Ahead of her much-anticipated exhibition Tainted Beauty at Donna Karan's London boutique, we present an exclusive portfolio from the iconic fashion and art photographer Deborah Turbeville. Classically composed, softly focused, elegant and melancholic, Turbeville’s distinctive photographic tableaux present us with broken narratives. Describing herself as “avant-garde and extreme”, her stories are only partly told, featuring seemingly lost characters connected to the audience through their direct yet subdued interaction with the camera’s lens. Born in 1938, Turbeville is of a generation of fashion photographers, alongside Richard Avedon and Guy Bourdin, who focused on the subject in their photographs as opposed to the clothes they are wearing, and who followed their own distinct conceptual agenda, rather than that of the stylist. With her work collated together for the first time in a forthcoming monograph from Rizzoli, we discuss Turbeville’s legacy with designer and Turbeville collector Donna Karan, alongside founder of The Wapping Project and curator of Tainted Beauty, Jules Wright.
What first drew you to Deborah’s work?
Donna Karan: She captures the beauty and power of a woman, as only a woman can. Deborah’s style is so distinctive and original, soft, yet with a strong presence.Jules Wright: It’s not obviously fashion photography. There’s always a narrative in her images, a less obvious sensuality and sexuality that lies within them. It is always her models that are powerful within the image, much more so than the client.
Do you feel there is an iconic yet timeless nature to the photographs?
Donna Karan: Very much so. That’s something I relate to as I've always put the woman before fashion, making her look good and feel good, rather than making a fashion statement of the moment. Like Deborah, everything I do is to capture the spirit of a woman with sensuality and sophistication.Jules Wright: She’s increasingly moved into a fine art territory. It’s much more about the stories she’s telling, which seems to be always about abandoned people—people who are lost, people who are dislocated.
How does her work connect with younger photographers today?
Jules Wright: They copy her like mad! Her heyday was before branding overwhelmed the images. Now you have to make sure that you don’t miss out the bag, shoes or the scarf. It is about looking back to a time when the stylist didn’t dominate the shoot. That’s not the case anymore. I think mostly we’re looking at images by stylists.
Does Deborah represent the world of Donna Karan? Donna Karan: Deborah’s style is unique and celebrated for its poetic grace. She bridges the boundaries between commercial fashion and fine art photography. The Donna Karan woman embraces her femininity with confidence. That's where her power comes from and she knows it. That's why I know my customer appreciates the intelligent beauty and grace in Turbeville’s work. It's all woman.
Deborah Turbeville: Tainted Beauty opens at the Donna Karan store, 46 Conduit Street, London, on 8 September as part of Vogue's Fashion's Night Out.