Deanna Templeton is very involved with youth culture and female identity. Starting with her own diaries, she went in search of her own adolescence, and has spent 17 years photographing girls and women in different locations. To some degree, she sees herself reflected in them. Her What She Said series was published by Mack Press Images in January 2021. We are presenting some of the pictures here, and spoke with her about the origin of this long-term project, and the particularities of portrait photography.

What She Said is a series about women, and was recently published as a book with the same title. The photos from this series are combined with personal diary entries.
All the texts in the book come from my diaries and journal entries, written when I was 14 to 18 years old. They are presented in chronological order. Some are paired with portraits, where I just went with a gut instinct on which text went with which image. I’m a little afraid that anyone who doesn’t read the opening text of the book might not realize that these words are mine, and not those of the young women in the photos. So, just in case, the tougher, more sensitive texts are shown by themselves.

What made you pursue this project?
First of all, this project came about because I’ve always been very fond of text with art, and wanted a way to incorporate it into my work. Before this became a book, I’d come across some boxes that had been in my closet for years, and I decided to look at what I’d 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 photographed had a very similar look. Then it just clicked: the images could help illustrate my youth at the time the entries were written. So the book is composed of modern portraits, my teenage diary/journal entries, and selected flyers from concerts that I went to. With all the women I’ve photographed, especially for this What She Said 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, self love, than I did at their age, so I was just excited trying to capture that.

How did you come up with the title What She Said?
The title of the book came from The Smiths’ song of the same title. The lyrics meant the world to me when I first heard them as a teenager. When I knew there was a possibility of this becoming a book, I knew instantly what the title was going to be.

Where and when did you shoot the portraits for What She Said? Please tell us about the venues and locations.
These portraits come from all over: the US, England, France, Italy, Canada, Russia, Belgium, Germany. Most of the time I’m just out walking when I come across these women; whether it’s when I’m travelling around with my husband, on a skateboard trip or at an art show. Other times I would be on my afternoon walk in down town Huntington Beach, taking a break from working at home. Basically I just try to never leave the house or hotel room without a camera around my neck. The earliest photo for this project is from 2003, I believe, and the last one was shot in January 2020.

What She Said consists of a series of portraits. What makes a good portrait in your mind?
One that gives you some idea of whom that person is; or to just feel something, some understanding, some connection; or even to ask questions.

Deanna Templeton. Image from What She Said (MACK, 2021). Courtesy the artist and MACK.

What do you like about portrait photography?
I like the connection with the subject. I’m something of a shy person and feel most comfortable in smaller groups of people; more of a one-on-one person. So when I’m fortunate enough to shoot people’s portraits I try to get that connection between us, even if it’s just for a moment. And then there’s also my love of portrait paintings, which, as I am unable to paint myself, I try to emulate through my photography.

Which camera did you work with this time? Was it your M6, the camera that has been your long-time companion?
I’m still shooting with an M6 TTL and a Summilux-M 50/1.4 Asph. It’s still my favourite, still the best. Quiet, clear, precise. Though I’ve been toying with the idea of trying one of your digital cameras.

You seem to work in black and white and in colour; what is it you like about each style?
They both serve a different purpose for me. I like to use black and white for my street photography. To be honest, I always keep black and white film in my M6 and that’s the camera that’s pretty much always with me. But sometimes, if I know I’m going to an event or some place where there will be a lot of people, then I’ll bring two cameras with me: the second one will be my medium format camera, and that’s the one I usually load with colour film. So sometimes I’ll shoot the same thing with both cameras, and then wait until I get the proof sheets back to see which one I like better.

How would you like your images to be perceived? What would you say is the purpose of your photography?
Well, for this project, I just wanted people who might have experienced these same kinds of thoughts and feelings, to know that they’re not alone; and that, if they can give themselves a break and some time, they will make it through. And then maybe also have a little laugh at themselves.

What are you up to next? What future projects can you talk about at this point?
One of my future projects will hopefully be a two-volume book with my husband Ed, documenting Huntington Beach. We’ve both been shooting our home town now for over 20 years, and we thought it would be cool to do a two-volume, slip case book together: one volume for Ed and one for me; showing the differences and the similarities in what we see. I’ve also been thinking of doing something about my husband, about our relationship of almost 35 years.

Born in 1969, Deanna Templeton lives and works in southern California. She is known for her documentary and serial work exploring youth culture and feminine identity. Since the 1990s, Templeton has explored many subjects – from the nude body in her book The Swimming Pool (Um Yeah Arts 2016), and street photography at night in her book The Moon Has Lost Her Memory (Super Labo, 2017), to her own tumultuous adolescence contrasted with that of young women growing up in our current era, in her book What She Said (Mack Books, 2021). Her work has been exhibited in galleries and museums worldwide. Find out more about her photography on her Instagram channel.