The timeless beauty of Deborah Turbeville’s photocollages 

Thoughtful, considered and experimental, the photographer’s enduring approach to fashion photography lives on in a new book

“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.

Top: Isabelle and Ella in the Sandy Land, from the series L’Heure entre Chien et Loup, 1977; All artworks © Deborah Turbeville; Above: Cover © Thames & Hudson

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.

Comme des Garçons, Escalier dans Passage Vivienne, Paris, from the series Comme des Garçons, 1980
Asser Levy Bathhouse, from the series Bathhouse, 1975

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.”

Untitled (Metamorphosis of Ella M), from the series L’École des Beaux-Arts, early 1990s
Untitled, late 1970s-early 1980s
Views of staircase, salons, billiard room and curtained room off the foyer of The Breakers, from the series Newport Remembered, 1992–93
Untitled, from the series Block Island, 1976
Untitled (Asser Levy Bathhouse), from the series Bathhouse, after 1975

Deborah Turbeville: Photocollage is published by Thames & Hudson;