Photo: Terry Richardson
A couple of days ago I posted something here that probably qualified as a full-fledged rant. It was a vicious polemic against fashion photographer and all-around creep Terry Richardson, pegged off of an interview at Vocativ with a young woman who says she was basically sexually assaulted by Richardson when she modeled for him back in 2009. But what really led me to call Richardson a "piece of shit" wasn't simply this latest allegation of misconduct -- and that's all it is really, an allegation -- but his long and lurid track record, well-documented, of being less a professional photographer with a great eye for sleaze and more a pervert who happens to have a camera. Richardson's been more than willing in the past to cop to turning his shoots into opportunities to fuck the young women he entices into modeling for him; after all this is the man who said during a 2007 interview, "It’s not who you know, it’s who you blow. I don’t have a hole in my jeans for nothing." I get that the modeling world is one of those businesses where fragile sensibilities go to die, but what Richardson is doing goes way beyond the pale.
Seeing as how I'm not the only one who's railed against him over the past few days since the Vocativ interview went live, with 24-year-old Charlotte Waters being just the latest woman to step out of the darkness to reveal herself publicly, Terry Richardson has now decided to respond to the charges being leveled at him. In a piece called "Correcting the Rumors," published over at the Huffington Post, Richardson denies any wrongdoing and seems to suggest that the sexual nature of his oeuvre simply rubs some people the wrong way, that his "provocative work courts controversy" and as an artist he's come to accept that.
Appearing to specifically address some of the stories told by models about what it was like shooting with Richardson, he says:
I collaborated with consenting adult women who were fully aware of the nature of the work, and as is typical with any project, everyone signed releases. I have never used an offer of work or a threat of rebuke to coerce someone into something that they did not want to do. 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.
Here's the thing: If the allegations painting Terry Richardson as an unscrupulous predator who's always looking for ways to get himself off are based on lies, they're based on a hell of a lot of lies. Charlotte Waters isn't the first person to tell the story of Richardson turning her shoot into an opportunity to jerk off on her face and take pictures of it -- not by a long shot. Everyone from Bruce and Demi daughter Scout Willis, to Canadian fashion model Liskula Cohen, to a seemingly endless supply of anonymous teenagers have related tales of Richardson's questionable behavior. And while it's easy to make the claim that a 19-year-old aspiring model should just have the guts to kick Richardson in the balls and walk out on him if she doesn't approve of his requests for a blow job -- that it's up to them to say what they don't want -- keep in mind that to do so could mean that person might never work again. In the real world, when that kind of implied contract exists between a superior and an underling, we call it sexual harassment.
To that end, my favorite response to Richardson's piece so far comes from Forbes tech columnist and good guy Jeff Bercovici:
It's true that there's no hard evidence, so to speak, that the story Charlotte Waters is telling is the truth and I don't want to see anyone strung up for something he didn't do. But exactly how many stories like hers do you have to hear before you at least start to think there might be something to it all?
Sorry, whether he hopes to "correct the rumors" or not, I stand by what I said earlier this week. Terry Richardson's a piece of shit.