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Deanna Templeton, What She Said (20121)
Barbara, Deanna Templeton, What She Said (20121)Photography Deanna Templeton

Deanna Templeton captures the intense, painful lives of teenage girls

What She Said depicts the agony and the ecstasy of adolescence for generations of young women

Adolescence can offer moments of the most acute distress and humiliation alongside interludes of never-to-be-experienced-again euphoria and revelation. Whatever elements of this emotional hot mess reflect your own experience of teendom, one aspect of growing up that seems universal is the sheer intensity of this formative time in our lives.

Bravely interspersed with her own juvenile diary entries, Deanna Templeton’s new book, What She Said (MACK), takes a compassionate and tender look at that magical time when life was pain and the band t-shirt you wore was a solemn pledge of allegiance. “Loves death punk, punk, acid rock, psychedelic, classical, rock and roll, and dance music,” wrote the 16-year-old Templeton, introducing herself in bubble handwriting on the pink pages of her ring-bound journal. “Wanna die when I’m 18. Wish I was never born.”

Yet, while she's able to take a wry look at her teenage confessions, she's not discounting the authenticity of her diary entries. “After rereading my words a few times over, the pain lessons and now I can laugh a little at myself,” she tells Dazed. “But I don't want to discredit my feelings from back then. They were real to me.”

This long-term project collects together the Californian photographer’s portraits of young women taken over several decades on the streets of the US, Europe and Russia. Drawn to teenagers who identify with counter-cultural movements and subcultures, Templeton has spent years taking the pictures of girls who fly the flag for quintessential teenage outsiderdom – punks with ripped jeans and tights, heavy kohl eye pencil, tattoos, and attitude. Above, take a look through What She Said while, below, we talk to Deanna Templeton about teenage angst, fandom, and why growing up’s such a universally painful experience.

Could you share with us how this project came to be? And how you first became interested in documenting adolescence? 

Deanna Templeton: Well, this book came about firstly because I've always been very fond of text with art and wanted a way to incorporate it into my work. So before this became a book I came across some boxes that I have had in my closet for years and decided to take a look at what I have been holding onto. I came across my diaries and journals from when I was 14 to 18 years old. Around the same time, looking through my photo archive, I started to notice that a lot of the women I was shooting had a very similar look. Then it just clicked, these images could help illustrate my youth at the time of the writings. So the book is composed of modern portraits, my teenage diary/journal entries, and selected flyers from concerts that I went to.

As for when I first became interested in documenting adolescence, I think it started because of all the opportunities I had with my husband being a professional skateboarder, being able to travel around the US, Canada, and Europe on skate trips with him. With the young people I've shot, especially for this project, I was super excited to find young women that gave me hope. I felt like a lot of these young women have more self-confidence and self-love then I did at their age so I was just excited trying to capture that.  

The title is taken from The Smiths’ song of the same name. What does that song mean to you? And why did What She Said feel the right for this book?

Deanna Templeton: This song by The Smiths was my teenage anthem. It spoke to me and for me. I knew from the beginning that if this work was to become a book that that's what the title was going to be. No second thoughts.

It’s so funny and painful to read one’s own teenage diary entries. I’m sure they echo most people’s adolescent inner lives. Why do you think teenagers are so drawn to morbid self-revelation and melodrama? Why is coming of age so painful?

Deanna Templeton: I don't know, I can't speak for anyone else. As for me though, during that time in my life the feelings I was having were real, intense, and painful. Now looking back almost 35 years later I can see the melodrama. After rereading my words a few times over, the pain lessons and now I can laugh a little at myself. But I don't want to discredit my feelings from back then. They were real to me. I know for myself it was just a lot of pressure, some put on from society and some I put on myself. How to look, act, and be accepted was an uphill battle.

“The advice I would’ve loved to pass onto my younger self would have been to give yourself a break, don't be so hard on yourself” – Deanna Templeton

I’m fascinated by the band t-shirts in your portraits. How would you define the relationship between fandom and teenagehood?

Deanna Templeton: The band t-shirts portraits were particularly fun for me to shoot. It was a great ice-breaker for me to ask for their photo, especially if I have seen the band that they were wearing. We would have a little something to talk about, something in common.

What's the relationship between fandom and teenagehood? I'm not sure, maybe just that youthful excitement and energy. I know when I was younger I would get to the clubs sometimes while the bands were still setting up and would hang out all night, standing next to the stacks of speakers. Now I try to figure out exactly when the band I want to see will hit the stage so I can just show up minutes before, stand in the back, put in my earplugs, and then leave before the encore to beat the rush. So I guess you could say I'm still a fan but, not being a teenager anymore, I'm a lot more practical with how I approach concerts now.

Are there any particular pictures in the book that you’re most fond of or think most encapsulate girlhood? And do you have any memorable stories relating to any of the portraits that have stayed with you?

Deanna Templeton: To be honest, I'm quite fond of all the images in the book. But one that sticks out at the moment is the photo of the girl wearing a shirt that says ‘death metal’ with a rainbow over it. I think what struck me to shoot her was that some years back I was at a record store and they were playing Altered Images over the speakers. I think the song was ‘I Can Be Happy’ and there was this guy with an upside-down cross tattooed on his face, dressed all in black, makeup, and looking at records but he was kind of bouncing around to the song, and this just made me really happy. I loved the combo of goth and bubbly, so when I saw this young lady down by the beach wearing this shirt I just had to get a portrait. 

How do you feel about your younger self when you revisit that writing? And what advice, if any, would you like to pass on to yourself at that tender age?

Deanna Templeton: When I first sat down and read my diaries and journals I was caught off guard how miserable and mean I was to myself. I cried. It was almost like I was reading about someone else because I was. I've since been in such a better place that I had somewhat forgotten about this time in my life. The advice I would’ve loved to pass onto my younger self would have been to give yourself a break, don't be so hard on yourself.

 Are there any particular ideas or insight you’d like readers of What She Said to take away with them?  

Deanna Templeton: I just wanted people who have or might be experiencing these same thoughts and feelings to know they are not alone. If they can give themselves some time and a break they will make it through this. And then maybe also have a little laugh at oneself.

What She Said (2021) by Deanna Templeton, published by MACK is available here now