July 22, 2024

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Fashion Photographer David Turner Dead at 64

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David Turner, a former WWD and Hearst Publications photographer, died June 18 at the age of 64.

A man of multiple talents, whose exacting nature applied to such other pursuits as teaching, baking and trumpet playing, Turner was not inclined to do anything halfheartedly. In what was a 17-year run as a staff photographer at WWD that started in 1989, Turner’s specialty was portraits of high-profile designers like Ralph Lauren and Karl Lagerfeld and celebrities like Audrey Hepburn and Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy. That tenure, which included assignments for W magazine, wound down in 2006 with his departure to Hearst Magazines. There, Turner was a staff photographer, fielding assignments for Harper’s Bazaar, Esquire, Town & Country and other titles.

Designer Thierry Mugler poses for portraits in New York City on September 20, 1993.

Designer Thierry Mugler in New York City in 1993.

WWD

WWD’s former editor in chief Ed Nardoza said Wednesday, “I remember this unpretentious, gee-whiz Midwestern kid walking in for his interview for one of our staff photographer positions. Courtly and shy, but possessing one of the most beautiful portfolios I’d ever seen. One shot I’ll never forget: a black-and-white of his grandmother’s aged hands cupping an infant’s face. Extraordinary powerful, as was his whole book. We hired him and his photos never disappointed. Creative, beautifully lit, emotional and never routine.”

Editor Anna Wintour answers questions during an interview.

An early portrait of Anna Wintour.

WWD,W

For the past six years, Turner had lived in Rochester, N.Y., where he served as a visiting lecturer at Rochester Institute of Technology. Christye Sisson, who heads up the institution’s School of Photographic Arts and Sciences, said that although Turner was an “incredibly generous teacher, no one would call him ‘easy,’ but he would inspire the students to exceed their own perceptions of what they were capable of.” Prior to RIT, he taught at the prestigious Hallmark Institute of Photography in Turner Falls, Mass.

A representative from New Comer Cremations and Funerals confirmed his passing.  The location and cause of Turner’s death were not known. Media requests to his family were unreturned.

One of his sisters, Susan McConnell, posted on the New Comer site, “We will always have questions, and even regrets, regarding David’s passing. I think we all can agree that in honor of him, we can continue living making this world more kind and helping others.”

Services will be held at the convenience of his family, according to the online post about Turner on the New Comer. In addition, RIT is planning a tribute for Turner, after students return to campus next fall.

Designer Ralph Lauren and actress Audrey Hepburn

Designer Ralph Lauren and actress Audrey Hepburn.

WWD,DNR

Growing up in a whistle-stop Oklahoma town, Turner’s introduction to the world of publishing was second nature — his father Fred owned and ran the local newspaper, which is where the younger Turner got his start as a cub photographer.  By his own account, Turner learned to never come back empty-handed and tried to relay the journalistic edict of “who, what, when, where, why and how” into a single image.  Decades before he stepped into fashion photography shooting designers like Lauren and fashion forces like Anna Wintour, Turner’s beat was the local penitentiary. He once recalled in an interview with Rochester’s (585) magazine, “There was no zoom lens. These guys looked like they could eat me for lunch.”

After his anticipated career plan to succeed his father at the newspaper went off the track, Turner decided to zero in on photography and he enrolled at the State University of New York’s Empire State College and then a photography school in Los Angeles. There, he created his own special effects using gels and smoke machines at times. In the 1980s, he bought a one-way ticket to New York City and put his skills to the test, first as an assistant to Ross Whitaker before becoming a studio manager. Turner then moved to Italy, freelancing in Milan for such outlets as Linea fashion magazine.

After the requisite hustle of freelancing wore thin, Turner returned to the U.S. and photographed ads for Ralph Lauren in an era when full-page newspaper images were routine procedure. Agile and artistic as he was behind the camera, Turner aimed to show his subjects’ true selves or “look the part of who they are,” as he once explained.

During his years at WWD and W magazine, Turner photographed Calvin Klein, Thierry Mugler, Tommy Hilfiger and other major designers, as well as runway shows, rallies, celebrities and more. Former longtime WWD photographer Thomas Iannaccone recalled Wednesday how Turner favored the light-dark tonal contrasts that Italians refer to as “chiaroscuro,” a technique that was favored by Leonardo da Vinci and Caravaggio in paintings. “He was inspired by art — the lighting of the Renaissance [painters], the emotions — the light created the emotions, especially with his pictures of Ralph [Lauren] and a few others, where it was dark on one side. It’s what’s you didn’t see that was important,” Iannaccone said.

Designer Karl Lagerfeld

Karl Lagerfeld

WWD

His music skills were up there, too, with Turner occasionally bringing his trumpet to WWD’s offices to play if there was a lull, for his fellow photographers in their locker room and studio. Turner also loved discussing everything from Mozart to Louis Armstrong to Freddie Hubbard, Nardoza said. “When he left us for a big job at Hearst, it was a major loss for us, but a good move for David. He really was a wonderful guy who never lost his gee-whiz charm, and carried his exceptional talent with disarming modesty.”

Conversational and humorous as Turner was en route to shoots, he was precise, professional and all-business when it was time to shoot. Upon joining WWD, Turner certainly influenced the other staff photographers with his arsenal of skills. “He brought a whole new mentality. Remember he was a pro. He had worked in Italy and had a beautiful portfolio,” Iannaccone said. “We loved him. That’s basically it — he will be missed.”

Former WWD reporter Eric Wilson recalled traveling to Miami for W in the early 2000s to shoot homes, art patrons and philanthropists. Accustomed to Turner being “fast and discreet,” when shooting designers, Wilson was surprised when the photographer spent hours setting up lighting for a single shot of the exterior of a South Beach mansion on an overcast day, “because he wanted it to really pop against the clouds.” Once everything was just right, the sun burst out and Turner had to rearrange the whole set-up. “He never complained (I did),” Wilson said. “We were both so sunburned by the end of the day that we looked like lobsters. When we got back to New York, [W’s] Mary Merris joked that we had treated the work trip as a vacation.”

Wilson added, “He was so versatile and such a gentleman with all of the designers. He never broke his focus even when Donna Karan used to change her top in front of us, during showroom visits.”

Turner would want to be remembered as someone who always pursued the best, he said. “He was a respected artist in every field he touched. When he was a teacher, he was the best teacher. When he played trumpet, he played it with soul. When he took pictures, he did it all the way. When he cooked, he was passionate. There were no shortcuts,” Iannaccone said. “We went to a dinner at his house, when he was married to [his ex-wife] Teril, and he wasn’t there. He had made dessert. But he couldn’t find the sprinkles that would match the frosting so he was running around the city looking for the sprinkles. That’s the kind of guy he was,” Iannaccone said with a laugh.

But Turner’s nose for news never waned. When one high-maintenance Grammy-winning musician was running hours late for an assignment, he told an increasingly impatient colleague, “We’ll just wait for however long it takes to get the story.” Pragmatic and at times, a little pernicious, Turner delivered such unsolicited, but needed advice that reporters, like photographers, should never walk with their hands in their pockets to avoid the risk of broken arms and hands.

During a visit to South Carolina with businessman Richard Jenrette, Turner was reportedly asked to take a portrait of his host and a houseguest, who turned out to be then-Prince Charles in town to discuss classical architecture. “To do a portrait of Prince Charles, you have to sign a packet of papers,” Turner told (585) Magazine, describing the royal as friendly and warm, with a two-handed handshake and “older brother” energy.

He was also all-in when teaching students at the School of Photographic Arts and Sciences in RIT’s College of Art and Design and often used his personal time to clock additional hours. Working with RIT’s libraries, Turner orchestrated “Magazine Mondays,” sitting down with students to leaf through the pages, discussing the work, the layout, the composition and the trends. Sisson said, “It was a real master class that involved not only picking his brain about the medium, but a low-stress form of critiquing the content. It was super-popular and he would even bake cakes and cookies for these informal gatherings that he hosted up in our airport lounge that were super popular.”

Turner was always eager to share his knowledge — whether that be insights into photography or a Saturday tutorial about how to perfect the croissant by laminating the butter into the dough. “That’s just who he was,” Sisson said, “He just wanted to help people and share what he knew without any ego, which was an unusual thing.”

Predeceased by his parents, Turner is survived by his sister McConnell and another sister, Terri Bragg. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Humane Society of Greater Rochester’s Lollypop Farm.

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