Another week, another condemnation of Terry Richardson from Tavi Gevinson. In fact, the chorus of criticism of the man grows louder with each new NSFW editorial.
Richardson — who stands accused of various crimes against his models' dignity, including sexual harassment and coercion, the unauthorized publication of nude photos, and questionable flower arranging — is still getting hired by fashion's big guns, like Vogue. (Even though the C.E.O. of Condé Nast, Charles Townsend, said he was "appalled" by the allegations of Richardson's misconduct, the photographer shot Doutzen Kroes in swimwear for the June issue.) Richardson has also recently had work published in Vogue Paris, Vogue Russia, and Interview, among others. The accusations of harassment have not yet been resolved, and few mainstream press outlets seem to be interested in even reporting them out. But his easy acceptance back into the high-fashion fold despite the cloud over his name has angered one category of the fashion media whose influence is so often trumpeted these days: bloggers.
Tavi Gevinson has lit into Richardson on her blog, Style Rookie, before. But now she's back to offer her consideration of Richardson's work from an aesthetic perspective: "I've tried to avoid giving my opinion on his actual photography, because the quality of the photos are irrelevant to the fact that he had to sexually harass people to get them," she writes. "I don't think that saying 'his photos are great' or 'his photos are awful' validate any argument, but some are quite misogynist."
Gevinson points out that in many of Richardson's pictures, he jumps into the frame to interact with the model — like by pulling on her g-string.
I think we're supposed to find significance in how ironic and funny it is, because, Ha-ha! There's that Crazy Dude Terry with his signature glasses and flannel and perviness again! Ha-ha! That Terry, what a Crazy Dude, with his signature glasses and flannel and perviness! Again! He's become this weird cultural icon whose "thing" it is is to be a perv. In these kinds of photos where he's included, he's the real model, and the girl who was hired is merely his prop, his trophy, a nameless, faceless girl that accentuates Crazy Dude Terry's image but doesn't get an image of her own.
She also mentions Richardson's proclivity for pairing clothed men with fully naked women — women who are sometimes cast in the role of a helpmeet who does ironing and domestic chores. Obviously, clothing (and lack of clothing) is a crucial signifier of social positions and power structures. While images along these lines, especially from a photographer whose work owes so much to notions of camp and kitsch, can be ambiguous (is that a depiction of sexism, a critique, or an endorsement of it?), his apparent obsession with sexist themes is pretty telling.
Gevinson also writes, "I know that it was said that Richardson sometimes gets naked and lets the girl take pictures of him before they let him take nude pictures of them. But this isn't him being fair, it's a strategy. It's manipulative, it's scary, and the last thing someone wants when they feel pressured into doing anything sexual is for the other person to suddenly be wearing nothing but tattoos." What she's talking about is a recognized psychological concept known as reciprocity. By getting naked with a model who initially balks at nudity, Richardson does something he is entirely comfortable with — and yet it has the effect of creating a sense of obligation on the part of the model to join him, and therefore to do something that she is uncomfortable with. It's manipulation disguised as solidarity.
Meanwhile, each new Terry Richardson editorial that comes out is now greeted with a steady drumbeat of negative coverage from around the blogosphere. Especially now, when the new work is stuff that must have been shot post-scandal, after magazine editors reckoned with the choice of whether or not to continue hiring Richardson, and each new spread seems like a statement that goes "I, X Magazine, am not concerned with the welfare of the models I hire, or of women in general."
When Models.com, a great niche source for modeling industry news, re-posted two recent Richardson editorials, many of the 41 comments were extremely negative about Richardson — somewhat unusually for such an insider-y commentariat. A fashion blogger who goes by the pseudonym of Rrose Sélavy wrote, of a new spread in Vogue Paris, "This editorial is lazy, flat and trite with a recycled aesthetic to boot. Was there any effort put into this at all? Because it sure doesn't look like there was. And to even have Lara and Freja mimic Terry's personal trademarks (thumbs up, aviators, wide grin) is absolutely distasteful in my opinion. To be honest, I'm just really disgusted." Refinery29 called the same editorial "a snooze-fest." Ssélavy continued:
How can an industry that purports to celebrate the female form and allow women to express their creativity and individuality also allow a man like Terry Richardson to continue working?...How can there be no consequences for his actions? Why are women like Anna, Carine and DvF still working with him? What message is this sending to other photographers and models? What message is this sending to young teens?
Even Fake Karl is getting in on the action. S/He writes:
It's often the practice of the rich to determine the tastes of the rest of the world in art...This is all very well and good, except that from you newly bourgeois, formerly wealthy people to whom I'm addressing this post don't have millions to spend on Art with a capital A anymore. Meaning, by your system, you can't declare Terry Richardson's work art. It never was art anyway, you dull-witted Armani-suit-wearing morons. What is it? Well, it's misogynist porn that doesn't turn me on.
But, tell us how you really feel, Karl!
It's an absolute indictment upon the fashion industry that magazines like Vice, Vogue, Purple, etc continue to publish this predator's work....How pro-women of you, hm? How responsible of you, placing Mr. Richardson in power, hm? And that's not to mention the photographers "inspired" by him. How original- having a penis in a woman's mouth, no? That hasn't been done before! In case you didn't read the above because you're illiterate and only read twitter: If you support Terry Richardson, you are anti-women. If you publish his work, you are anti-women. If you think him using his position of power to rape women is chic, you are anti-women. For an industry that makes an awful lot of money from women, it's not exactly a profitable stance, hmm?
Toni Tiller, who shot a few times with Richardson in the 90s, had this to say about the power dymanics of photography and modeling:
Back in the 90s when I was living my dirty New York City life I would occasionally pick up some modeling work here and there, and due to the social circles I was moving around in it was more or less inevitable the I would end up working with Terry Richardson eventually. Before anyone gets distracted by the almost fancy sounding phrase "social circles" let me clarify that it means I was living in a hotel with a bunch of cracked out club kids, working in nightclubs, and subsisting on a diet of opiates and sugar. The term "heroin chic" was on the verge of being coined for a very good reason, an attempt to justify our habits in a more acceptable context and keep working. It still amazes me that people got that to fly for as long as they did, but anyway, back to Terry...I can say that when I worked with him he was always respectful and professional, but that was also on the cusp of everything turning really ugly in the scene and I know first hand how a combination of drugs, a position of power, and unlimited indulgence from those in authority can become a recipe for really bad things happening.
Tiller compares Richardson with another sometimes controversial photographer, Larry Clark:
In his early Tulsa days, [Clark] was as much a part of the culture he was photographing as the subjects, straddling the line between observance and participation with his peers, similar in a sense to Richardson, and even when he entered KIDS-era work and was accused of exploiting young people there is still at least one major difference — his dick wasn't in the mouth of any of the people he was working with. It's that moment of contact that skews the whole thing a new direction, add in the fact that Richardson is being paid 200k for the privilege, and it adds a pretty powerful element. It puts him in a position of being able to play on these girls insecurities and have it be reinforced by an industry founded on that exact system.
There's a school of thought that holds that every time Terry Richardson is discussed in the media, the column inches and html and pixels dedicated to this topic, even if largely critical, end up reifying him as a photographer of influence and power. And to be sure, it seems like for now at least, the unresolved allegations of sexual misconduct have not hurt Richardson's career much. But what's interesting is that the blogosphere does not seem to subscribe to this particular school of thought. The blogosphere wants to hold forth, critique, and occasionally, lash out at this powerful man. And honestly, what is the alternative? Silence? Silence just reinforces the offensive notion that Richardson can and should be able to act with impunity. Silence is what men like Richardson confuse with consent.
The Internet is trying to tell the fashion industry something very important here, about power, privilege, and personal freedom. Whether or not the industry will listen remains to be seen.
A Few Observations [Style Rookie]
Musings On Scandal [Freja Bega Blog]
How To Use Traffic Lights And Other Stories [Karl Lagerfeld's Guide To Life]
So, I Used To Work With This Guy Sometimes [D'Arte Board]
Meet Terry Richardson, The World's Most Fucked Up Fashion Photographer
Exclusive: More Models Come Forward With Allegations Against Fashion Photographer
Terry Richardson Explores The Artistic Ladyflower (NSFW)