Deborah Turbeville at Bankside

by Katie on March 6, 2010


To pre-celebrate the ageing process of Chutzpah, I met with a couple of friends in an area of the city I like but don’t frequent often enough, Bankside. The area is crammed with finds, namely bars, cafes and galleries, like a way cooler Notting Hill for the art set with politicians, models and offspring of celebs removed from the framework. Only at 7pm on a Thursday night, the area was a dead as poor, beautiful Karen Mulder’s career. Quite eerie, really.

It was model and fashion editor turned photographer, Deborah Turbeville’s private view at The Wapping Project, Bankside that was on the agenda and oh, how it wowed.

Arriving early, I was the sole viewer in an outstanding fishbowl gallery that allowed me to become, for an instant, a Deborah Turbeville subject – alone, disparate and observed. Cold. That was before team Chutzpah arrived to breathe life, adding to our throng, a more dapper Ricky Gervais lookalike photographer – charming man.

To give you some background, Turbeville is a fashion legend who rethought and recast fashion photography in the 1970s with her ‘Bath House’ series of pictures (some of which are on view). Taught technique by Richard Avedon, her photography has appeared in the pages of Vogue (US, UK, France, Italy, Russia) and Harper’s Bazaar as well as the New York Times magazine to name only a few.

Her style is feminine yet confrontational and highly individualistic – blurry, soft focus shots capture beautiful women as if held in cobwebby aspic, staring out in time. They grab the soul. To achieve this, Turbeville retouches the surface of her pictures, which are often scratched and faded. As Brian Dillon, contributing editor at Art Review says, “Her models loll about in powdered morning light, glide through opiate afternoons and collapse, neurasthenic, to the hissing of summer lawns.” How very Joni.

The retrospective largely includes work from the ‘70’s through to the ‘90’s but is headlined by an image photographed in Turin as an homage to Alexander McQueen (2008). Included are a series of shoots featuring Blumarine, Ungaro, and the irreplaceable Jean Muir. Miss Muir is caught Quaker like amongst house models, her gaze steely and defiant, a creature of hard black in a world of white. However, it was the enduring image of Diana Vreeland’s shoes that captivated me and who wouldn’t want to be in those? As original as the twentieth century’s greatest arbiter of style and elegance, the photographer caught the great woman in a unsung daily moment.

Turbeville’s models seem misty and ethereally caught in time, not strident and forthright like those of Newton. Reminiscent at times of ‘70’s perfume advertising – this is a photographic stance that is marching to a different beat of the current fashion moment where the emphasis next season is on the beautifully functional aesthetic with hints of ‘50’s and ‘60’s styling. It’s a pity we may have to wait awhile before it’s back in Vogue, literally.

The exhibition runs until 10th April at The Wapping Project, Bankside, 65a Hopton Street, London SE1
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