Deborah Turbeville - Photographer
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Join Date: Oct 2008
Do you think you have a particularly feminine point of view?
Yes, definitely. My photographs are extremely feminine. But it doesn’t have to do with any kind of conviction on my part. It’s all instinctive and spontaneous with me. There is a certain approach that women have. They do get into some kind of inner thing more than the male photographers do. It’s a more personal approach.
How do you view these pictures in the context of the rest of your work?
Well, doing this book made me see that my work is in balance with my private work. I was mad one time about something, and one of my galleries said to me, “Well, you’ll have to go through the same thing that Penn and Avedon went through.” No matter what Penn and Avedon ever did, if they were photographing men in the Midwest or Peruvian Indians or flowers, no matter what they do, they’re still stylists. And stylists, just by their nature, no matter where they go, they’ll still be considered—even with personal work—part of the fashion photography syndrome. It’s the same sensibility. I don’t think the fashion photographs stand so far off the mark of anything else I do.
You’ve spent so much time in St. Petersburg and you also talk about your affinity for these moody cities like Paris. What draws you to them?
Because I’m such a movie buff. I was always drawn to films with mystery. I always liked a certain kind of art film. I think I learned a lot from studying those films for years. One thing I wanted to be prevalent in any photograph was atmosphere. Whether the person had atmosphere in the face, or emotion in the body, or whether it was the atmosphere of the place. And it had to be mysterious. That’s why I was drawn to those cities. They had those qualities. In the book I call it St. Petersburg Studio because the city itself was like a studio. They offered these old palaces which were unrestored, for pennies, like the Stroganov Palace with broken floorboards and chandeliers on the floor.
You’ve cited directors like Fassbinder, Cocteau, and Visconti as influences, but are there any modern filmmakers who inspire you?
I like Lars von Trier. I just saw
. It’s usually foreign directors. There’s a Turkish director but I forget his name.
I like that you called the Bathhouse pictures a spoiled brat. I guess every artist has that one thing. Is there a shoot you think deserves favorite child status?
This other book I did, this Steidl book, called
, is full of them. It’s all done like story narratives.
You’ve worked with quite a few great stylists, Polly Mellen included. How would you describe your working relationship with the stylist on set?
I’ve always been lucky because the stylists that worked with me always worked for the picture. Polly always worked for the picture. She understood every photographer’s style, and tried to get it happening for them in the pictures. Those kind of stylists I work well with and they work well with me.
Do you look at a lot of fashion magazines now?
No, not at all.
How did the recent Valentino advertising campaign come about?
Franca Sozzani works very closely with them. She had helped them with a collection, given them some images of my Russian portfolio. Their creative director and advertising agency were in their studio one day and they saw that all their pictures up on their board were my pictures. So they said, “Well, that’s the photographer that should be doing your ad!” So they said, we’d like to revisit the Mexico of Tina Modotti and Georgia O’Keeffe. Well, Georgia O’Keeffe was not from Mexico…
Close enough for fashion purposes.
I said, I know where I would do it, out in Pozos [Mexico], this little abandoned mining town that had all these ruins in the landscape, and it’s free from tourists. So they came, this entourage of 14—the two designers and all the people from the advertising agency. It was a huge sitting with all these people being put up and limousines and vans. We had to cater the food out in the middle of nowhere, and have presses and steam irons, everything, and all the equipment…It was a very big deal. Like an old-fashioned sitting from the past. Like you used to have these sittings where you’d go to Cairo or something. It was just two days. But it was very Hollywood.
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