Rethinking the substance


Since Its early years, the complex apparatus of fashion has been (and still is) outlined by prevailingly notorious dichotomy, capriciously fluctuating between unbridled reverie and the art of enterprise. An industry that dawned as merely a decorative one has, in It’s own right, developed into an autonomous movement with the ability of conjuring emotions and imparting identity – a medium which is both a cultural provenance whilst being a funnel for its flux.

The field itself transgresses the primordial idea of clothes serving a merely pragmatic purpose, as scrutiny of references and symbolism by fashion vanguard bestows a meaning upon the mundane act of dressing. By overlooking the utility of garments per se, ‘the industry’ seemingly exists to contemplate over the significance of the aforementioned by penning down the elusive entanglement of sensation, mood and zeitgeist. A desire that unfolds through appropriating social and cultural references to convey a message echoing the trio mentioned is imperative to creating a lasting impression, an affection that is ultimately translated into demand.

Establishing a narrative behind represented iconography as precedent was something former Harper’s Bazaar Editor and photographer par excellence Deborah Turbeville was well acquainted with. She enrolled into a photography course led by the inimitable Richard Avedon, Turbeville’s prodigy for blurring the lines between fashion and fine art has earned her respect in her own right. Evocative and lingering, equal parts eerie and vehement, Turbeville’s work was sensually peculiar, even grim and stark – to the point of being painstakingly beautiful. Naturally alongside Newton and Bourdin, two of her contemporaries, her work – especially the first series for American Vogue titled ‘The Bath House’ – notoriously caused furore due to the unsettling sentiment exuding from the pages. Tuberville’s subjects, often friends, actors or ballerinas, rather than traditional models, were portrayed through the female gaze. Seemingly ambiguous to their surroundings and the camera, her subjects were once described as living in the movement of ‘The vaporous ennui of an Antonini film’.


The subdued elegance and decontextualization emanating from the photos were equally lauded for their ability to show women’s inner sanctum and were simultaneously condemned for the lack of shielding.

The thought provoking narrative stands central in Turbeville’s work, but it takes more than a rapid glance to explore Its interior. Due to it’s twilit ambience Tuberville’s work is perhaps one of the most recognizable in the history of the medium of fashion photography, developing a language on Its own and thus gaining a momentum that earned Turberville an iconic status.
So how has an industry which is equally lauded for it’s ability to awaken affection, as for it’s economic imperative of turnover become stale and stagnant?
Certainly there is much to learn from Turbeville’s example –  from the beginning of her career as a photographer it has been clear that clothes were not an ostensible pretext. Driven entirely by her own agenda of exploring the relationship between how people relate and interact to their surroundings, Turbeville showed herself to be an otherworldly storyteller, lulling the viewer into her conceptual agenda where clothes distinctly play a secondary role. There is a clear distinction between Turbeville’s delectable photography and the over-stylized experience offered by the hegemony of established magazines nowadays.

Through ulterior motives fashion photography beckons the viewer into the world of the magnificent and fancy and through a series of metaphors draws equivalents between sentiment, tenor and cultural consciousness, creating a field of identification that ultimately translates into purchasing power. Recognizing the power of quick audience engagement, the industry’s center of focus has shifted offering in-plain sight advertising, rather than expertly crafted coveteur.  Albeit fashion is an industry in constant flux where rapid change and a grandiose level of newness are arbitrary, the constant push towards aloof consumerism just might have killed the sentiment. Recognizing the value of emotion (as in the case of Michele and Gucci) doesn’t necessarily need to serve as object of unconscious nostalgia, but it just might be the beneficial influx of ideas the industry needs. And as in the case of Deborah Turbeville and her photographic tableaux that many decades later imparts same delight, maybe rethinking the substance would be a better approach to longevity.