In 2016, Terry Richardson's three decade-long photography career is largely inseparable from the controversy that surrounds it. The 50-year-old has lent his recognizable, suggestive lens style to brands ranging from Marc Jacobs to Yves Saint Laurent and titles that include Rolling Stone, Vogue and Vanity Fair. But a slew of sexual assault allegations have riddled his work for years, causing many a high-profile client to drop him from their regular roster.
But for author Michael Gross, Richardson is still the foremost photographer working in fashion today. In an interview with WWD to promote his "gossipy" new book "Focus: The Sexy, Secret, Sometimes Sordid World of Fashion Photographers," Gross proposes that Richardson is in fact the industry's "most directional" cameraman. He tells Alexandra Steigrad:
The consensus was that the only person who was doing anything original and remarkable and who fit the criteria that I had created for inclusion in the book — which was [they] created the conversation, changed the conversation or lived the life — the consensus was the only one who rose to that level of the current crop of stars was Terry Richardson.
Gross admits that with the rise of digital properties and social media, fashion photography has changed dramatically in the most recent decade and even more so in in the past five years. He describes that since he first began working on "Focus" in 2014, Gross has witnessed an industry shift that hasn't yet resolved itself. "I think the most directional fashion photographer today is some kid with a cell phone," he says. "We haven’t seen how that’s going to play out yet."
That evolution has become visible in terms of pricing, too. According to one of Gross's experts, former editor-in-chief of the French magazine La Lettre de la Photographie Jean-Jacques Naudet, celebrated photographers now make a fraction of what they did 15 years ago. "A single photograph could have been worth $80,000 20 years ago and now it’s worth $7,000," he tells WWD. "There's less work to go around. There are just as many people trying to be fashion photographers, but the fashion business is in a crisis, the magazine business is in decline. Nobody is paying what they used to pay."
Gross credits Vogue's Anna Wintour as being a positive "puppeteer" of the magazine industry, in terms of keeping it profitable as it sits at crossroads. He says:
I've always said this, but fashion journalism is an oxymoron. Fashion magazines exist to sell frocks. It's only an accident when they do something greater than the commercial mandate. Anna is the ultimate fashion journalist. She is the ultimate salesperson. Look at her, she decides who designs things. She is an absolute genius.
"Focus: The Sexy, Secret, Sometimes Sordid World of Fashion Photographers," which highlights the fashion magazine world's most dramatic developments from 1947 to 1997, goes on sale July 5.