Portfolio: Deborah Lou Turbeville

A Column by Kara Fox

Beyond life, family and friends, I love photography.  I fell in love with photography during my early teens. I loved high contrast images, the deepest velvety blacks and the crisp cool whites. That was until I saw the work of Deborah Turbeville.  I had never seen anything like her atmospheric images. They transported me into a uniquely raw emptiness filled with emotional tension. 

Deborah Lou Turbeville constructed images from the depth of her imagination. Her dreamy and poetic photographs were a like a visual language obscured in time unidentified. She built incomplete mysteries shot through misted glass,dreamlike, redolent with melancholy beauty. Her images "exude an almost palpable sense of longing, with questions about the woeful women they depict — Who are they? Why are they so sad?

Born in 1943, alongsideRichardAvedon and Guy Bourdon, she moved beyond the boundaries of fashion photographers who focused on the subjectrather than the clothes they were wearing. Had it not been for Avedon and Marvin Israel, instructors of a six-month workshop in 1962, this former model and fashion editor would never have taken photography so seriously. She learned from them, and as she presented her first images,“so out of focus and terrible,” that the idea and the inspiration were more important than the technique. As she began her work in the 1970’s she changed the face of fashion photography from’sedate’ to’shocking.’ Telling just enough of the story to leave a mystery for the imagination of the viewer.

The Bathouse series, produced for Vogue in 1975, became one of the magazine's most controversial spreads. Subscriptions were canceled and criticisms ran abundant. For decades, Turbeville's signature soft-focus, and gauzy romanticism, distressed with scratches, rips, intentional over-exposure and even the scattering dust on the negatives gave her work the feeling of decay.

She claimed that her goal was to give the impression that the models have innate style and that their concern was not with what they were wearing. For Turbeville, the identity of the character was the focus and the fashion was the background.

Deborah Turbeville’s photographs were defined by a sense of timelessness. Her aesthetic was so unlike the others whose images were perfect, polished, well light, in sharp focus. Deborah’s were subdued, romantic and languid, with an elegance that has made her one of the last half-century’s defining fashion photographers.

Turbeville’s intuitively rebellious work, ambiguously positioned between fashion and fine-art photography, has had a lasting influence on both fields. Deborah Turbeville, you might say, is the anti-Helmut Newton. She brought a unique point of view to fashion photography, and her pictures, always beautiful, sometimes eerie, sometimes disturbing, stand as a remarkable testament to her great talent.

“Fashion takes itself more seriously than I do,” Ms. Turbeville told The New Yorker in 2011. “I’m not really a fashion photographer.”

While listening to Rachmaninoff on her iPod she quietly passed away but her art lives on forever.

To enjoy more of the avant-garde work of Deborah Turbeville: michael@foxyproductions.com

Bath House

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