A few months ago, top-fashion model Rie Rasmussen came out against fashion photographer Terry Richardson, alleging Richardson abused his position to exploit the women he shoots. Rasmussen’s claims have caused a slew of anti-Terry Richardson stories, by both professional and non-professional models.
Richardson’s photos have been published in outlets including Purple Magazine, Vogue, GQ and Harper’s Bazaar; among his subjects are Kate Moss, Leonardo DiCaprio, Karl Lagerfeld and President Obama. Several figures in the fashion industry have rushed to defend him against Rasmussen’s allegations.
One is Marc Jacobs. In the Wall Street Journal, Jacob said, "I’ve worked with Terry and Terry has asked me to do some crazy things. I know that those pictures will exist if I do them. But I’m a big boy and I can say no." He went on to add, "If a girl is underage, maybe the girl’s agent or chaperon should be present on the shoot. That’s the hard part. Who’s to blame or who’s to watch."
The sad aspect of the Richardson scandal is that he will be protected by the fashion industry. He will continue shooting for high fashion magazines, despite his reputation, and he more than likely will continue his behavior. Models’ outcries against him have unfortunately seemed to bring him more prestige and attention. Models continue to contact him for photos, despite being familiar with the stories against him.
Richardson’s reaction to all this attention has included an announcement in The Journal that he is now looking to shoot male nudes, rather than female nudes. Advertisements to shoot with him have been appearing on his website and other model networking websites.
In an interview with The Journal’s Amy Odell, Richardson was quoted as saying, "I love shooting guys. Some of my favorite pictures over the years have been the things I’ve done with guys. In a commercial context too, there’s no hair or makeup with guys, which is great. I love shooting nudes of guys, but it’s harder to get guys to do full nudes, I don’t know why, but they don’t want to show their junk. I love doing guys. If there are any guys out there that want to get naked you can email: [email protected]"
But while Richardson complains that it has been difficult in the past to get males to pose nude for him, the number of published images of female nudes testifies that he had no problem in that domain of the fashion photography industry. He’s allegedly been able to convince young models to perform sexual acts either on themselves or with him (and in most cases, with assistants present).
As Ramussen remarked to the New York Post’s Page Six, Richardson "takes girls who are young, manipulates them to take their clothes off and takes pictures of them they will be ashamed of. They are too afraid to say no because their agency booked them on the job and are too young to stand up for themselves â€¦ I don’t understand how anyone works with him. â€¦ I told him, â€˜what you do is completely degrading to women. I hop you know you only fuck girls because you have a camera, lots of fashion contacts and get your pictures in Vogue.’"
Richardson’s photography, both personal and hired-work, tends to be suggestive. Shoots usually feature a scene that may be homoerotic or contain group couplings. They are starkly-lit, similar to a lot of soft-porn photography, and contain content which could appear innocent, but are highly suggestive, like an April 2009 Rolling Stone cover featuring Gossip Girl actresses Leighton Meester and Blake Lively.
It is that style which attracts some of the industry greats. Doug Lloyd, the art director for a Gucci campaign, told New York Magazine, "We wanted a rawer energy and more sex appeal and that’s what you find in Terry’s work."
As one fashion world insider told The Daily Beast, "This is an industry filled with crazy people and big personalities. The boundaries are different than they are in a purely corporate enterprise. It’s not IBM. It’s a business with beautiful girls, sex, and malfeasance. To single out one person as some sort of ringleader is absurd. We traffic women’s bodies."
But Cyan Banister, CEO of the modeling networking website Zivity.com, proposes that no, modeling is just like any other business and it should maintain the same standard of professionalism that would be expected.
"I don’t understand why the fashion industry is not condoning this kind of behavior,” Banister said. “It wouldn’t be tolerated in any other industry … so why so much tolerance in the modeling industry?"
Banister noted that this sort of behavior is typical for any kind job that would offer the opportunity to fame. She noted its similarity to Hollywood, citing an agency which requires actors to strip naked for photographs. When she inquired why they would do such a thing, Banister said, a representative from the agency explained that if they would have their talents do sex scenes, they needed to know how their bodies looked.
Banister was unconvinced. "Mixing sex with business is not a good idea,” she said.
On Zivity.com, Banister questioned some of the models about whether given the reputation that Richardson has, would they still pose for him. She was surprised at some of the responses, with many still saying "absolutely yes."
However, Banister is most concerned about how cases in which the models might not really know or understand the release form that they have to sign and the consequences that may occur from it.
"The model is asked to sign a release as soon as she steps in the door. Rarely is it sent to the model days or even hours in advance," Banister noted, adding that these girls often sign the document after looking at if for maybe 15 to 20 minutes, without the guidance of an agent, attorney, or even a friend. "If they’re not super savvy, the photographer owns the image for life and can do whatever they want.”
However, models have the right to many additional protections they might not know about. There are few resources in the model community (unless the model is protected by an agency) to find out about such information.
With Zivity.com, Banister said, the models are given a lot more power with regards to photos. Zivity has its own contract that the models sign which will allow them to give the final approval before the images appear online. The photographer may have his or her own release forms in addition to the Zivity contracts, and Banister hopes that having the models sign two release forms will get them thinking about what they are getting themselves into.
It all comes down to the contract, according to Banister. "These photographers hold this power," Banister noted, and these models want to work with famous photographers like Richardson, who could help their career. The pressure to do something that they wouldn’t necessarily do is hard to resist when they have "these stars in their eyes. (But) you have to think about what you are giving up in exchange."
In the case of Richardson, Banister said it’s “sad” that his popularity has actually increased because of this controversy. She pointed out that Richardson may not be completely responsible for the popular "sickly" look among young female models, but he is definitely a photographer that promotes it, and it is the people who hire him that want this sort of imagery.
"A lot of his women don’t come off looking powerful," Banister said, noting a recent shoot for New York Magazine in which the men from the MTV show Jersey Shore posed with a long sandwich sub, model Bar Refaeli eating the end of it. The image was obviously intended to suggest a phallic image.
"I understand that its artsy, but it’s a little bit explosive," Banister said.