Social Media

Interview: Deanna Templeton on The Swimming Pool

Interview Deanna Templeton on The Swimming Pool photo-eye Bookstore Manager Christopher J Johnson speaks to Deanna Templeton about her new book The Swimming Pool.

The Swimming PoolBy Deanna TempletonUm Yeah Arts, 2016.
Deanna and Ed Templeton do nearly everything together, often photographing in the same locations, though photographically their voices are unique. Deanna Templeton’s voice has perhaps never been clearer than in her most recent monograph from Um Yeah Press titled The Swimming Pool. Made over the course of 8 years simultaneously with projects like Scratch My Name on Your Arm, Templeton captures the beauty of bodies. Featuring both men and women, shot in color and black and white and on a variety of film stocks, Templeton approached the subject from a true place of exploration, creating an environment around her backyard pool conducive to experimentation. As a result, her subjects notably exude confidence and a sense of freedom as they glide below the shimmering surface of the water, allowing Templeton to considering the expression of the human form and the particular qualities of water for reflection and distortion.

The results are stunning. photo-eye Bookstore Manager Christopher J Johnson describes the book as a “quiet meditation similar to the act of swimming” and being alone underwater. Christopher J Johnson talked to Templeton about making The Swimming Pool, her current projects and the benefits of taking your time with your art.

The Swimming PoolBy Deanna TempletonUm Yeah Arts, 2016.
Christopher J Johnson:     As far as a publication of yours goes, The Swimming Pool, I feel, is significantly different. Your Instagram feed and previous books have been mostly what you would call street photography, documenting life outside and in conjunction with the public arena. The photographs in The Swimming Pool standout as being completely different in that regard. How do you feel about the outcome given the different nature of this subject matter?

Deanna Templeton:     Yes, it is different from how I usually work. I am usually just out on the street walking around and shooting things that catch my eye, or something I can relate to. At the same time I was shooting this series, I was shooting another series of body autographs, and I think you might have seen my book Scratch My Name On Your Arm?

CJJ:     Of course, yeah.

DT:     Okay. So I was shooting that maybe a year before I actually started working on The Swimming Pool, but that series, I was out on the street or going to events looking for kids writing signatures, some kind of logo, something that they were putting on their bodies to express themselves. Then maybe a year or two into that series, my husband [Ed Templeton] was taking a dip in our pool and I made some photos of him, and I really liked what I got back. So I started shooting other people, having friends and friends of friends come over to swim for me. Maybe two or three years in, now kind of looking on both subjects simultaneously, doing The Swimming Pool gave me a break from all of the noise and hecticness of the other photos that I was also shooting.

When I'm out on the street, some days I don't shoot anything when I'm walking around or going out. Some days are better than others. But when I was specifically working on that project, going out looking for people with body signings, The Swimming Pool was just a really nice balance for me. I'd go out to these events and I'd shoot all this craziness and noise and then I come back home, because where I shot The Swimming Pool was in our backyard pool, and it was just really calm. It was really quiet. For the most part I was shooting one-on-one with people. Every now and then people would bring their friends with them or I'd shoot twin brothers, or I had 3 people in the pool, but for the most part, it was really calming for me. And a way to calm down everything else. I was shooting and having to go out and look. Now I'm getting people to come to be in this controlled environment. It was a nice balance.

The Swimming PoolBy Deanna TempletonUm Yeah Arts, 2016.

CJJ:     So now when you engage with the book, does it seem quiet or contemplative, or meditative? Not all those words being the same, but I mean something like that?

DT:     Yes, when I look at the images, I feel a sense of calmness and quietness. Definitely. I also, unlike the other series I was shooting, [there’s a sense of confidence]. Not to say that the kids in the other series weren't confident, because they are displaying their bodies with these sometimes very strong words and comments on them, but I felt like they were a little bit more youthful and playing around, and just experimenting with forms. I saw that the people in my photos for The Swimming Pool series were also having fun, but I felt like there was a real strong sense of self-confidence and pride in themselves. I mean, obviously I think that most of the people are probably a little bit older than the people in other series that I was shooting.

CJJ:     Even though you were asking them to pose nude and do something athletic and that might bolster their confidence.

DT:     Yes. It was funny because the whole time I shot for The Swimming Pool series, I wanted everyone to feel comfortable and in a safe environment — if we needed the blinds closed down on the house so we didn't have to worry about if there was anyone else in the house looking out, I'd make sure everyone would slip out of their clothes in our bathroom, wrap the towel around, go out in the backyard by themselves and then just holler for me. Then once they got in the pool, when it was all done I would turn my head and hold up the towels and wrap them up, even though I had just shot them. I kind of feel like just even that feeling, having the water between me and them — I am above the water. I am not in the pool. I'm shooting from above. I just think that separation from us was like a little bit of security, too, in its own way.

CJJ:     Yeah that's really interesting, and they would be under water too, so the sense of you, even, would be harder to manage. When I'm under water I feel isolation. I feel everything physically around me so cut off from any other form of contact.

DT:     Yes, yes. You're just within yourself.

The Swimming PoolBy Deanna TempletonUm Yeah Arts, 2016.

CJJ:     I have to say, the book carries a great sense of even, surprisingly, stillness, but it's contemplative. It's quiet. I think the large contributing part of it actually is that there is almost no text, except for the title, until the very end, and that allows this continued experience of this kind of quiet grace, I guess.

DT:     Thank you! I’m glad!

CJJ:     So engaging with the book, is that what you feel? Is that the feeling you wanted it to have?

DT:     Yes. I never did film this experience, but if I was going to film it, I wouldn't want any actual audio, you know, voices going through it. So I also wouldn't want any text going through the images because if you were under water, all you would hear would be the water. To somehow bring this across in the book, I think having text throughout it just wouldn't have worked for this. At least not for what I wanted. What Ed wrote at the back captured the experience, especially considering he was the first swimmer for this, but I didn't want it go through the book. Kind of like how I was trying to find people with little to no tattoos, I didn't want any distractions. I think text throughout the book also would have added a distraction.

The Swimming PoolBy Deanna TempletonUm Yeah Arts, 2016.
CJJ:     Yeah, had Ed's statement prefaced the book I think there would have been thoughts in one’s head prior to seeing the images, which would have done something to that quietness or stillness, even. What's your next project — and of course we want to know, will there be a book form of it?

DT:     Everyday I still go out and just shoot my surroundings, but a focused project I've been working on is I've been shooting a lot of young women over the years that either remind me of myself when I was a teenager, or how I wish I would have been when I was a teenager and I'm pairing the photos up with my old diary and journal entries from when I was 14-18 years old. I have an exhibition coming up on June 25th in LA for this, and Kodak has reached out to try to revamp their brand, so they've reached out to me to see if maybe we could work together. They might print a catalog for this show, but it would just be the images and the text that's in the show, and then in the future, yes, a book.

CJJ:     That sounds like an ideal book project! I mean, coming from journalistic diaries and then adding images, it's already a book!

DT:     A gallery took me to Paris Photo last year and we tested out of few of the images and I had a really great response there. Then I tested out another way of combining the texts and the images at a college gallery a few months ago. I was really excited because they had students come through and had to pick one of the artists to write an essay on, and they sent me all the ones that chose to write about my work — just seeing that there was a connection still.

It's pretty embarrassing; I was obviously a really dramatic teenager, which I just think most teenagers are. I saved all of my journals and diaries because I thought if we ever had a kid then I just wanted them to know, if things were starting to go bad in their lives and if they just thought, "No one understands. You could never understand me," just to let them know that I've been there too. Actually I do understand how tough and how for some of us, our teenager years suck, and just to let them know, "Just hang in there, it will get better."

We decided not to have children, so now I want a way to still share with young people, with everyone. I really like that some of the young people who have had exposure to this already have felt the kind of sense that they're going to be okay.

from Scratch My Name On Your Arm by Deanna Templeton from Schunck

CJJ:     The Swimming Pool was made in the pool in your back yard, but it almost seems in a sense like a studio environment over the street photographs that you take. Do you have any other similar, perhaps more difficult, setup projects in mind?

DT:     No. Even for The Swimming Pool, even though it was controlled because it was in my backyard and our pool, I still wanted everyone to express themselves however they wanted to come across in the photos, which I told them. I kind of felt like it was a collaboration. That's the way I was looking into it. It was only if I saw something that really stuck out while I was kind of shimmying along the pool coping, then I would ask them, "Hey can you do that again?" But otherwise, it was really like their form of expression.

Then the girls I'm finding out on the street for my next project — it’s called What She Said, it pertains to a Smiths song that was really important to me when I was growing up — even when I find girls on the street, the only direction I'm giving is maybe not to smile, unless if they have braces, then it's just like, "Open up, let those shiny babies through," but I'm not posing anyone. I'm kind of stopping them in motion – yeah. I think I just have more excitement just finding things out in nature.

CJJ:     Do you have advice for someone who wants to shoot a scene — whether that scene be a subculture or their neighborhood — what, in your mind, is the best thing that they could do to possibly further their pursuit in that, and be happier and happier with their own results?

from Scratch My Name On Your Arm by Deanna Templeton from Schunck
DT:     Oh my gosh! Well first you just have to start. You just have to go out your door and just start shooting photos and then keep reflecting looking back at your photos. It's funny, I think young people might really like everything now, but it takes years. You can do things in a short amount of time, but I feel like over time you get a better idea of what you actually want, and you start building a story. The photographs start making sense, and if you give it time, time for you to live with it, to see what you've actually shot, see what you're missing, you might start building ideas, like, “The story is not complete. I need to get something that bridges this gap."

Even with The Swimming Pool book, I kept shooting every summer for 8 years and I'm so glad I did, because the first year was just a whirlwind. I didn't have a clear idea of what I like, what I didn't like. And over the years, what I thought I liked, it turned out no, that was too noisy, too hectic, there was too much distortion in the water, and I finally knew what I was trying to get across with the calmness and the quietness.

The Swimming PoolBy Deanna TempletonUm Yeah Arts, 2016.
But it took time, it took 8 years. Even with the girls that I'm shooting for this new project, in the beginning I didn't know why. I just felt there was some attraction there and then it stated to make sense. It's like, "Oh my gosh, why I'm interested in these girls? Is it because they remind me of me? Or is that how I wish I could have been?” Then it stated to make sense.

Purchase The Swimming Pool