaying atop a wiggling pole. He’s passing out flyers with a black, white, and red illustration of Jesus Christ nailed upon the cross and dripping with blood. In bold letters across the top it says, “I DID ALL OF THIS FOR YOU!”
This spectacle grabs the baby’s attention just as the woman’s exposed breast captures the man’s eye. He tracks her movement as she passes, regarding the subtle bounce of flesh as her bosom defies gravity with each step. Every ripple and pang of desire is a covetous stride toward the fiery pit of hell for this man. The baby, coveting a look of its own, juts out its arm and aims its pudgy finger at the man in a futile attempt to convey a desire to stop and behold this sight a little longer (the photographic zeitgeist in a nutshell). The young mother ignores this gesture, marching nonchalantly on, and leaving an aftermath of furtive glances in her wake.
I like to imagine what it would look like if a trail of my movements over my entire lifetime had left behind a glowing red line, like a radioactive snail, so I could trace all the places I’ve been and marvel at the scribble crisscrossing the globe. In the cities I’ve visited most during my lifetime, the line would tangle so much it would be solid red, and conversely, the glaring holes left blank in my exploration would be revealed. No matter how much I’ve travelled, I know that if this line were to be balled up and measured, it would be less than one percent of the places a person could go and see in this world. In photographic terms, I’ve only taken a picture of a single needle and missed the Mount Everest sized haystack it’s lost in. The camera itself works as a similar microcosmic metaphor, its shutter only opening for a tiny percent of a single second, allowing miniscule slices of light reflected off reality to burn into the emulsion.
Thus is the nature of our experience on this planet. We get such a small sample size from which to glean an understanding, and at every twist and turn there’s a carnival barker distracting us, a quack extolling the virtues of their miracle cure, or a religious zealot offering a shortcut to the pearly gates—all for a small fee, of course. The people we trust the most are often Judas goats we follow into the slaughterhouse of confusion, dogmas, and misconceptions. Handed down through the generations, they become so deeply accepted that challenging them makes one a target of derision. The truth is at our fingertips, yet we lack the dexterity to crack open the thick husk of misinformation surrounding it.
These tangentially parenthetical speculations are a beam of light shooting right through my being, which acts like a prism dividing this light into striated colors—each stratum generating a subtext of its own—brilliant for a fleeting moment then spiraling into useless allegories and dead ends. My camera takes these singular moments, strips them of context, and rearranges them into parable. The reader fractures them further into multiple interpretations and deviations exceeding the fleeting reality originally documented. These are just tiny leaves trimmed from a colossal shape-shifting hedge of suburban topiary that stretches out over the horizon—arranged in sequence for the enjoyment of visually literate connoisseurs who will study and appraise the shape of their content and divine narratives potentially divergent, but no less valid than the creator’s.
A wall of dark clouds looms over the Pacific, soaking up water to dump onto our cities and sprawling exurbs—washing away our dust and disease along with our sins—a momentary baptism before the relentless sun bakes the dirt back into our lives. The rain was strong enough to leave lasting puddles that a young boy stomped through with delight, shattering the mirrored surface into a discord of ripples. His mother, lost in conversation with other adults—but eyeing him as he plotted—had given up on trying to stop him. A group of lanky teenage girls sauntered by, each one with the requisite high-waisted shorts chopped at the crotch, making them look like they’re two-thirds legs, and the low sun filtered through these lumbering stalks of bone, casting long shadows that look more like giraffes crossing the savannah than humans in the suburbs.
A smartly-dressed man parks his red luxury car in a handicapped spot and hooks a placard to his rearview mirror before walking away, unaware (of course) that he is being watched by a woman sitting on a bench. Her face twitches back and forth between resting and horror, as if she’s about to be ripped to shreds by a terrifying beast that only she can see. This happens relentlessly, like a child is playing with the switch. One second she’s sitting as anyone might, lost in a daydream. Next her hands flail, she flinches and jerks, and her eyes widen with the appearance of death itself—showing teeth and bulging out the tendons in her neck in a private kabuki dance inside her mind. Although her hair is disheveled and her skin pocked with sores, she understands what he has done. It sits low on her list of concerns, yet she sees directly to the essence of this man and, in an evolutionary sense, understands that she is gazing across the divide from darkness to light. - Ed Templeton, 2018