This Pioneering Fashion Photographer Captured Complicated Women

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.

This Fashion Photographer Captured Real, Complicated Women