Four years ago, former model Jamie Peck wrote a firsthand account of her horrifying experience modeling for Terry Richardson (you may remember reading it; it's the one in which "Uncle Terry" asks to make tea out of the model's tampon before pressuring her into giving him a hand job). Following the Huffington Post's publication of an open letter in which he offers ridiculous, flimsy defense for his behavior, she's unwillingly returned to the subject. Her argument, essentially, is that he's full of shit. Of course he is.
In an op-ed for the New York Observer, Peck discusses the ways in which her allegations have affected Terry Richardson's life and her own. While she was called "a liar, a famewhore and a malicious writer of 'revisionist history'" and lost at least one freelance gig, Richardson has "continued on his merry way, shooting pictures of Beyonce and Lady Gaga, garnering a lighthearted profile in The New York Times, and nailing a succession of young, reluctant-but-not-technically-raped girls with impunity."
Apparently, it wasn't until very recently that his penchant for harassing and coercing inexperienced models posed threat to his reputation — because his open letter in the Huffington Post is the first (and, likely, the last) time he's addressed the numerous allegations against him. In the letter, he argues that it's okay for him to do whatever with his dick because art (and everyone should "get" art, especially the models who should expect a dick to be brandished at them once they arrive on set):
Like Robert Mapplethorpe, Helmut Newton, and so many others before me, sexual imagery has always been a part of my photography... 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.
Um, no. As Peck argues, "it's not his art that's being attacked, but how he goes about making it." Both Peck and Charlotte Waters (the other model who recently shared her Richardson story) had previous experience nude modeling: "When you sign up for a nude shoot, the 'nature of the work' is generally just that: a nude shoot," writes Peck. The "nature of the work" isn't for the photographer "to whip out his condom-less dick and see how far he could push [the models]."
If that behavior really is the "nature of the work," Peck points out, then there's a lot Richardson could do to keep his models from feeling unsafe, uncomfortable, exploited and/or traumatized:
If he really wants to make sure his models are "aware of the nature of the work," why not sit down with them beforehand and talk about what they will and won't do, as is standard in the American porn industry? Why not put out an ad specifically looking for women who are comfortable getting facials on camera? Lord knows there are plenty of them! Why not have models sign releases after the shoot, not before as is his wont? Why not hold himself to a standard of enthusiastic consent, and not just the absence of a firm no? Why not do everything a man in his position can do to make sure girls aren't coming away from his studio with symptoms of PTSD?
And, furthermore, his suggestion that he neither threatened nor coerced anyone on set is simply (and likely willfully) specious. He knows that there's an uneven power dynamic between him — an established, renowned, prolifically name-dropping fashion photographer — and the 19-year-old woman modeling for him. Peck also mentions that she knows models who were sent home from castings for refusing to participate in things that made them uncomfortable — that threat is implied, it's exacerbated by the uneven power dynamic, and, again, Richardson knows it. Furthermore, Richardson has an assistant, Leslie Lessen, on set to camouflage and normalize the pressure he puts on models to mutely comply with his harassment. Lessen's entire job, as Peck puts it, is "to make the girls feel like they're lame prudes if they don't do all the super cool sex acts she and Terry are requesting" and then do damage control afterwards. Terry Richardson never made an explicit threat because he didn't have to. That doesn't absolve him of culpability for his actions.
"The bare minimum of consent required to stay out of jail is not an appropriate yardstick by which to deem one's actions ethical," writes Peck. Terry Richardson gets off on violating boundaries, and he gets away with it because of our culture of silence, rampant victim-blaming and our ridiculously low standards of what constitutes consent. There's nothing in the world that could justify that — certainly not his mediocre and uninspired "art."
Image via Getty.