Deborah Turbeville's Unseen Versailles

Dan Thawley

As Paris steels itself for FIAC and an array of large-scale fairs as part of November's Photo Month, the legendary Deborah Turbeville has opted out of the circus for a charming solo exhibition in Saint Germain. Further sticking it to the establishment, whose demand for grandiose levels of "newness" remains as insatiable as ever, the 74-year-old American photographer is showing works over three decades old, in what may possibly be Paris' smallest art space, the Galerie Serge Aboukrat. Tucked away in the cobbled streets behind Café Flore, the gallery spans just 10 square meters, with barely room for a single parlor chair, and Turbeville's shadowy images crowd every inch of its wall space.

Entitled "Unseen Versailles," the series was shot on the site of the Chateau Versailles in the winter of 1979, during restorations that meant statues were wrapped or de-mounted and grand salons abandoned under a coat of dust. Turbeville was commissioned by the late Jackie Onassis, an editor at DoubleDay publishers at the time, who'd envisaged an eerie alternative to the glossy coffee table books that glorified Versailles. "I wanted her to conjure up what went on there," said Onassis at the time, "to evoke the feeling that there were ghosts and memories." Those ghosts and memories take on another level when lifted off the pages and into this intimate exhibition format, coupled with the photographer's historical notations and diary entries in an impeccable calligraphy. "The idea of disintegration is really the core of my work," said Turbeville, whose shadowy aesthetic has created some of the most iconic avant-garde images in fashion history. "I destroy the image after I've made it, obliterate it a little so you never have it completely there," she explains.

Spilling out onto the street, last night's opening saw an eclectic mix of friends and well-wishers braving the Autumn chill, from designers Haider Ackermann and Martine Sitbon to L'Uomo Vogue's Robert Rabensteiner and Karla Otto's Renate Zasche (one of Turbeville's earliest models). One could imagine Jackie O's delight at her project's return to its birthplace, but we didn't have to—Turbeville's own quiet smile said enough.

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April 2014

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