The Fashion Pictures
For her latest book, The Fashion Pictures, fashion photographer Deborah Turbeville assembles a selection of the surrealistic photographs that made her name.
To enter into her universe, you have to brave the cold: cold color tones (if any), cold attitudes, and above all, cold, almost anguished stares. It’s no surprise to learn that Saint Petersburg, that “streetcar amid the ice,” is one of Deborah Turbeville’s favorite cities. To understand these works, one must explore the photographer’s process, wherein warmth and play are minimal. “I have absolutely no relationship with my models. I never did. I try to keep my distance. I don’t speak to them. I merely place them where they belong and then indicate how still they should remain. Why?”
Throughout her career—at Vogue, Harper’s Bazar, W Magazine—Turbeville has woven these invisible links between herself and her subjects. They often seem frozen in place, an image fraught with silence. “They respond to the ambiance I create for them. That’s all that I ask of them.” The cold beauty of her aestheticism has hardly changed over the years. The light is scathing, the the models’ faces hewn from shadows. In this alluring, enigmatic poetry, their looks flee from the camera and the woman behind it. The negatives are scratched and stained on purpose. “That is what I am,” says Turbeville. “A photographer always puts a part of her self in her photos. That is the mystery. No need to look further for an answer.”
Turbeville began to explore the mysteries of her photography abroad, notably living in Paris in the 1970s. She found herself working in “empty and abandoned courtyards, in strange and unreal situations,” and quickly decided that was where she belonged. Having just finished a campaign for Valentino in a desolate mining town outside of Mexico City, it still seems that is where the photographer is most comfortable. For all the shadows, Turbeville’s work is hardly gloomy. It’s rather dreamlike. Even if a few of the photographs in The Fashion Pictures have a photojournalistic spirit, privileging the document over the pose, they are all decidedly cinematic, and thus fictional.
Deborah Turbeville, The Fashion Pictures
Until November 26 at the Staley Wise Gallery, New York
560 Broadway # 305
New York, NY 10012-3945
The Fashion Pictures (Rizzoli)
300 pp., $85