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A black and white chromogenic photograph of five standing women from Deborah Turbeville\'s \'Otherworldly\' collection from the 1975 vogue catalogue.
A black and white chromogenic photograph of five standing women from Deborah Turbeville\'s \'Otherworldly\' collection from the 1975 vogue catalogue.
Photo by Deborah Turbeville/MUUS Collection
Culture > Entertainment

Capturing the Ethereal Essence of Femininity in Photography: Deborah Turbeville’s ‘Otherworldly’

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Toronto MU chapter.

Captivating. Mystical. Transcendent. These words capture the dreamlike essence of Otherworldly, an exhibition highlighting the collection of a visionary, Deborah Turbeville.

Running from Jan. 16 to April 6, 2024, at The Image Centre on Toronto Metropolitan University’s (TMU) campus, Otherworldly represents beauty, emotion, and the ethereal as it invites viewers into the intimate world of the women featured. 

Renowned for her unique approach, Turbeville has drawn attention with her avant-garde compositions within the genre of fashion photography. Although the late artist may not be mentioned in mainstream films and media, her impact on the fashion industry is monumental and has likely influenced the visual aesthetics of several cinematic productions indirectly. 

Her photographs are most recognized by their grainy texture, black-and-white chromogenic print, and blurriness. Some of her work can also be seen as artistically reworked with the help of tape and scrape-like patterns. These elements add to the whimsicalness of her photographs as they allow for hauntingly beautiful visuals that transcend traditional fashion and beauty norms. 

Black and white collage that are placed together with masking tape from Deborah Turbeville\'s \'Otherworldly\' collection from the 1997 W Magazine
Photo by Deborah Turbeville/MUUS Collection

Turbeville’s narrative and storytelling techniques in Otherworldly can be compared to the crafting of a visual poem, especially when focused on the women in her photographs. Each frame serves as a stanza that explores the resiliency, authenticity, vulnerability, and complexities that define the female experience. 

The dreamlike atmosphere that the women are photographed in and their averting gaze from the lens while maintaining their soft poses could imply a feeling of being out of sync with their environment.

It’s through these candid and exposed moments that we see the rawness of her subjects, presenting an inclusive and diverse view of femininity. This allows viewers to question and reconsider notions of beauty as she celebrates the unconventional standards of perfection by showcasing a myriad of “imperfect” compositions. 

Inscribed on the gallery wall text are the eloquent words of Deborah Turbeville, encapsulating the essence of her photographs as she describes them: “The photographs are like the women 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,” Turbeville said.

The concept of waiting anxiously for the right person to find them conveys a desire for connection and understanding while subtly hinting at the timeless challenges that women face when navigating societal expectations. 

Otherworldly reminds us that beauty does transcend time and that stories can be captured within a single frame. In an era where women are pressured to conform to what mainstream media believes a woman should look and act like, it’s refreshing that Turbeville’s legacy continues to challenge and utilize this authenticity as a source of strength in her fashion photography.

Arshneer Khaira

Toronto MU '23

Arshneer is a third-year Professional Communication student at Toronto Metropolitan University who has a passion for reading, writing, and digital content. She looks forward to channeling her love for fashion, media, sports, and photography through her written work at Her Campus.