BOOK REVIEW: What She Said by Deanna Templeton
When I first glanced through this book, I thought, well, I guess this is not for me. These youngsters live in a world that is surely totally foreign and very likely incomprehensible to me, a retired man living in Switzerland. Yet for reasons unbeknownst to me, I again and again turned to the pictures that Deanna Templeton had taken, and the more time I spent with them the more it felt that the youngsters portrayed weren’t that different from youngsters of previous times about to discover their identity, looking for their purpose in life, trying not to feel too akward in their skin as well as sometimes feeling self-confident and just perfect.
Reading Deanna Templeton’s introduction seemed to confirm my ponderings, although her focus is different – to my utter amazement, I hadn’t realised that I had been almost exclusively looking at young girls. “Young girls today are living in a much different world than I did, but the experience of growing up female is universal no matter which era. I see my own struggles, disappointments and bravery in these women. I decided to take these modern portraits and pair them with my own teenage journal entries from 1984 to 1988, along with some of my flyers collected from the shows I went to that reflect the bands I was into during that time. As someone who survived a turbulent transition into adulthood, I hope that this look into my teen-aged mindset and adolescent traumas, paired with these modern girls evolving into adulthood, will convey the sense that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and we will be able to look back at our own youth and smile, remembering how intense life feels at that age.”
I very much like this approach. Not least because it appears to confirm a long held belief of mine: As much as time and circumstances change, human nature seems to be strangely constant. Once our ego is formed, fundamental character changes are unlikely. A most convincing explanation stems from psychiatrist Thomas Szasz “Every act of conscious learning requires the willingness to suffer an injury to one’s self-esteem. That is why young children, before they are aware of their own self-importance, learn so easily.”
I experience photographs essentially as triggers of feelings and emotions. The ones that Deanna Templeton’s portraits triggered can be summed up by “Growing up is a sobering experience. A life long struggle to accept what is …,” as a blogger by the name of Rikka once put it.
The way these youngsters dress, pose, present themselves to the camera made me sometimes smile but more often identify with their being seemingly vulnerable. I also thought to detect a rather profound skepticism as well as a certain apprehension as to what the future may hold.
For two decades, Deanna Templeton, approached women in the streets in order to shoot portraits of them. She had no particular plan what to do with these pics but over time started to realise that the portraits had certain qualities in common. “They were either me when I was their age, or what I wished I could have been – beautiful, strong, independent, bad-asses.”
Taking such intimate (this is how they appear to me) photographs isn’t easy. It requires the kind of trust between photographer and the ones being photographed that is difficult to describe but can be felt.
That Deanna included her teenage journal entries I thought a brilliant idea for images and texts complement each other perfectly.
What She Said
Also published on Medium.