Her death, at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center, was from lung cancer, her agent, Marek Milewicz, said.
Though images like Ms. Turbeville's which might include pale, haunted-eyed models in derelict buildings are practically de rigueur in fashion photography today, they were almost beyond contemplation when she began her work in the early 1970s. She was the only woman, and the only American, in the triumvirate (the others were Helmut Newton and Guy Bourdin) that by wide critical consensus changed fashion photography from sedate to shocking.
Ms. Turbeville, who began her career editing fashion magazines, became famous, Women's Wear Daily wrote in 2009, "for transforming fashion photography into avant-garde art" a distinction all the more striking in that she was almost completely self-taught.
Her photographs appeared in magazines like Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and Mirabella; in newspapers including The New York Times; in advertisements for clients like Ralph Lauren, Bruno Magli, Nike, Macy's and Bloomingdale's; in exhibitions worldwide; and in books, including "Unseen Versailles" (1981), a collection of her photos of the hidden, dusty spaces underpinning Louis XIV's grand palace.
"Fashion takes itself more seriously than I do," Ms. Turbeville told The New Yorker in 2011. "I'm not really a fashion photographer."
In mid-20th-century America, fashion photography was about precisely that: fashion. The clothes, vividly lighted, were front and center, with the models chosen for their well-scrubbed, patrician femininity. They looked, as often as not, as if they had just come from tennis at the country club, though reassuringly free of sweat.
Ms. Turbeville's photos, by contrast, were unsettling, and they were meant to be. In her fashion work, clothes are almost beside the point. In some images the outfits are barely visible; the same is often true of the models, resulting in an elegiac landscape defined more by absence than by presence.
In a de facto commentary on fashion's manipulation of women, Ms. Turbeville literally manipulated her negatives scratching them, tearing them, scattering dust on them and otherwise distressing them to make the finished images redolent of decay. She employed faded color, black-and-white and sepia tones; prints were often deliberately overexposed, rendering her subjects spectral.
The settings were as striking as the subjects. Ms. Turbeville's photos are awash in ruin: she favored places like grimy, deserted streets, abandoned warehouses and, in the image that nearly 40 years ago horrified the public and cemented her reputation, a decrepit New York bathhouse.
"I can't deny that I design the background," Ms. Turbeville told The Times in 1977. "A woman in my pictures doesn't just sit there. In what kind of mood would a woman be, wearing whatever? I go into a woman's private world, where you never go."
By the late 1970s, articles on photography had begun to refer to "the Deborah Turbeville look," which, as The New York Times described it in 1977, was "not the kind that mother used to admire in Vogue."
Unlike other world-renowned fashion photographers, Ms. Turbeville rarely shot the famous, though when she did the results could be startling. In a portrait of Julia Roberts published in The Times Magazine in 2004, Ms. Roberts looks so expressively solemn as to appear on the verge of tears.
For the viewer, the net effect of Ms. Turbeville's work is one of dreamlike, melancholy beauty. Her images exude an almost palpable sense of longing, with questions about the woeful women they depict Who are they? Why are they so sad? hanging unanswered in the air.
Her barren settings leave abundant room for loneliness and loss, and the dissolution they contain is a constant reminder of the passage of time. ("I like to hear a clock ticking in my pictures," Ms. Turbeville once said.) Her photos seem to depict small, once exquisite worlds that, by the time she clicks the shutter, have already evanesced.
Deborah Lou Turbeville was born in Stoneham, Mass., on July 6, 1932. (Many sources give the year erroneously as 1937 or 1938.) As a young woman she moved to New York, where she was an assistant and sample model to the noted fashion designer Claire McCardell. Afterward, she held editorial positions at Harper's Bazaar and Mademoiselle, though she deplored the work.