Past Imperfect: Works on Paper
Photographer, Deborah Turbeville’s haunting images may not be to everyone’s liking. The squeamish might find her work offensive, conspicuous, disturbing, brazen and, yet, her compelling and controversial images are nearly impossible to ignore. I find them evocative, delicate and often dreamlike, conveying a narrative with a highly distinctive visual aesthetic that entices, seduces, and like that which can simultaneously inspire and repel — lingers.
Deborah Turbeville has been one of the world’s most important and recognized fashion photographers since the mid-1970’s when her atmospheric images of small groups of female models in evocative locations first appeared. Her New England upbringing gave her an appreciation of weathered and storied environments, which is still reflected in her work today.
Turbeville began her career working for the avant garde designer Claire McCardell, who she credits as a major influence, and then as a fashion editor for Harper’s Bazaar and Mademoiselle. She turned her interest from editing to photography, originating a highly distinctive style known for its soft-focus use of mise-en-scene and grainy, pointillist printing technique.
Turbeville’s vision is unorthodox–at once haunted and haunting. She creates those effects with the help of favorite actresses and models, largely unknown, acting as a repertory cast.
They interpret her endangered species, anachronisms, out of sync with their time and context, playing mutations in a mannequin workshop, statues in a Paris art school, and automatons in a derelict factory.
And they help to create a characteristic sense of fragmented dreams, of dislocation, hallucination and time without boundaries–the past imperfect.
Past Imperfect looks into the heart of Turbeville’s oeuvre, surveying her groundbreaking narrative work of 1974 through 1998, when she pioneered a look of antique decadence, using distressed film and prints to capture models as Miss Havishams in faded fin-de-siecle glory. Some 15 series, structured like short stories or novellas, encapsulate that unique sensibility and elegant aesthetic.
They remind the viewer, as one critic has written, of films they would have liked to have seen, and inspire comparisons to Luchino Visconti, Jean Cocteau, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Joel-Peter Witkin.
Her influential, cinematic work appears regularly in American, British, French, Italian and Russian Vogues, and L’Uomo Vogue and W magazines, among others, and her work has been exhibited internationally. She has published several books, including her two most recent, Past Imperfect (Steidl, 2009), and Casa No Name (Rizzoli, 2009).
New York, New York
February 5 – March 20