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Tuesday , December 14, 2010
Blink of an Eye: Deborah Turbeville
When I was a small fry, there was nothing I loved more on a Saturday afternoon than to go with my dad to the library. He, me and my sisters had this routine: we'd have gymnastics, swimming and dance classes at the Y in the morning, and then we'd all go to the library and check out books for the week. (And afterwards we'd all go to Osco Drug and buy lemon drops, which remain, decades later, my still-favorite candy of all time.) After loading up on books, I used to head to the magazine section and page through all the "grown-up lady" magazines, which included of course Vogue. (I used to read Cosmo, too, but mostly the weird, almost-romance novel-ish fiction they'd publish, which always fascinated me because they had these very Charlie's Angel-like heroines who had romantic problems that were absolutely incomprehensible to me.) I didn't get Vogue at all as well, but I liked the shiny paper and the shiny pictures and all the perfume inserts that I used to rip open and smell, much to my parents' consternation. (They were big on library manners.)
These days, Vogue seems dominated by a sort of picto-catalog style of photography (lots of girls jumping around in coats and stuff) but I remember the Vogue of my childhood having way more different visual styles: people on yachts (like Duran Duran's "Rio"!) and strangely tense people wearing swimsuits on city rooftops and stuff like that. And I distinctly remember being about 8 or 9 and being riveted by this weirdo set of pictures of women wearing impossibly gorgeous clothes, lounging around in a steam room, of all places. It confused me: why weren't they floating around in a garden or some luxurious bedroom? The pictures evoked a very strange place -- vaguely out of the past, vaguely European, a highly romantic place where the strange things that happened to strange girls in fairytales could actually occur with any degree of probability. To a kid just starting to read about Paris and artists and "the avant-garde," this was all very exciting.
Since then, I have become a totally seasoned Vogue reader, for better or worse. And I found out that the photographer of those "steam room" photos was Deborah Turbeville, and I also discovered that they were a very famous set of photos in the history of fashion photography. Turbeville has serious credentials -- she started off working for Claire McCardell at the age of 20 and was an editor at Mademoiselle and Harper's Bazaar before she became a photography. I still love Turbeville's work, even though it's a little harder to find. (She seems to shoot mostly for Vogue Italia now -- probably the most visually innovative international Vogue around now.) I stumble upon her images every now and then when I'm at airports looking at the international editions of all the magazines, and they still have the ability to startle me and make me dream of places that don't really exist, except in my half-remembered wishes and desires.
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