One of my own very favourite photographers, Deborah Turbeville, passed away yesterday at the age of 76.
Since the start of her career she worked with Vogue Italia revolutionizing fashion editorial criteria through a dreamy and feminine aesthetic: her pictorial images are the reminiscence of an impressionist dream, the world she evokes through them – lyrical, evanescent, mysterious and, at times, subtly unnerving.
Her photographs seem to unveil the inner world of the women she portrays though, through them, Turbeville unveils even more about herself and her view on life.
Despite being born and raised in the US, her inner references belong to the old continent: the landscapes portrayed in her photos suggest the intense and numbing cold of Nordic countries and the grace and austerity of ancient noble palaces – the decadent charm of the Old World is ubiquitous as omnipresent are the references to Russian literature and a hint of Degas’ romance with ballet. Not to mention the atmospheres that are clearly reminiscent of the history of pictures in motion: in an interview by Grazia d’Annunzio for Vogue Italia, Deborah Turbeville stated “I love cinema and many are the directors who deeply impacted my work: Eisentein, Fassbinder, Tarkosvsky, Bresson, Visconti. And Bergman, of course. When I watched Persona for the first time, it felt like the world was opening up to me for the first time”.
Turbeville came to work in photography after modeling for Claire McCardell and having worked as a fashion editor for Harper’s Bazaar in the early 60’s collaborating with Richard Avedon, Diane Arbus and Bob Richardson to then arrive at what was her true passion: “Deborah lived for photography” tells me during a phone call Robert Rabensteiner, fashion Contributor at L’Uomo Vogue who has worked extensively with Deborah.
As stated by Grazia d’Annunzio in her interview, Turbeville “lived in a round flat, almost the shape of a hatbox, at the Ansonia Building. In the living room she had tin toys and old French sofas – an insubstantial world in which she moved about taking small light steps. I would often visit her, I would sit at the table she had placed in front of the open kitchen and would listen to her talking about one of her biggest passions, cinema. Last July she gave one of her pictures which I still treasure as one of my dearest belongings: it is a shot portraying Diana Vreeland, you see only the legs and some lovely black slippers. Deborah left us silently, on her tiptoe, light as the ballerinas she loved to photograph, like the haze that enshrouds each one of her shots. That haze that is, now, inside each one of us and that leaves us feeling cold in the heart”.