Fashion Photographer Deborah Turbeville – A woman who made gorgious images that can never be replaced has left us. Deborah Turbeville, who almost single-handedly turned fashion photography from a clean, well-lighted thing into something dark, brooding and suffused with sensual strangeness, died on Thursday in Manhattan. She was 81.
Her death, at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center, was from lung cancer, her agent, Marek Milewicz, said.
Though images like Ms. Turbeville’s — which might include pale, haunted-eyed models in derelict buildings — are practically de rigueur in fashion photography today, they were almost beyond contemplation when she began her work in the early 1970s. She was the only woman, and the only American, in the triumvirate (the others were Helmut Newton and Guy Bourdin) that by wide critical consensus changed fashion photography from sedate to shocking.
Ms. Turbeville, who began her career editing fashion magazines, became famous, Women’s Wear Daily wrote in 2009, “for transforming fashion photography into avant-garde art” — a distinction all the more striking in that she was almost completely self-taught.
Her photographs appeared in magazines like Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Mirabella; in newspapers including The New York Times; in advertisements for clients like Ralph Lauren, Bruno Magli, Nike, Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s; in exhibitions worldwide; and in books, including “Unseen Versailles” (1981), a collection of her photos of the hidden, dusty spaces underpinning Louis XIV’s grand palace.
“Fashion takes itself more seriously than I do,” Ms. Turbeville told The New Yorker in 2011. “I’m not really a fashion photographer.”