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Bougainville Referendum of Independence

William Templeton | Bougainville, Papua New Guinea

Meaningful Words - Bougainville has one of the world’s largest gold and copper mines which at one time generated 40% of Papua New Guinea’s national income. However the locals felt they were not receiving fair rewards from the mining efforts and revolted, leading to a decade of conflict. The uprising claimed at least 15,000 lives and led to the resignation of the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea after he was caught funding a South African lead mercenary operation designed to quash the revolt. The result was the closing of the mine, a UN peacekeeping intervention and an agreement from the government to hold a referendum on independence. It took 20 years to occur...

This is an ongoing project with the intention to return (travel restrictions dependent) once the issue has been debated in parliament and a final outcome decided.

On December 13th 2019 Bougainville took a huge step forward in their bid for regained independence. A referendum was held to try and break the political deadlock over the territories status, the result of which was 98% elected in favour of independence. An overwhelming outcome, the desire of which has helped bring these peoples together. Historically the geography, the cultural diversity, the influence of European intervention and huge natural wealth has divided the island and its population. Thankfully the united stance around independence has brought these historically fractious islanders together for what they believe will be a brighter future.

I was born on a Friday in September 1985, William Joshua Templeton, Joshua from my great grand-father, William from my uncle, although it was his middle name.

The second child of my parents after my sister Anna, I appeared into the world a rather large baby with rolls on the back on my legs that lead me to resemble the Michelin man from behind. I spent the first years of my life in south-west London; playing rugby, skateboarding, guitar, saxophone, my dad ran various businesses in the world of education with two of his four brother and my mum made sure my sister and I were well rounded, considerate humans. To both I am eternally grateful.

At thirteen I got in trouble at my school and was ultimately, along with my best friends John and Nicho, stewarded out. I wanted to play professional rugby at that age and ended up joining a sports school in Somerset. I hated it at first and the initial six months were fraught and filled with tearful calls to my parents begging them to take me home. With time I met friends and got deeply engrossed in the music scene – realising I wasn’t made out for the world of professional sports and the breath-taking commitment it entails - joining a band with three of my best friends, two of whom sadly passed away too early.

It was at school, with access to a darkroom for the first time, that my love for photography really took root. My mum had given me her 35mm Olympus OMD-1, a camera I still cherish and use regularly today, and it never left my side.

School flowed into university – Newcastle; Philosophy – and a deep fascination with digital photography. I received a small Lumix and later a Sony NEX as presents from my parents and watched the birth of camera phones which started to change everything. Focusing a lot on the street and party culture that surrounded me, outside of studying and music I occupied myself full time with image capture.

After university I spent more or less a year in Latin America, teaching English as a means to travel and shoot the new faces I found and face the new experiences the world had to offer.

I was incredibly lucky and from a young age went on various adventures with my family. At nine we spent a month in Thailand and Malaysia, my dad met a park ranger on a train journey that lead to us staying in the XXX national park with him – he was stationed there to protect against logging among other things. We slept in the forest and met Orang Asli tribespeople who raided our camp one night, steeling our kerosene lamp. The next day we asked if they’d seen it and they promptly gave it back and took us hunting with blow guns as recompense.

On another trip we travelled through Sarawak and Saba staying with various tribes in their long houses. One night my dad had a nightmare and yelped in his sleep, unbeknownst to us the sound was belived to be a honey bear by our hosts, leading to a small hunting party searching the forest in the dead of night as they were seen as a threat to the tribe.

We travelled Morocco and Kenya, extensively throughout Europe, various parts of America, the Caribbean, Cuba under Castro, Patagonia – my parents and sister also went to Mongolia to stay with some healers my dad knew, but at 18 and having just finished my A-Levels, parties and girls had a stronger magnetism than yurts, yaks and Ulaanbaatar, a decision I still regret to this day.

It was through these experiences that I developed a fascination with the human condition and a desire to document it. They also irreversibly opened my eyes to the negative impact humans have on the environment and spurned a need to help restore the balance.

Later in life I stared an events business with my sister and two cousins, Ed and Ollie. Sons of Paul William Templeton. A whirlwind, we achieved a lot and had unbelievable fun, ultimately cumulating in the creation of the creative hub Carousel - where I ran a two gallery spaces - and a wonderfully mad events production company Shuttlecock. We were helped a lot along the way by our fathers, both who sadly died within a couple of years of each other from pulmonary fibrosis. It was during this period that I started exhibiting, having works published and realising that whatever it was I found myself doing, I always came back to photography.

After a lot of thought and conversation I decided that the only option for my future was a pursuit of photography. I recognise its ability to draw focus to important topics and help form opinion. I believe whole heartedly that we need to shift our thinking and learn to celebrate and strive for a diminishing human impact on the environment. We need to collectively realise that we are a part of nature and it is not something to be dominated or exploited. Humans are not separate from everything else that encompasses the Earth and to not act in accordance with its best interests is to act against oneself.


Currently I live in London, Clapton, in my little flat with my girlfriend Sarah. My mum lives alone in her beautiful house in the countryside and my sister continues to run Shuttlecock and lives with her lover Will and two kids in north west London. My cousins continue to run Carousel which will no doubt continue to go from strength to strength.




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