Deborah Turbeville, described as the anti-Helmut Newton

27 Jul

Deborah Turbeville

Deborah Turbeville was born in Massachusetts and raised in New England. When she was twenty years old she moved to New York City to become a sample model and assistant for  designer Claire McCardell, who will later  introduce her to Diana Vreeland . Having a fond interest in designer clothing Deborah became a fashion editor, but not long after she realized that her heart was in photography. She has been taking amazing photographs ever since.

Short Biography

Deborah Turbeville

Deborah Turbeville is born in 1937. Spending her upbringing in New England and summers in Ogunquit, Maine, she always stays fascinated with environments: “very bleak, very stark, very beautiful,” she later remembers. “Since then I have always had to have mystery and atmosphere in my life. They draw me out more than anything.” Deborah dreams of becoming a dancer or actress.

She moves to New York in 1956, where Deborah becomes a sample model and assistant for Claire McCardell. The designer will later introduce her to Diana Vreeland, at this time a fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar.  Having a fond interest in designer clothing, she becomes an editorial assistant at Ladies’ Home Journal in 1960 and two years later moves to Harper’s Bazaar to work as fashion editor.  In 1965 Bazaar’s current editor in chief, Nancy White, tells her she has taken things too far. Deborah is fired. In the mean time her love for photography grows on her and when  she shows some of her amateur work to Richard Avedon, he invites her to attend some advanced seminars.

Early Fashion Photographs/ Women in The Woods, 1977

Deborah Turbeville

Deborah Turbeville

Deborah Turbeville

Deborah Turbeville

 Vogue Italia, 1977

While working at Diplomat magazine, she begins to shoot her own pictures. In 1967 Deborah becomes an associate fashion editor at Mademoiselle. “I was able to ask them if ever I could do a sitting of my own and take the pictures. That’s how I built my portfolio at Mademoiselle, shooting my own sittings.”.

She continues for a time to do both styling and photography. “That helped me, because I didn’t have to earn a living being a photographer at first,” she later recalls. “I never could have done that because I was too special. My pictures were in soft focus. It was a completely new thing. Had I been out on my own, I might have had to compromise my work.”

It isn’t long before she begins working alongside the photographers she used to collaborated with as an editor. She becomes a sought-after photographer in her own right. The New York Times single her out as the only American in a threesome —also including Guy Bourdin and Helmut Newton—that  bring “eeriness, shock, and alienation” to the formerly pleasant and pretty business of selling clothes. .


Wallflower book cover & backThe beautiful book has soft focus photographs of women in a bathhouse by Deborah Turbeville,  published in 1978.

Wallflower 3



Wallflower 2

Wallflower .


Past Imperfect

book cover


Deborah Turbeville



Past Imperfect


 In 1975, Vogue publishes what is probably Deborahs most infamous images, the Bathhouse series: skinny and world-weary-looking women wearing maillots and robes in a bathhouse that broke nearly every rule about how models in swimsuits were supposed to look. “I didn’t expect them to cause trouble,” she later says. (I already published these pictures in my last post: Polly Mellen styled the controversial Bathhouse Series & Nastassja Kinski )

Despite of this scandal, Vogue goes on working with her again and again, and she becomes closely identified with the magazine. Deborah always said that her intention was to leave it to viewers to make their own interpretations of the storyline and its meaning. “I’m not pinpointing anything,” she says in 2006. “In my pictures, you never know, that’s the mystery. It’s just a suggestion and you leave it to the audience to put what they want on it. It’s fashion in disguise.”

Unseen Versailles

Unseen Versailles

Unseen Versailles 2

Unseen Versailles 7


Unseen Versailles

Unseen Versailles 4

Unseen Versailles 6

She begins work on Unseen Versailles, a book dreamed up by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, an editor at Doubleday, in 1979. “I wanted her to conjure up what went on there,” Jacqueline later tells People magazine, “to evoke the feeling that there were ghosts and memories.”  Despite having encountered a beautiful restored palace when she arrived to scout it, Deborah delivers—after two years of research and work—just the haunting imagery that Jacqueline had envisioned. “I destroy the image after I’ve made it, obliterate it a little so you never have it completely there,” Deborah says. Alexander Liberman, editorial director of Condé Nast publications, calls Unseen Versailles “a pioneering breakthrough in photography.” It wins the American Book Award.

She remains consistently popular with fashion editors, working continuously with Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and W Magazine, shooting for Ungaro, Karl Lagerfield and Valentino, in the meantime receiving personal requests from personalities such as Jackie Kennedy. Taking photographs for more than 30 years, her aesthetic has never changed. Deborah divides her time between New York and Mexico and always spent a great deal of time in St. Petersburg, Russia, the city that inspires her most.

Deborah has been described as the anti-Helmut Newton. Where Newton’s pictures are vital with physicality and sexual power, Deborah’s are studies in immobility, surreal works shot as though misted glass. When discussing her favourite city St. Petersburg, she describes a place “where history has come to a halt, like a streetcar immobilized in ice“; words that can also be seen to resonate through her photography.
Deborah Tubeville lost the battle with lung cancer on October 24th, 2013. She was one of kind and will be remembered as the woman who changed the face of fashion photography.

The Fashion Pictures

book cover

Book description:

From internationally acclaimed photographer Deborah Turbeville comes the first book on her highly influential visionary avant-garde fashion photography. Celebrated for her poetic grace and cinematic vision, Deborah Turbeville has produced fashion tableaux that draw the viewer into her otherworldly environments. A romantic and modernist, Turbeville bridges the boundaries between commercial fashion and fine arts photography. In this remarkable presentation, Turbeville reveals her highly individualistic point of view of fashion photography and the stories behind her photographs. 

This first retrospective presentation of Turbeville’s fashion photography was selected by the artist herself. In addition, she has designed the evocative layouts to create yet another masterwork. The presentation includes Turbeville’s most famous photographs, among them the controversial Bathhouse series of 1975 for American Vogue with disturbingly isolated figures and her Woman in the Woods series of 1977 for Italian Vogue showing psychologically charged emotions, along with her numerous photography campaigns for labels like Sonia Rykiel, Valentino, Yamamonto, Ungaro, and Commes des Garçons, as well as commissions for Chanel and work that has never been seen before. Her most current project for Casa Vogue–Italian nobility dressed in special couture outfits–evokes Turbeville’s vision of everlasting beauty.



Info for this story: Another Magazine & Voguepedia.

Next week:  More Work by Deborah Turbeville

3 Responses to “Deborah Turbeville, described as the anti-Helmut Newton”

  1. Valérie Kaelin 18 April 2016 at 17:41 #

    Your blogs are informative, elegant, lovely. May I subscribe?

    • A.G.Nauta couture 19 April 2016 at 09:48 #

      Hello Valérie,

      thank you for compliment on my blog!
      You can follow my blog by going to the opening page and click on the ‘follow button’and
      you will get a notice in your mailbox for the new story every Sunday ,

      with regards,
      Netty Nauta

  2. Crina 2 February 2019 at 08:51 #

    Reblogged this on Al doilea blog.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: