Deborah Turbeville, 1932-2013

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Deborah Turbeville, Ballerina Vera Arbuzov, from Studio St. Petersburg, published by Bulfinch Press, 1997. ©Deborah TurbevilleDeborah Turbeville, Ballerina Vera Arbuzov, from Studio St. Petersburg, published by Bulfinch Press, 1997. ©Deborah Turbeville

Fashion photographer Deborah Turbeville, whose photographs appeared in such publications as The New York Times, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Mirabella, died on October 24 after a battle with lung cancer. She was 81 years old. 

Turbeville was born in Stoneham, Massachusetts, in 1932 and moved to New York to work in the editorial departments of various fashion magazines. She began taking her own photographs in the 1960s, and in 1966 she took a workshop taught by Richard Avedon and the art director Marvin Israel. “If it hadn’t been for the two of them, I wouldn’t have taken my photography seriously,” she told the Times Magazine. 

But the former model and fashion editor at Haper’s Bazaar went on to become, by critical consensus, one of three photographers, including Guy Bourdin and Helmut Newton, who transformed fashion photography from crisp, clean, well-lit imagery into something more brooding, dark, and sometimes shocking. Turbeville often shot her photographs in crumbling buildings or empty streets and scratched or tore her negatives, or deliberately overexposed her pictures. Her book Unseen Versailles, documenting the unvisited spaces underneath the palace, won an American Book Award.