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The Image Makers: Deborah Turbeville


In a new series, sits down with the best in the field of contemporary fashion photography to talk about both the process and the product. Here: Deborah Turbeville.

Considering the high romance of Deborah Turbeville’s work, it might seem odd to think of her as a little bit punk rock. But to hear the 73-year-old photographer describe her untrained, just-go-for-it DIY beginnings, comparing Turbeville to Sid Vicious doesn’t seem so far off. “There would be a strange cropping or one girl in focus and three out or a blur,” she said at a recent interview at her Upper West Side apartment. “But I would end up liking the mistakes and incorporating them into my work.” Well, and there’s also the time she got arrested in Texas with Bob Richardson, with whom she worked with regularly while a stylist at Harper’s Bazaar.

It was actually Richardson and his “cinematic” way of working that precipitated her eventual leap from fashion editor to fashion photographer in the early seventies. (She also had encouragement from Richard Avedon and Harper’s Bazaar art director Marvin Israel.) But even though she’s shot editorials for Vogue, Italian Vogue, and W and campaigns for Barneys New York, Oscar de la Renta, and Valentino—for whom she did the current Spring campaign—Turbeville still bristles at the F word of fashion. It’s one of the reasons it’s taken her so long to put out her most recent book, Deborah Turbeville: The Fashion Pictures ($85, caught up with Turbeville to talk about being Claire McCardell’s fit model, what’s so great about St. Petersburg, and the very Hollywood shoot for her new Valentino campaign.

PLUS: Click here for a slideshow of Turbeville’s work through the years, accompanied by commentary from the photographer >

Why do The Fashion Pictures now?
I have difficulty with realizing that’s what I’m supposed to do. [Laughs.] I don’t really think of myself as a fashion photographer. I’m kind of in denial about it. People kept saying, “You should do a book of fashion pictures. We’d like to see them, after all.” A friend of mine was doing books with Rizzoli, and he said, “You know, that would be a fun little airy project, to do something on my house in Mexico.” I knew I had a lot of photographs hanging about. So I made an appointment to go in to see Charles Miers, the publisher, and he said, “I’ll do the book, but would you also do a book on your fashion pictures?” And that’s how it happened.

They did a nice job. I like the scrapbook format.
Well, the book is really a way to show how my work developed. How it all started. It goes chronologically. It just shows more or less the progression of my work. It’s a bit autobiographical. And I always do that anyway, putting pictures together in a narrative way.

It’s funny, I never realized that your first job was working for Claire McCardell for three years.
Yes, I was a fit model but I also did the shows. But because I had such a long waist, it was hard for the other models to fit the clothes. In the end, she said, I’m going to fire you and hire you back as my assistant. So I was very happy. She was one of the few designers who would use a lot of European fabrics. She used incredible fabrics. She was really a Renaissance woman. She designed shoes for Capezio. She was probably the first one to put girls in flats, in ballet slippers. We all wore flats. Or we wore tiny little heels that were stacked, made out of lizard. She did jewelry, this Chanel kind of jewelry. She was like the Chanel of the United States at that point. It was an incredible learning experience. Continue Reading “The Image Makers: Deborah Turbeville” »