“The work of the American photographer Deborah Turbeville defies classification,” writes Nathalie Herschdorfer in her new book on the late artist’s illustrious career. “Although she did not belong to any movement or school, her style was recognisable from her earliest works.”
Published by Thames & Hudson, Deborah Turbeville: Photocollage revisits the part of Turbeville’s practice that stood out most amongst those of her contemporaries. Experimental and endlessly ambitious, the artist made photocollages by xeroxing, cutting, scraping, and pinning prints together, as well as writing in the margins.
After working extensively with Turbeville’s archive for the book, Herschdorfer, who is currently the director of Photo Elysee-Museum of Photography in Lausanne, Switzerland, describes her work as evocative: “Difficult to date at first glance, dreamlike to our 21st-century eyes … Turbeville stands apart from her male contemporaries, whose hard-edged, highly sexualised photographs of women now seem to be of their time in comparison with Turbeville’s very different representation of beauty.”
Throughout the book, we get a sense of Turbeville’s invaluable contribution to fashion photography. Born in 1932 in Boston, Massachusetts, she didn’t pick up a camera until she was in her 40s, but after doing so quickly established her own unique style. Characterised by a moody, dreamy aesthetic, Turbeville would come to be known as a forward-thinking practitioner and a trailblazing figure in the fashion scene.
Employing a subtle female gaze, her approach was different to that of many other photographers working at the height of her career. In the book, this is shown through a selection of commercial and personal projects that exemplify her striking style, with many links visible between her early work and the work being produced for fashion editorials today.
Commenting on this enduring legacy, Herschdorfer writes: “Because she had her own technique and set her own rules, Turbeville can now be considered one of the most striking voices in the photography of the second half of the 20th century. Her work continues to resonate today, at a time when contemporary artists are increasingly trying to distance themselves from the mass-produced images that fill the internet.”
Deborah Turbeville: Photocollage is published by Thames & Hudson; thamesandhudson.com