This Pioneering Fashion Photographer Captured Complicated Women

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Mantova, Italy, 1977, by Deborah Turbeville. Photo: Deborah Turbeville Estate/Courtesy Deborah Bell Photographs

The late photographer Deborah Turbeville is best known for developing a revolutionary approach to fashion imagery in the 1970s, when she shifted the focus from clothing itself to the feelings contained by an image and its subject. As the only woman among the industry’s three leading photographers at the time (alongside Guy Bourdin and Helmut Newton), Turbeville captured shock, melancholy, and sadness in striking spreads for Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. In every image, she alluded to the multitudes of womanhood.

“I go into a woman’s private world, where you never go,” she told the New York Times in 1977. The exhibit “Deborah Turbeville” at Deborah Bell Photographs in New York showcases this approach, featuring works taken from 1974 to 1982. With a ghostly, foreboding tone in both settings and subjects, the prints and collages reveal private, complicated lives — not just beauty, as shown in many fashion photographs at the time. Instead, Turbeville’s subjects stand in large empty forests, desolate bathhouses, and dark stairways. These women are not trying to please the viewer — they’re showing an authenticity rarely seen in front of a camera.

Click ahead to see Diana Vreeland, Betsey Johnson, and more images from the exhibit, which runs until January 28.

Photo: Deborah Turbeville Estate/Courtesy Deborah Bell Photographs

Untitled, 1978 (close up of woman looking at camera). Gelatin silver print on handmade paper paper 17.25 x 24” (43.82 x 60.96 cm), print 16 x 20” (40.64 x 50.80 cm). Estate stamp with signature of executor in ink on verso.

Photo: Deborah Turbeville Estate/Courtesy Deborah Bell Photographs

Mantova, Italy, 1978 (sic) from the series l’heure entre chien et loup. Gelatin silver or platinum print, 7 x 10.5” (17.78 x 26.67 cm). Signed, titled & dated in ink on verso.

Photo: Deborah Turbeville Estate/Courtesy Deborah Bell Photographs

Mantova, Italy, 1977 (Isabelle Weingarten) (diptych). Two (2) gelatin silver prints. Left print 11 x 9.5” (27.94 x 24.13 cm), right print 11 x 8.75” (27.94 x 22.23 cm). Left print titled & dated in ink on recto, right print signed in ink on recto.

Photo: Deborah Turbeville Estate/Courtesy Deborah Bell Photographs

Comme des Garçons, Escalier dans Passage Vivienne, Paris, November 1980 (veiled model in black descending staircase). Gelatin silver print, 16 x 20” (40.64 x 50.80 cm). Signed, titled & dated in ink in margin recto.

Photo: Deborah Turbeville Estate/Courtesy Deborah Bell Photographs

Asser Levy Bathhouse, New York, 1975, for Vogue (two models; one leaning, the other holding loofah). Gelatin silver print mounted on paper. Print 7 x 19” (17.78 x 48.26 cm), mount 12 x 20” (30.48 x 50.80 cm). Signed in ink on recto.

Photo: Deborah Turbeville Estate/Courtesy Deborah Bell Photographs

Diana Vreeland, 1981. Seventeen gelatin silver prints mounted on paper, affixed with T-pins and mounted on handmade paper. Each print approx. 3.25 x 4.5” (26.82 x 11.43 cm). First mount 24 1/2 x 13 1/2” (62.23 x 34.29 cm), second mount 17 x 31” (43.18 x 78.74 cm). Annotated in ink on first mount.

Photo: Deborah Turbeville Estate/Courtesy Deborah Bell Photographs

Untitled [Women in the Woods “Passport” collage], 1977. Collage of eight gelatin silver prints on handmade paper, 18 x 13” (45.72 x 33.02 cm). Titled in ink on grosgrain-style paper affixed to mount.

Photo: Deborah Turbeville Estate/Courtesy Deborah Bell Photographs

Untitled (Comme des Garçons collage), 1980 (model descending stairs in Passage Vivienne, Paris, and close-ups of models’ faces). Twelve gelatin silver prints on black paper, fastened to handmade paper with t-pins. Each print 3 x 5” (7.62 x 12.70 cm), black-paper mount 12 x 22 (30.48 x 55.88 cm), bottom mount paper 17 x 24” (43.18 x 60.96 cm). Estate stamp with signature of executor in ink on verso.

Photo: Deborah Turbeville Estate/Courtesy Deborah Bell Photographs

Betsey Johnson, Chinatown, New York, 1972 for Mademoiselle. Chromogenic color print, 16 x 20” (40.64 x 50.80 cm). Signed in ink on verso.

This Fashion Photographer Captured Real, Complicated Women