Somewhat fittingly, Unseen Versailles, which showcased the remnants of a collapsed monarchy and a palace’s fall from grace, was realized thanks to Jacqueline Onassis, whose own Camelot had imploded in one fell swoop. During and after the JFK presidency, Onassis had gotten a glimpse of a hidden Versailles, a labyrinth of back stairs and private living quarters kept far away from the view of wandering tourists. Determined to have it documented, while she was working as an editor at Doubleday, Onassis engaged Turbeville, whose poetic vision she loved, to capture the decaying grandeur and revive the stories of the people who had lived there. “On the back stairs, everybody was throwing chamber pots out, sellers were trying to sell laces, Voltaire was stomping up, love letters were passing hands, and assignations were going on,” Onassis told The New York Times. “All those lives,” she continued, “you can just feel them, like ghosts.”
Unseen Versailles was something of a departure for Turbeville, photographing spaces largely without actors. Having begun her photographic career by shooting editorials for Vogue in the 1970’s, she became known for her singular view of women; forgoing the charged eroticism of Helmut Newton and Guy Bourdin, Turbeville’s lens created a peephole into the private lives of women, sometimes pensive, sometimes eerie. This voyeuristic perspective, almost anthropological, was aided through finding hidden places to place them in, imbuing her photographs with a slight unease: it almost feels a trespass to look at them.