Tung's Take: Terry Richardson
This week news broke that publication overlords Condé Nast have banned use of infamous fashion photographer Terry Richardson’s work from their pages, but who is he? What has he done, and why has it all come to a head now?
Who is he?
Terry Richardson is the man responsible for some of fashion’s most iconic campaigns having shot work for everyone from Tom Ford to Supreme. His style is immediately recognisable - over exposed, focusing on a single subject with a muted background, oh and full of supercharged sexuality.
Since his rise to fashion stardom in the late 90s Richardson has become the poster boy for controversialists as he pushes the boundaries between art and pornography. Unsurprisingly his most Googled work is not his award-winning ‘Global Warming Ready’ campaign for Diesel, but his nude pictures of Miley Cyrus with a dildo in her mouth for C*NDY magazine.
What’s he done?
Many women have spoken out against Richardson’s disturbing on-set behaviour. Model Sarah Hiker was 17 at the time she worked with him, and has been quoted as saying “[Richardson] will ask you to take your clothes off at the casting, and in some cases, give him sexual favours.” Gabriela Johansson sued Richardson in 2005 for fraud, misappropriation, invasion of privacy, breach of contact, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Another brave woman, Liskula Cohen, allegedly walked off a Vogue shoot when asked by Richardson to simulate oral sex with some of his mates. Richardson doesn't deny his behaviour, but rather disputes the level of consent. In 2008, Jezebel published an article alleging sexual assault against a model called Anna, who withheld her surname. She told the site, "I felt a dick pressing into the side of my face. Terry Richardson's semi-hard penis was plunged into the outside of my cheek, and he was jabbing it into my face." The list goes on.
In a blog post he wrote ‘'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.” His statement demonstrates a total lack of understanding of the position he puts women in by asking them to engage in hyper-sexualised poses, or sexual acts. Where he perceives choice, undoubtedly a huge amount of women will have perceived obligation: do it, or lose your job.
If this has been common knowledge for years, wtf has he being dropped only now?
This week, Jamie Peck wrote in the Guardian that the fashion industry seems to have grown a soul, but is it too little, too late? Condé Nast US, a separate entity to Condé Nast International, banned the use of Richardson’s work in 2010. That’s 7 long years their European counterparts have had their heads in the sand. It seems that the recent allegations levelled against Harvey Weinstein have ignited a fire and maybe, just maybe, this is the beginning of an era of accountability. It is, however, pretty hard not to suspect that this sudden burst of conscience isn’t just a cynical move catalysed by fear of being tarred with Hollywood’s brush. No one wants a petition started to call for their resignation a la Rose McGowan's petition to dissolve the Weinstein Company's board, and they've all born witness to the righteous wrath of Twitter over the last few weeks. The move stinks of fear, rather than morality.
No matter the impetus, the Richardson ban is manifestly a good thing, but that doesn't mean we don't need to ask ourselves some tough questions. Why, for one, do the testimonies of young models mean less to the media (and, lest we forget to take responsibility, to the public) than those of older, established actresses. The whole mess has shone a light on the predatory behaviour of men in positions of power, but also on the imbalance in the treatment of the testimonies of women from profession to profession. The lesson seems to be that, if you’re rich and famous, you’re more likely to be believed.
In terms of how Condé Nast move forward, it'll be interesting to see how they deal with Richardson-shot advertising campaigns. Ad revenue is a vital cog in the wheel of the major glossy magazines, and they might struggle without some of the monster campaigns Richardson has been involved in lately, but let’s hope they keep to their word and evolve their mode of money-spinning. We're watching you, Condé Nast, don't let yourselves down again like you did your models.