The controversy that resonates around the name Terry Richardson has been around for over a decade, but has taken a more insidious turn of late. The discourse has gone from a whisper to a full blown megaphone. The crowning point, arguably, the boycotting movement with its own hashtag, #nomoreterry. It seems just as the ink dries and the bloggers tire, there is another outspoken recount of an experience with Richardson, graphic enough to grab column inches worldwide like the fame thirsty subjects that often knock on famous photographers’ doors.
Interestingly, there’s always a comment about how basic his photography is, and we all know photographers love to look at work and say, “I could do that.” For argument’s sake, we’ll say the imagery is technically mediocre, but some of the agitation is over the juxtaposition of the half-to-full-naked women he shoots and his strange presence, which have subsequently become as congenital to the experience of his work, as the photos themselves. However, clearly, raw looking footage of sexually charged scenes sell, and Terry is famous and selling.
How famous is he? The plaid shirt, oversized glasses, and ever-present “thumbs up” wearing photographer is speculated to have made $58 million between 2012-2013. That makes Richardson not just one of, if not the highest paid photographer, but an actual financial force. His client caché also reads like the guest list at the Oscars, shooting everyone from Beyoncé, Kate Moss, Miley Cyrus, Emily Ratajkowski, and President Obama, Vogue, and GQ. Names like that don’t seem deterred by his antics or accusations against him.
The most recent accusation against the openly hypersexual Richardson was by 24 year old past-model Charlotte Waters, who, in detail so explicit it’ll make Christian Grey blush, described her own Terry Richardson experience. That descriptiveness has caught more media and individual attention than some of the other allegations directed at Richardson.
The distillation of her experience was essentially submitting a request to be photographed, being selected, going into his studio, disrobing as photos were being taken, and gradually succumbing to the sexually natured, and sexual desires of Richardson, all while in the company of male and female assistants, culminating in his culmination, and her self loathing.
You can read her recount of events here, and a timeline of #uncleterry ’s other sexually incendiary actions here. Anyone with a moral compass pointing remotely north is going to find Richardson vulgar, unapologetic, and a fiend, and fashion blog OMG That Dress decided to initiate a movement against him. The call is for brands and celebrities to no longer hire Richardson, and for the public to stop supporting them if they continue. #nomoreterry.
#UncleTerry Finally Speaks Up
We’ve seen this all before and other efforts to smear Richardson and kill his business have never really gained traction, and Richardson’s celebrity seems to continue to grow. He has been decisively quiet even after accusations mounted. Finally though, “Uncle Terry” as he sometimes likes to be called, has responded. He notes that he made a deliberate decision to ignore the internet gossip until it became what he called, “vicious and distorted,” and, “…an emotionally-charged witch hunt.” He further goes on to say,
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.
People will always have strong opinions about challenging images, and the dichotomy of sex is that it is both the most natural and universal of human behaviors and also one of the most sensitive and divisive. Over the course of my career, I have come to accept that some of my more provocative work courts controversy, and as an artist, I value the discourse that arises from this. I can only hope for this discourse to be informed by fact, so that whether you love my work or hate it, you give it, and me, the benefit of the truth.
Read the full open letter here.
“Terryworld,” his book, and much of Terry’s work, is direct, dirty, blatantly unapologetic, and absurd to the point where the dichotomy of this unattractive photographer sexually engaged with beautiful women, hits in a way so instantaneous and farcical, that it is clearly intentional. It excites.
It’s important to realize at this point, a major issue that’s a real undercurrent is gender prejudice and bias, and how subtext of sexual coercion is an irritant for a broad feminist mentality. What’s interesting to consider here is that however sexist, misogynistic, coercion filled or not Richardson’s work is, he has not been the one to set the precedent on which the argument stems from – that’s as old as time. In fact, the precedent like that set by models like Waters, using sex, objectification and/or association with fame to gain recognition is also nothing new.
Essentially the scene of a man objectifying the image of a woman has been around since the dawn of time, and that gender prejudice trope is unlikely to go away, though this is arguably partially what OMG That Dress is trying to incite with #nomoreterry. It should be understood that the very intention of some photos, as it was with paintings, is to excite, to be explicit, and to idealize the perverse side that’s so intrinsic to the human condition. It’s all evocative. Sadly, it has always been, and Terry perpetuates this, that it’s women who tend to be the objects in current and historical art. Whether it’s social conditioning or not, there are grounds to say women have become self-identifying with being an object, and men continue to encourage it, which perhaps, they shouldn’t.
This brings into question the mentality of the women who knock on Terry’s door. Not to question their merit or integrity, but simply to understand that these are women who identify to some degree with being an object for art. Some are so powerful that even when stripped bare, they use their nakedness to empower themselves . Even Waters admits she was cash poor and began nude modeling for money, and then began to enjoy it, and felt empowered. Richardson was simply a vehicle she sought out with which to do it. The real question is how does he go about it?
His reputation precedes him, even 5 years ago, and however horrid he may appear or be, he can’t be claimed as anything but open about his ways. A book such as “Terryworld” can’t be published without being open. The book is essentially a visual chronology of this nerdy guy’s sexual liberation. There is certainly room for argument that the models who come through his door know his work, and to some degree, his practices. If they don’t, some would, and have argued it is their job to know.
Now, of course, I’m not suggesting they should know he has, if in fact he does have, a penchant for rape and humiliation. It is fair though, is it not, to suggest that to familiarize one’s self with Terry’s work before offering to be his subject seems a basic to-do, as it’s immediately obvious he is often sexually engrossed with his subjects. This leads anyone to wonder how that comes about, and if it’s a theme, why work in that environment if it’s something you’re uncomfortable with? At this point, it only figures to mention that Waters, along with others who have come forth have all admitted they at no point asked to stop or said no to Richardson’s advances. The biggest question of all is, should that really matter?
The answer is a resounding ‘no.’ Sexual misconduct should never be tolerated, and we all can agree that not saying ‘no’ isn’t consent. There just seems to be some room to question the integrity of all the accusations. Richardson’s style has been imitated endlessly and is so engrained in modern visual work, it’s hard to argue he isn’t a game changer, and game changers often are easy targets.
My personal opinion of the man is that as a creative, he seems to have a way of bringing out some incredible moments with his subjects. They trust him as a photographer and craftsman. I remember as a teen learning he would shoot for Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue with only a Yashica T4, and it made me reframe how I viewed ‘good’ photos. It helped a young guy understand that a good photo isn’t necessarily about expressing extensive technical knowledge, but capturing a feeling and building it into something. I find him to be blatant and I like that. He is what he is with no holds barred. I won’t be participating in #nomoreterry, and I respect his abilities and vision. That being said I find his methods somewhat predatory, and disrespectful, and I don’t think what he does is necessary for his, or anyone’s success.