Last week we hopped over to the Whitney Art Party, and had a blast, but were mildly disappointed to miss running into Terry Richardson. In the post we wrote that Terry is our favorite photog/man-about-town, and all the comments expressed outrage in our desire to meet Terry.
So let me say it, I love Terry Richardson's photography.
Is he a pervert? Does he exploit women? I've spent days scouring the internet for information on Richardson, from Jamie Peck's famed account to anonymous posts on Jezebel. It's a confusing mess, really, since Richardson has no comments and often runs away or hangs up during any interrogation.
(Click through to read more, but the images are obviously NSFW.)
Much of Terry's photography is successful at portraying the gross sexuality of society. The image pictured here, of him receiving oral sex from a woman under a desk, is an excellent photograph. It's grossly sexual, funny, perverse, and ironic in that it shows a man of power lacking the traditional notions of power in society (i.e. suits, watches, cars, alcohol). Instead you find skinny, tattooed Terry, a seeming lowlife, talking on a tragically un-chic phone, pleasured by a woman under a desk fit for a grandma. The whole scene lacks finesse or class; it's intentionally pervy.
Overall the general argument against Terry is that he pressures women into these sexual situations. In Peck's account he asks her to remove her tampon, which she refuses to do, and give him a hand job, which she consents to because "new fake friends would’ve been bummed if I’d said no." Most of the stories show models consenting to Richardson's behavior and cite his sexualized photos as proof of his perverted treatment of his subjects; how could a man who enjoys photographing nudes frolicking together not pressure people into these situations?
The problem is that there are plenty of other figures in fashion that shoot models naked or touching each other, that never receive the criticism that Terry does. It has been said that pretty much all photographers and have sex with their models. Some think there's less of a backlash because many of these men are gay, which means their behavior is accepted. There's a societal preconception that men cannot be pressured into situations like women can.
While I don't believe such a blanket statement, I can say the difference is that with a photographer like Tom Ford or Bruce Weber (I'm not accusing them of anything--just using them as an example), images are hinting at sex, while Richardson's are showing it.
But just because it's porn doesn't mean the woman was forced into compliance. Many models consent to appearing naked in editorials shot by Richardson or any other fashion photographer.
But it seems like Terry has pressured women into compliance. From secret shots of his girlfriend to random girls he meets, his sneaky tactics are what give him a bad reputation. He publishes photos without consent and photographs people without their knowledge. That's illegal and wrong.
To achieve what he wants to achieve, Richardson needs people willing to consent to sexual acts. He's making porn, he's making art, and his subjects are his partners in the artistic process. The problem seems to be his selection of--and deceit of--models. Many of the women's accounts suggest that they had no idea of Richardson's work and thereby no idea what to expect, or they had no idea their photographs were being taken or would be used as part of editorials or in books.
The blame here is on both parties: Terry for not making his intentions explicit, and the models' agencies for sending unprepared girls into the studio of a pornographic photographer. I think Terry would have a much better reputation if he were an admitted pervert and didn't shy away from his bad-boy, pornographer image. Honesty is the best policy, Mr. Richardson.
The unfortunate point is you know what you're getting with Terry Richardson. You will be naked and he may ask you to touch him. But you can always say no.
If you've experienced any abuse on set with anyone, say something.