Fashion Photographer Deborah Turbeville dies at age 81

by JamesNYCOctober 24. 2013 05:21

Photographer Deborah Turbeville, whose atmospheric images for Mademoiselle, Harper’s Bazaar, Italian Vogue, L’Uomo Vogue, Cacharel, Valentino and Barneys New York were distinctive for their mystery and drama, died in a New York hospital October 24, her agents, Marek and Associates, confirmed. The cause of death was lung cancer.

Throughout her career, Turbeville created fashion, travel and architectural images that were “Romantic, feminine, elegant, unconventional, dreamy,” as Italian Vogue editor Franca Sozzani wrote in the 2011 book Deborah Turbeville: The Fashion Pictures (published by Rizzoli).

Born in Medford, Massachusetts (she didn’t like to disclose the year), Turbeville worked for designer Claire McCardell and as a stylist and magazine editor before she began experimenting with a camera. She published her first essay in Vogue in 1970.  She became internationally renowned through her “Bathhouse” series, published in 1976. The photos showed models posing languidly in the rooms of a former bathhouse. The series included many of the hallmarks of Turbeville’s career: mysterious images seen as if through a mist, a slightly ominous atmosphere, and a fascination with architecture and environments.

In her long career, Turbeville would often shoot in romantic spaces: crumbling palazzos, old theaters, rococo apartments and formal gardens. Her color work was often compared to pointillist paintings, and at times she obscured the images further by scratching the negatives or allowing her Polaroid negatives to be lightened by the sun. “I like to think atmosphere is the main thing about my pictures,” Turbeville wrote.

Turbeville’s fascination with architecture inspired her to photograph in Newport, Rhode Island; St. Petersburg, Russia; Budapest, Hungary;  Versailles, France; and  her home in Mexico. Her travel images were published in Condé Nast Traveler and other publications.

“She was an encyclopedia of film, culture and writing,” says agent Marek Milewicz, who began working with Turbeville 36 years ago. “She never compromised what she did. She believed in what she did and followed her voice of creativity.”

Her books include Unseen Versailles (1982), Deborah Turbeville’s Newport Remembered (1994), Studio St. Petersburg (1997), Past Imperfect (2009) and Casa No Name (2009). Her work has been exhibited at the Hasselblad Museum in Sweden, the Museo Contemporaneo in Mexico, Kunst Museum in Finland and other institutions. Her awards include the ICP Infinity Award for Applied Photography and the Lucie Award for Fashion Photography. She had recently been working on her third book with Rizzoli, says Donna Cerutti of Marek and Associates.


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