In September, model and actress Emily Ratajkowski wrote an essay in which she accused photographer Jonathan Leder of sexually assaulting her after a photoshoot when she was 20 years old. Since the essay was published, the New York Times reports that a number of women, including actress Nola Palmer, have come forward with stories of how Leder has breached their consent by using photos of them against their wishes or, in some cases, by physically or sexually assaulting them—including his ex-wife, Danielle F. O. Hettara.
Danielle F. O. Hettara married Leder in 2009, and the two worked together on Jacques, a magazine inspired by vintage Playboy featuring what Leder called “wholesome” nudity. But in 2011, Hettara claims that after she confronted Leder about his involvement with actress Nola Palmer, he choked her while she was holding their infant daughter. She said in an interview about the incident, “I was so shaken up that I couldn’t remember the number to call 911.” Hettara went to the police five days later and was granted an order of protection. Leder was arrested in January 2012 on charges of criminal obstruction of breathing or blood circulation and endangering the welfare of a child, but was ultimately acquitted.
But when Hettara told her story to other people in the industry, hoping they’d stop working with him, nothing came of it.
“A lot of people didn’t care, because as you can see, the modeling agencies just sent him models,” she said.“I immediately got painted as this jealous housewife.”
Just a year later in 2013, Kathleen Sorbara, a former model, was photographed by Leder. After reading Ratajkowski’s essay, she searched Instagram to find that just in August, a Japanese company had started selling shirts printed with some of Leder’s photos, including ones of her in lingerie. But Sorbara wasn’t surprised—Leder had explicitly disrespected her desires about the photos in the past.
After seeing the photos from her first photoshoots with Leder in 2013 (one of which had the concept “1950s-1960s lesbian porn pinup”), the 18-year-old Sorbara had requested to Leder that her name be removed from the project. But not only did the project, entitled “A Study in Fetishism: Manifesto, Vol. 1,” include her name, but she saw photos from that shoot appear both in a Los Angeles art gallery and in another art publication over the next couple of years.
“It’s immoral,” Ms. Sorbara said. “There’s a certain level of trust when you’re collaborating with someone on an artistic project, especially when it involves your own naked body.”
Not only did her agency, Wilhelmina Models, decline to take legal action against Leder for using Sorbara’s photos in projects she’d never agreed to be a part of, but they actually sent Sorbara to a casting call for another shoot with Mr. Leder in his Woodstock home against her explicit wishes.
Photographer Stacey Mark, who shot for Jacques and dated Leder in the late 90s and early 00s, said she couldn’t understand why agencies kept sending models to Leder’s remote Woodstock home (the same place where Ratajkowski claims Leder sexually assaulted her).
“That never made sense to me,” Ms. Mark said. “Who’s Jonathan? What are you going to get out of it? This isn’t Richard Avedon. Where are you going? You’re going into some pit to get some Polaroids naked? Because everybody knows that’s the work that he does.”
Not long after she and Leder separated, Hettara says she discovered contact sheets from a magazine shoot Leder did in 2011 with a 15-year-old model. In some of the images, the model’s top was open, revealing a sheer bra, and in another she was posed kneeling, her legs slightly spread, on a mattress. Although it’s not necessarily unusual to use models under 18 for fashion photography, Hettara said those photos went much farther than her typical work with models around that age and found the images deeply troubling.
It’s clear that Jonathan Leder has a history of using his position as a photographer in order to exploit young women both personally and professionally. When working—and having an affair—with then 19-year-old Nola Palmer, Leder allegedly told her that her body “can only be respected or appreciated if it’s naked.” Leder’s alleged manipulation was deliberate—he used the desires of these women to establish their careers and to gain the respect of their industry peers in order to get what he wanted from them, assuming none would ever have enough power or influence to challenge him. His predatory behavior was overlooked by an industry that profits largely off the images of young women who are simultaneously treated as disposable commodities.
Emily Ratajkowski declined to be interviewed, but provided a statement to the New York Times, saying, “it’s devastating to realize how many young women have been taken advantage of and felt powerless to do anything about it.”
(Updated 3/2/22 with new details)