Terry Richardson attends his "Mom Dad" exhibition opening. Photo: Marc Stamas
Photographer Terry Richardson has been associated for some time now with techniques labelled ‘provocative’ and ‘cutting edge’. But with one of his former models recently going public with details of their session together, the man known as ‘Uncle Terry’ has some serious ‘splainin to do. On the strength of these latest allegations, fashion blog OMG That Dress is asking for people to support a #nomoreterry boycott. The boycott commits to refusing to buy, watch or promote any outlet or form of media that employs the services of Richardson - a hard ask, given how deeply enmeshed he is in the industry. Richardson enjoys the support of some of the fashion world’s most powerful players, shooting regularly for highbrow glossies like Vogue, V, Harper’s Bazaar and enjoying contracts with commercial outfits like H&M.
Untested allegations have been swirling about Richardson’s conduct, but they’ve been shrouded in anonymity. And without a name to put to the accusations, the rumours have apparently proved easy to ignore.
Until now. Charlotte Waters was only 19 years old when, in 2009, she accepted a job modelling for Richardson. Her harrowing experience - which included having Richardson’s assistant photograph Waters while Richardson ejaculated onto her face - is documented in graphic detail on Vocativ (readers should be advised that the piece carries a trigger warning). Suffice it to say, Waters has spent the last five years running the gamut of associated emotions - shame, disgust and, perhaps most affecting, the guilt and self recrimination of wondering why she didn’t say no. (Waters confided in a few people at the time, but decided to come forward publicly recently. She has also reported the matter to the police, although they’ve told her no action will be taken. Since Waters’ interview, another model has anonymously alleged that Richardson tried to solicit sex from her in exchange for a photo shoot.)
It isn’t unusual for celebratised industries to close ranks. Hollywood has a reputation of protecting it’s own, most recently with Woody Allen. Meanwhile, the music business put Chris Brown in the naughty corner for a nominal period of time, and then re-embraced him as quickly as you could say ‘album sales’. There have been numerous allegations against one recent Oscar winner, to little impact. Contrary to the much touted argument that accusations of mistreatment of women will irreversibly destroy a man’s career, it appears that with great power comes great latitude.
In many of these situations we are urged to separate the art from the artist, even while the artist continues to be rewarded via lucrative contracts and high standing within their industry. In the cases of Allen and Richardson, we are implored by the men themselves to pay no heed to vicious rumours - that such spurious lies are mounted by deranged women and jealous opponents, and deserve to be ignored as such. Both men have recently written open responses to the accusations against them, and both lead with almost identical arguments. To wit: that these rumours are so far beneath them that they have chosen to ignore them until now - but that the record must once and for all be set straight so that they can get on with the important work that has caused them to become targets to people who want to destroy them.
In his own defence, Richardson writes: “I give everyone that I work with enough respect to view them as having ownership of their free will and making their decisions accordingly, and as such, it has been difficult to see myself as a target of revisionist history. Sadly, in the on-going quest for controversy-generated page-views, sloppy journalism fueled by sensationalized, malicious, and manipulative recountings of this work has given rise to angry Internet crusades. Well-intentioned or not, they are based on lies. Believing such rumors at face value does a disservice not only to the spirit of artistic endeavor, but most importantly, to the real victims of exploitation and abuse.”
Richardson insists that it is an ill-informed, pitchfork wielding internet leading the charge against him; that if there are any victims in this situation, they are both him and the integrity of his work. But if the allegations are true, then Richardson isn’t just undermining victims by questioning the credibility of their accusations. By shifting the responsibility of their publication onto ‘controversy-generated page-views’ and ‘internet crusades’, he’s attempting to erase them from the situation altogether. And if his employers, patrons and high profile celebrity subjects (which include Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus and Beyonce) protect and support him in doing so? Well, they might as well be the ones holding the camera and pretending it’s business as usual.