Style & Grooming

Photos Celebrating the Mohawk as a Symbol of Rebellion

Californian photographer Ed Templeton gives us a preview of his upcoming exhibition featuring 20 years worth of photos of the Mohawk

Hailing from southern California, Ed Templeton got into the punk and skateboard scene in 1985. At that time, the aesthetics of rebellion were becoming codified as politics and style become strongly intertwined. Perhaps the most visible symbol of rebellion was Mohawk, a hairstyle that took its name and style from an Iroquois tribe residing in Quebec and New York.

Composed of a series of carefully crafted spikes of hair running down the center of a shaved head, often dyed bright colors like orange, blue, and green, the Mohawk brazenly respectability politics and polite society. By radically altering their appearances to signify displeasure, disgust, and rejection of the status quo, punks firmly drew a line in the sand, one that squares found intolerable and rude.

Templeton, however, understood that Mohawks were a message about authenticity in a fake world. In celebration, Roberts Projects in Culver City, CA, presents Hairdos of Defiance, an exhibition of 42 photos made in the U.S. and Europe over the past 20 years accompanied by a book from Deadbeat Club. Like his 1999 book and exhibition Teenage Smokers (Alleged Press), Templeton looks at the ways that kids revel in acts of disobedience to establish their independence and refusal to conform. Here, Templeton speaks about how the Mohawk has become a symbol of opposition, integrity, and self-determination for more than forty years.

“I grew up in Huntington Beach, a predominantly white suburb an hour south of Los Angeles and I was very sheltered kid. In ’85, a Mohawk meant, ‘Don’t fuck with me.’ I would steer clear of punks; they scared me. It was skateboarding that connected me to them. It gave me real insight into their world. My whole life changed when I started getting punk tapes from my friends. I was really driven by the lyrics, understanding that it was political and there was something to be said.

As I travelled around as a skateboarder and went around shooting street photos, if I saw someone with a Mohawk, I felt myself drawn to them naturally. It’s not something you can fashion one day and change the next. I think the commitment makes it authentic. The photos go back to ’97 or ’98. At some point I realised there was a series brewing here that snuck up on me. For the last few years, I would make a point to try to get a portrait if I saw someone. I think the title was the main drive. The term was something a friend and I would say when we saw kids with Mohawks. It was like, ‘Hey, there’s a hairdo of defiance. There’s an emblem of nonconformity.’”

Had I not found these kids, skateboarding, and punk at that age I often look back and wonder what the hell I would have been or what would have happened. That changed the course of my life and everything that I do with art, photography, and my skateboard company comes down to this: be political, have a message, have something to say – the keep it real ethos.”

Ed Templeton: Hairdos of Defiance is on view at Roberts Projects, Culver City, CA, through April 21, 2018.