Deborah Turbeville, Collages @Deborah Bell Photographs

JTF (just the facts): A total of 15 photographic collages, variously framed and matted, and hung against white walls in the main gallery space and the entry hallway. The included works are as follows:

  • 1 collage of 8 gelatin silver prints mounted on paper, 1977, sized 18×13 inches
  • 1 collage of 17 gelatin silver prints mounted on paper, 1992, sized roughly 16×21 inches
  • 1 collage of 16 gelatin silver prints affixed with adhesive, paper clips, and t-pins to gelatin silver paper with black ink applied, c1984, sized 16×20 inches
  • 1 collage of 6 gelatin silver prints affixed with adhesive and masking tape on tissue paper, 1989, sized roughly 11×19 inches
  • 1 collage of 6 gelatin silver prints affixed with adhesive and/or t-pins to kraft paper mount, affixed to crinkly brown-paper mount, masking tape adhered to first mount, 1980, sized roughly 18×26 inches
  • 1 collage of 3 electrostatic and 2 gelatin silver prints adhered with black tape and t-pins to black paper mount, 1980, sized roughly 15×21 inches
  • 1 collage of 4 gelatin silver prints mounted on board, 1981, sized roughly 15×16 inches
  • 1 collage of 2 gelatin silver prints mounted on thin paper, 1974, sized 14×24 inches
  • 1 collage of 16 electrostatic prints mounted on cardboard with masking tape and t-pins, 1974, sized roughly 17×12 inches
  • 1 collage of 21 gelatin silver prints affixed with adhesive, black tape, and t-pins to tan paper mount and marked with black marker, tan paper affixed with t-pins to crinkly brown paper mount, 1977, sized roughly 18×25 inches
  • 1 collage of 21 gelatin silver prints affixed with adhesive and masking tape to black paper mount, 1978, sized roughly 18×24 inches
  • 1 collage of 1 Polaroid and 10 electrostatic prints affixed with adhesive, Scotch tape, mounting tape, and t-pins to browe kraft paper, 1976, sized roughly 14×19 inches
  • 1 collage of 1 gelatin silver and 3 electrostatic prints affixed with adhesive, masking tape, and t-pins to kraft paper mount, c1976, sized roughly 18×19 inches
  • 1 collage of 12 gelatin silver prints fastened with t-pins to brown crinkly paper, 1978, sized 17×28 inches
  • 1 gelatin silver print on handmade paper, 1978, sized 12×16 inches

Additional single image prints are on view on the shelves in the office area. (Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: Deborah Turbeville’s collages have been an overlooked and less understood part of the arc of her career as a fashion photographer, perhaps because they have deliberately strayed away from the single image requirements of her many magazine and designer commissions. But a closer look at this body of work reveals that the collages are in some ways more fully realized examples of her unique artistic vision than any of the individual pictures that have made her style so instantly recognizable. This show brings together a broad selection of her handcrafted collages made between the mid 1970s and the early 1990s, giving us a chance to better see how she chose to rework and re-present her own photographs.

Most of the landmark artists of photographic collage, from Hannah Höch to László Moholy-Nagy, have employed a meticulous cut and paste technique, slicing fragments of photographic imagery from various sources and reassembling those pieces into entirely new compositions, which they sometimes then rephotographed. But Turbeville’s collages are nothing like this. They are somewhat more akin to contact sheets or album pages that have been reimagined with an eye for heightened cinematic expressiveness instead of mundane practicality.

Many of the colleges on view here gather together a dozen or more separate prints, all from the same shoot or project, with variants, test prints, and electrostatic copies intermingled on equal footing. These prints have then been taped, pinned (with T-pins), clipped (with paper clips), or otherwise adhered to layered sheets of paper and mounting board, the textures and colors of these papers offering Turbeville tactile options for setting the overall atmosphere of the pieces. Handwritten titles, captions, comments, or poems add to the personal nature of the resulting aggregations.

Turbeville’s evocations of mood, from lyrical and elegiac to dark and uncertain, give her fashion photographs a consistent sense of brooding, the models seemingly more interested in their own introspective thoughts than in the clothes they are wearing. Her collages take that mood setting several steps further. Château Raray, from 1984, actually includes no models at all – it takes as its subject the shadowy rooms of the chateau where Jean Cocteau filmed Beauty and the Beast. Empty spaces, populated with fireplaces, chandeliers, and ornate moldings echo with faded grandeur, the light pouring in through the windows creating spots of pure brightness amid the musty absence. The collage jumps from room to room, not so much sequentially as meanderingly, with the images allowed to overlap. The paper clips and t-pins give the assemblage the feel of being carefully (almost preciously) constructed, the details of the place used by Turbeville to envision a particular romantic mood.

Two collages made from imagery taken for Comme des Garçons in 1980 introduce a single model into the mysterious space of a curving stairwell, creating a timeless gothic spookiness. The black clad figure climbs the stairs, the images stuttering between her form, her feet, and washed out close ups of her face. While any single image from the shoot could be successful in evoking the desired mood, the collages create a much fuller, more cinematic sense of drama. Turbeville has gathered variants, overexposed prints, blurs, and even a negative tonal inversion or two into these layered progressions, where time builds back on itself as the model works her way up the stairs. In one version, Turbeville has also added different papers as mounts, the wrinkled brown surfaces (with torn edges) creating a sense of decayed, forgotten time.

Other works get in closer to bodies and faces, actively searching their contours for touches of connection. In L’Ecole de Beaux-Arts, Paris (from 1977), Turbeville circles a group of models who have been styled like marble sculpture, their skin whitewashed and their hair combed into thick strokes like carved stone. She carefully observes eyes, lips, and the graceful turns of heads, blasting them into whiteness or allowing them to drift into deeper shadows, encouraging us to suspend our disbelief and join the fantasy. The compilation functions like a grid, but essentially swings back and forth, the doubled mount adding to the survey of tactile surfaces. Faces also take center stage in Passport (from 1977) and Wallflower (from 1978). In one, a single mysterious face is multiplied out into eight versions, the stuttering variations in tonality becoming something like separate aspects of personality. In the other, Turbeville explores more distortion, with flares of light, negative reversals, and tight framing, turning the face of the smoking woman into a haunted multi-image portrait.

In a sense, Turbeville has pushed further toward documenting the intricacies of psychological rather than physical space in these collages. They are intimate, delicate, and often troubled, preoccupied, or vaguely disturbed, and it is these ephemeral emotions (or the hints of such) that are her most engaging subject. The collage form lets Turbeville get further outside the traditional constraints and mannerisms of fashion photography, and that freedom has led to a more cinematic, more layered, and more wonderfully unruly expression of her personal vision.

Collector’s POV: The collages in this show are priced between $12000 and $35000 each. Turbeville’s work has only been intermittently available in the secondary markets in recent years, with no collages coming up for sale. Recent prices have ranged from roughly $1000 to $7000.

Deborah Turbeville, Deborah Bell Photographs

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