Well well, Mr. Richardson, the cat’s out of the bag. Looks like you’ll have to put the snake back in the basket. As of this post, Terry Richardson, fashion photog/enfant terrible has been involved in enough controversy that his Wikipedia page is one long scandal sheet. Hardly any references to his work or style remain, and frankly, isn’t it about time?
By now, the bleached-out, candid-style photography popularized by the likes of Dash Snow have fully permeated the culture, particularly fashion photography. While such sordid images initially had an impact of shock and unexpected intimacy, the tenderness has been subsumed by all-too-common depictions of torporific female subjection. There is nothing intimate about a 100 foot billboard of a barely-legal teen in her underpants on Houston Street, or another fucking nude chick in Vice. It’s boring, bloodless, colorless. If you’re so excited about people who (look like they) use heroin, just join a rock band and write the obligatory smack song for your third album.
In the meantime, is anyone surprised that Richardson has been accused of lewd conduct in his professional life? While some defend his sexual harassment as an occupational hazard, others are sane enough to realize that this behavior is a clear demonstration of Richardson’s abuse of power, not to mention sheer douchebaggery.
Frankly, “creep” seems inadequate to the task of describing Richardson’s behavior. While it’s important to note that Peck [ed note: Jamie Peck, fashion model] does not imply that she didn’t consent to what went on with Richardson, it is troubling that she describes “zooming out” during their encounter. The environment she writes about at the studio, where she is surrounded by Richardson and his assistants, all armed with cameras (and, apparently, towels), all cheering her along, and all acting like it’s the most natural thing in the world for a photographer to interrupt a shoot and demand a hand job from his model, is even more troubling. “Inappropriate” and “unprofessional” don’t even begin to cover it. Given the power differential that exists between Richardson, who is old, wealthy, regarded as an artist, and vastly influential, and most of his model subjects, can the consent of these women even be said to be freely given? Richardson is a guy who publishes books with Taschen, hangs out with celebrities, and photographs the President. Peck was a “nerdy as hell” college freshman when she met him. Most professional models are even younger.
To those who would argue that any nude shoot carries an implied risk of lewd behavior on the part of the photographer, or that models should be aware of Richardson’s oeuvre and avoid him if they don’t like working in a sexualized environment, I say: Bullshit. Nudity is common in fashion, and when the clothes come off, it doesn’t denote a holiday from the responsibilities of maintaining a safe working environment. When I modeled, I shot both topless and implied nude with a variety of photographers — in fact, my first editorial shoot, for Italian Glamour, was topless — and never was I sexually harassed on a set. Nor did I expect, or feel that I deserved, to be simply because of the kind of work I was there to do. Instead, I expected those around me to not violate my dignity at work. Peck agrees that Richardson’s behavior is exceptional, and crosses some clear lines. “Of all the fine folks I’ve frolicked au naturel for, he’s the only one who’s left me feeling like I needed to take two showers.”
It’s not terribly surprising that Peck, who describes herself as “not a model, just a vain girl with nice tits who likes to pose for the occasional cheesecake photo,” is more comfortable speaking out about her experiences with Richardson than many professional models. Rie Rasmussen is one notable, and courageous, exception, but the fact of Richardson’s immense power within the industry, his long-standing relationships with both influential magazines like Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Vogue Paris, and commercial clients like Miu Miu, Gucci, and Sisley, makes it difficult for most working models to openly criticize him. Pointing out the wrongfulness of his behavior risks hurting you more than it will him. And so agencies continue sending their young charges to castings with him, in the hopes of him giving one a big break. And so magazine editors who would never for a moment consider leaving their teenage daughters alone with someone like Terry Richardson continue booking him for shoots with other people’s teenage daughters.
Remind any of you music industry professionals of the unspoken gag rule surrounding the recent Ticketmaster/LiveNation merger? But I digress….
The fact is that women can be professional models, as well as sexy and provocative, without being exploited. And personally, I would prefer fashion to return to an aesthetic that’s not so overtly sexually exploitative and downright depressing. We’re all broke now, for Pete’s sake. Bring on the color, the richness, the lushness and the joy, please! I really miss seeing pictures of women having fun and engaging in vibrant behavior — I can relate to that. Is this why I haven’t gone shopping for so many years? Does poly-cotton no longer apply to people with self-esteem?
At the very least, please let it be the end of an era in which the visual environment is ruled by a guy like this:
“(Richardson) spoke in the effeminate tones of someone trying very hard not to come off as sexually threatening despite the fact that he was basically walking around in a hipster pedophile costume.”
Gross. But unfortunately, at present, sadly ubiquitous. Here’s hoping that it won’t be for much longer.
Thanks to my photographer friend Jesse Untracht-Oakner for thrilling me to this story.