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Homage to San Miguel's Deborah Turbeville
Homage to San Miguel's Deborah Turbeville

by BC May

I took all of these images in the central garden, el Jardin here in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Deborah Turbeville, the renowned American photographer, owned a home here. Her work was displayed at the Gallery Casa Diana. A retrospective of many of her photographs, "El Viaje de la Virgen de la Candelaria" was presented here at Bellas Artes in 2014 a year after her death. The images here are an homage to her extraordinary work not only as a great fashion photographer but also as an artist. She constantly elevated photography to the level of fine art.

Deborah Turbeville (1932-2013) was known for her iconoclastic fashion photographs, elaborate tableaux that depict brooding, introspective models wearing haute-couture clothing and posed in barren, desolate settings. Her pictures were widely published in the editorial pages of Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, Essence, Nova, Mirabella, The New York Times Magazine and other major publications.  A former fashion editor for the The Ladies Home Journal, Harper's Bazaar and Mademoiselle, Turbeville began taking photographs in the 1960s. However, she had no formal training until 1966 when she enrolled in a six-month photography workshop given by Richard Avedon and the art director Marvin Israel. As Turbeville told The New York Times in 1981, "If it hadn't been for the two of them, I wouldn't have taken my photography seriously." Another mentor was Gösta Peterson whose free-form approach with animated models greatly inspired Turbeville. She also acknowledged the influence of European films of the 1970s, especially those by Bertolucci and Antonioni.

Turbeville described her philosophy in the introduction to her book Wallflower (1978):

"Through a series of vignettes in stills, I wish to use the medium of photography to explain a group of rather eccentric people – sometimes one or two, sometimes many – placed in settings that help describe them. These people perform like a repertory company, often reappearing in different roles. My pictures walk a tightrope. They never know... I am one of the very few 'enfants terribles' still claiming to take fashion photography. I am not a fashion photographer, I am not a photojournalist, I am not a portraitist. The photographs are a little like the women that you see in them. A little out of balance with their surroundings, waiting anxiously for the right person to find them, and thinking that perhaps they are out of their time. They move forward clutching their past about them, as if the ground of the present may fall away. Their exteriors seem walled-up and introverted; the interiors endless... airless. The very print quality reflects something in the women that is hesitant, a little faded and scratched; or that, having emerged into a light too harsh, stand frozen in space, overexposed."

Her books include Deborah Turbeville: The Fashion Pictures, Past Imperfect, Wallflower, Casa No Name, Women On Women and Newport Remembered.

Click to see images by Deborah Turbeville


BC May is the former associate producer and production stage manager at the Washington Theater Club. For the Smithsonian Institution he produced more than 600 performances. As an actor and director he has worked in more than fifty productions in professional and community theatre. For the annual Diez Minutos Festival he will act in two productions and direct one. He is a street photographer whose work can be seen at and his YouTube site

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