“If you can hang on, things will get better, years pass”: Deanna Templeton’s book unearths the pain and troubles of girlhood

In What She Said, the photographer pairs portraiture, gig ephemera and diary entries detailing life as a young woman.

8 February 2021


“It’s been a very long road to where I am today, and to be honest, I hope there’s plenty of road ahead of me,” says Deanna Templeton, a photographer based in California who’s best known for her extensive work capturing youth and culture.

The beginning of this road started when she was 15, as a friend of hers was studying a photography class. After being invited over, Deanna witnessed the magic of film developing and she was enamoured by its metamorphosis from eye to image. “It’s funny now to think of it, I got hooked on photography not by seeing other peoples’ images, but by the actual making of a print,” she tells It’s Nice That. Shortly after this cathartic moment, and after helping a friend run away from a horrible family situation that evening, her parents bought her the first camera she owned – “It seemed like they were giving me a welcome home present.”

Fast forward to her teenage years and another camera later (her first was stolen), and Deanna started observing the work found in photography books, discovering Japanese photographer Hiromix in the process. The next year, her husband Ed Templeton gifted her a Canon AE1 after noticing her good eye for the medium, to which she responded: “I hope someday I can become a photographer”. And his reply was: “You are! Once you pick up that camera and start shooting!” This was 30 years ago.

Now, Deanna has released a new book titled What She Said, with London publisher Mack. After stumbling across some old boxes stacked away in her cupboard, she peered in to find her diaries and journals from when she was aged between 14-18. Unsurprisingly, she cried – like all who’d look back on the tricky times of being a teenager, this brought a rush of emotion as she read how “miserable and mean” she was to herself back then. “In love with a heroin loser, Mike. Miss Dawn Tipka a lot. Hate life, hate me, hate you!! Wanna die when I’m 18,” reads one of her diary entries from her past, detailing the teenage angst, anguish that some may find familiar. “Wish I was never born. Depressed,” it continues to read. "A compulsive liar. Steals. Unloved and wants to be love. But what is love anyway.”

Today, Deanna is in a much better place than back then. She’d even forgotten about this chapter in her life; the pain her teenage years had caused. It was only after unearthing the diaries 30 years later that she was reminded. “After sitting with my words I thought that if I ever had children and they were going through a similar hard time, I could share with them that I know what you are going through – literally. And if you can hang on things will get better. Years pass. I’m not able to have children but I still thought that maybe sharing them could help someone.”


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

Meanwhile, Deanna sifted through old archives, noticing how the majority of her subjects were that of women who all wore a similar look – the type that reminded her of herself when she was younger; “or how I wish I could’ve looked”. That’s where the spark had been lit, and a series of text and imagery illustrated side-by-side came into fruition. What She Said, in this sense, pairs portraits with the photographer’s personal diary entries, as well as selected flyers from the punk and metal gigs that she attended.

Blending ephemera, portraiture and personal anecdotes from her teens came as a natural response for Deanna. She relied heavily on the “gut feeling” while assorting the contents of this book, selecting the text first and working out the photo edits second. A conscious effort was made to give prominence to the heavily personal diary entries, giving them space to stand alone on a page or paired with more detailed photographs. “I was a little worried that some people might not get it, that these are my words and not the girls,” she says. “So in the case of that happening, the more intense words were left with anonymity.”

In these pictures, you’ll see a compilation of sorts from around seven years’ worth of picture taking. Some girls, too, were photographed way before Deanna even had plans to do anything with the pictures – “just shooting images of cool girls,” she says, noting how she didn’t have the same dialogue with them as she did with the more recent portraits. Many of whom would react stating that they wish they’d kept their own diaries, or laugh at the thought of revisiting these records. Nearly all the girls she’d met (found through skateboarding or Instagram) were sweet and engaged in conversation, while some were eagerly waiting to get back to what they were doing before hand.

Although marking no clear favourites, Deanna points out an image of a girl with her back turned towards her in her room. “After getting to know this young lady from documenting her around downtown where I live, we formed a friendship which led me to be able to shoot in her own environment,” says Deanna, recalling how they’d try various looks for the portrait. “At one point while she was changing, she had her back to me – maybe for modesty – and I just felt the connection and shot. Once I got the image back, it reminded me of myself when I was younger, kind of like how I didn’t feel comfortable having eyes on me, especially when my face was broken out really bad. I just wanted to turn my back away from everyone, even myself.”

There’s no doubting that the process of making What She Said has elevated a kind of remedial outcome for Deanna. To hatch the past and make acquaintances with it once again is never easy, let alone if that past brings up bad or difficult memories – like the feeling of self-worthlessness and hatred towards your own body. That’s why, when asked what she hopes to achieve from this series, she says: “To see beyond what we are told and sold as the only truth of what beauty is. I have written like 10 different answers and deleted all of them, this is really hard,” she adds, honestly. “As a photographer, you hope people will like your photographs, connect with them on some level, but it’s really out of the photographer’s hands how one will respond.”

“For the text portion of the book,” she concludes, “I just wanted people who might be or who have also experienced these same thoughts and feelings to know they are not alone; if they can give themselves the time and a break, they will make it through this. And then hopefully have a little laugh at oneself.”

GalleryDeanna Templeton: What She Said (MACK, 2021). Courtesy the artist and MACK.

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

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent nearly a decade as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.

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