what she said
The Unapologetically Punk Girls of Deanna Templeton’s Photography
On May 30th, 1987, a young Deanna Templeton, age 15 in Huntington Beach, California, wrote in her diary on pink lined paper: “What an interesting night!! 2 death threats, pick ups left and right, scratches on my truck, forgot to switch freeways, almost ran over a kitty, ended up in San Pedro. Then went to Denny’s. The Hoover recreation center sucks!!” The entry is one among many discovered by the California-born photographer when moving out of her parent’s house, each more witty, tragic, and recklessly adolescent than the next. In them, she alternates between seeing shows, losing pounds, doing coke, and failing her driving test: March 13, 1986: Black Flag at Safari Sam’s. They were good! March 16th 1986, Social Distortion at Safari Sam’s. They were great!! March 17th, 1986: Social Distortion at Safari Sam’s. They were great again. Failed my driving test. Oh well. March 21st, 1986: Went to parties that weren’t there.
At the time, Templeton struggled with an eating disorder, suicidal thoughts, and a feeling of self-hatred that ran deeper than the scars on her arms. “I grew up and still live in a beach community. There’s a lot of young, attractive, fit-looking girls who fit the look of what I was seeing in fashion mags and on TV shows,” she says. “I literally made a little vision board of supermodels that I cut up and pasted to my wall. But I was constantly breaking out with zits. I felt that I was overweight. So much was telling me this is what I was supposed to look like, and I wasn’t able to achieve that. But my brother would leave his music magazines laying around, so I finally got to see other images of girls that were more attainable, but just as beautiful. The girls from Bananarama were just so cool-looking. The way Exene dressed was so cool. It was just way easier to crimp my hair than to change and grow a foot taller. It was a real eye-opener.”
At 51, Templeton now has an extensive photographic catalogue, much of which features subjects that remind her of her younger, searching self, or who she wished she could’ve been—girls with Black Sabbath t-shirts, studded chokers, and an intimidating amount of eyeliner, with the self-assurance to pull it off. Her latest photo book, What She Said (Mack Books)—not an Office reference, she laughingly clarifies, but lifted from the Smiths song—is an ode to those girls, and the emotional tidal wave of being young, punk, and female. Juxtaposing these photos with her own candid journal entries, the book is profoundly personal for Templeton. “No one put a gun to my head to put this out there,” she says from her home in Huntington Beach, which she shares with her husband, the skateboarder and photographer Ed Templeton. “I know that. I know this is me wanting to share it. It’s just, it hasn’t been without a lot of emotion behind it.” Below, Templeton shows us a few photographs from the book, and tells us how she captured the unapologetically punk rock attitude of today’s youth.
“That was the second time I saw those two girls. One of the hardest things about making a book is editing, selecting what images I want to use. It’s really hard because you don’t want to be too repetitive with the same people, but now, in hindsight, there’s an image of those two girls with two other friends. I shot them as a group first on a different day. They looked like a cool girl gang.
And then, a couple of weeks later, I saw the two girls now walking around a different part of downtown Huntington Beach. I’m like, ‘Oh, can I get another photograph of you girls?’ This time, they were by this blue wall—a different look. I shot them again. I ended up deciding to use the single shot of the other girl in the Death Metal shirt.
Out of these three girls, I did keep in contact with all three of them. We direct message each other. They’re very supportive of the book. When I first met them, I just went back to my 15-year-old self, like, ‘These are the girls I want as friends! This is who I want to hang out with.’ But they were nice. They’re not the mean girls. When I say cool, from what I get through their social media, they’re not looking down on anyone. If anything, they’re encouraging other girls and people that they don’t even know. They’re trying to lift them up as well. One of the girls did a story around New Year’s saying, ‘If you’re feeling down or need someone to talk to, you can direct message me, if I know you or not.’ I’m like, ‘That is so sweet.’ For as much as I don’t think I could have survived in today’s world with social media with the thoughts I had back when I was a teenager, it’s like, maybe I would have, maybe if I would have found this girl. A lot of these girls, they’ve given me hope. They’re not my kids, but they make me proud.”
“This was mid-summer in Italy. It’s a very small Italian town called Lecce. It wasn’t Rome or Milan. I absolutely loved it, because I love when kids just commit. I get really excited when I see kids down at the beach walking the pier on the sand in all their goth glory with an umbrella or whatnot. This girl, she was just amazing. We were probably in the town square. It was a vacation. I’m sure we just got gelato. I saw her and just was like, ‘This is beautiful,’ and just ran up to her. I probably startled her, like I do most of the people I run up to. And there was the language barrier, but she understood. ‘Can I take a portrait of you?’ She just posed with her stuffed animal and I loved it. That was her afternoon walk.”
“There’s an image of a girl that I put in the book who’s wearing a cape and hood. I was so excited to shoot her because back when I was in high school, my best friend also used to wear a cape with a hood to school. And so, it was just like, ‘This is incredible!’ This is, like, 20 years, 30 years later and this girl was doing it, too. I just loved it. I said, ‘You reminded me of my friend!’ It was in Canada, either in Toronto or in Vancouver. I was on a skate trip.”
“Oh, my gosh. Both my husband and I, we work from home. Up until the pandemic, every day around 2:00, 2:30, to get a little walk in and to keep up our practice of shooting, we would go downtown and get a drink from our Starbucks and take an hour-long walk, just to get out of the house. This girl was just outside, and she had the shirt on. I think it just connected with me, because when I was a teenager, I didn’t have that much self-confidence. I don’t think I ever would have had the guts to wear a shirt like that. It was just such a strong, bold statement. I loved it. I asked her if I could take a portrait of her. She obliged. When I photograph people, when I’m asking for their photograph, I try to read the room and see if I have the leeway to ask, like, “Can I shoot you over here?” But sometimes, like I said, you can just tell that they’re allowing me to shoot their photo, but it’s really just a one and done deal. Maybe I projected because her shirt was so bold, but with her, I was like, ‘Just get the shot and accept it. Move on.’ The only regret I have is that I didn’t ask her to put down her Starbucks cup, but Ed thought it was funny. It was a Frappuccino. A very large Frappuccino.”
“Again, this was a local photo. This was in Huntington Beach and just underneath our pier. There could have been a surf event going on. Every summer, we had these big U.S. Opens of Surfing, which also incorporated skateboarding events and music, up to a certain point until they had a little mini riot. They looked cool and I especially loved the girl’s red hair, but what attracted me to them was a lot about the shirts, because when I was younger, I saw Subhumans and also was very into Suicidal Tendencies.
I don’t know when I shot this photo, but it was definitely years ago. But when I re-posted it on Instagram, somehow I got in contact with both these girls. It was just pretty cool because they kind of fell out of friendship, moved on, grew up, went their own ways. But the photograph reopened dialogue with them again, and they reached out. They got caught up with each other, which was super cool and sweet. I was kind of happy about that, to open a little dialogue between two old friends.
But it was the shirts that drew me to them. It was what I connected with. My husband had someone on his team, and I won’t name names, but he was wearing a music shirt and it was a band that both my husband and I really liked. We were like, ‘Oh, my god. That’s so cool you like so and so.’ And then he just kind of was like, “I have no idea who they are. I just thought that the shirt looked cool.’ It’s like, ‘Ugh.’ But I want to say the girls that I shot, I felt they knew what they were doing. They knew what they were listening to.”