Cards on the table here: when it comes to Terry Richardson, I’ve always somewhat enjoyed the risque humour and unique style of his photos, while generally believing the dude himself to be somewhat creepy and unpleasant, thanks to persistent allegations about him taking things too far with his models, and using his position of power and influence to force himself on them.
In recent times, the photographer has come under increased pressure to explain himself or get the fuck out of the fashion world. Last October, a British teenager started a petition urging big brands to stop working with “sex offender” and pornographer Richardson, and since then, fashion giant H&M have announced that they will not contract him for the foreseeable future.
Today, New York Magazine profiled the photographer in a piece entitled “Is Terry Richardson An Artist Or A Predator?” The piece is disappointingly soft in its approach – journalist Benjamin Wallace treats his subject with kid gloves, and never gets around to asking any truly tough questions – but there are still several enlightening and highly creepy moments in it.
Here are five key things we learned about Richardson from the piece:
He Had A Deeply Fucked-Up Childhood
The profile describes Richardson’s upbringing as “preposterously chaotic”, and paints his parents as wealthy, feckless bohemians who routinely abandoned him while shooting speed and partying with various Rolling Stones. When Richardson was three, he had to have his stomach pumped after eating an entire bottle of orange-flavoured aspirin.
His father, renowned fashion photographer Bob Richardson, was a drug abuser who abandoned the family for a young Anjelica Huston. The young Terry moved around a lot as his mother Norma had affairs with various musicians, including, briefly, Jimi Hendrix. He smoked pot for the first time at 9, attempted suicide at 14, and by 18, was playing in L.A. punk bands and doing heroin.
Early in his career, Terry and Bob were on good enough terms that they worked side-by-side as magazine photographers, but Terry had enough business sense to cut his father loose. In the years that followed, Bob succumbed to mental illness, and was homeless on the streets of San Francisco for a number of years, but the pair reconnected in the late ’80s.
He (Allegedly) Does A Lot Of Underhanded Shit To Get His Way With Models
Various women featured in Richardson’s exhibited works say they were tricked into appearing there, and never actually gave their permission. In 2003, a young Romanian model named Gabriela Johansson participated in a shoot at Richardson’s Chateau Marmont suite, where she was “pushed” to remove her clothes and felt extremely uncomfortable.
Johansson sued several years later when a picture of her from the session showed up in an exhibition, saying that a piece of paper that had been presented to her as a “sign-in sheet” for the day was, in fact, a release form. The suit was settled quietly, as was a similar one brought by model Frank “Speedy” Lopera who claimed Richardson had tricked him into appearing naked in the book Terryworld.
He Once Threw A Bukkake Party With The Dudebros From Jackass
Richardson is famous for a lot of hijinks at his shoots, much of it ejaculatory in nature. The NY Mag piece quotes Steveo-O, of Jackass fame, telling the story of a time he attended a bukkake party at the photographer’s pad. Partner-in-crime Johnny Knoxville, who had been shooting with Richardson, called him with the invitation.
Knoxville reportedly said: “Hey, I’m at Terry Richardson’s studio. He wants to do a bukkake shoot, and we’re just a few cocks short. You game?” Steve-O decided to pop around, and Richardson photographed the subsequent antics, at one point asking him to “[pull] a girl’s hair while I shot a load on her face and someone else pointed a gun at her head.” Eww.
Every time a model accuses Richardson of inappropriate conduct in a shoot, there’s always an “assistant” or two hovering darkly in the background of the story. In a piece published in 2010, model Jamie Peck wrote about how his assistants – her “new fake friends” as she called them – were “stoked” at the idea of her giving him a handjob during a shot, and provided a towel when she was done.
Another model, Charlotte Waters, goes into further detail. In the NY Mag piece, she describes going into a “dissociative” state as a female assistant “egged” Richardson on to have sex with her during a shoot. “It ended with him jacking off onto my face and he told me to keep my eyes open really wide and his assistant stood over me and it got in my eye and they both began taking pics,” she said.
Then there are the denials from his inner circle. Model Cena Cech felt uncomfortable after being told to grab and twist Richardson’s dick during a shoot, but when she complained about it afterwards, a source “close to” the photographer insisted that she had instigated the whole thing and “willingly” allowed Richardson to take sexual pictures of her.
Basically, it sounds like Richardson surrounds himself with yes-men and women to reassure him that the models he preys on are most definitely asking for it. Double fucking eww.
Nobody From The Fashion World Will Slag Him Off On Record
Former French Vogue editor Joan Juliet Buck was interviewed for the piece, and when asked if she feels like Richardson coerces models, or if there’s anything slightly creepy about that, she ummed and ahhed about how it’s all a bit of a grey area. “When a beautiful young girl is standing on the paper, and the photographer is looking at her – that thing of being told you’re the most beautiful works everyone into a state of desire, where the girl is being appreciated and she feels loved,” she said. “There’s a very fine line between abuse of that innocence and validation of their beauty.”
The only voice of dissent came from a prominent agent, who was not named in the piece, and who pointed out that Richardson uses his fame and notoriety to exploit naive young models. The unnamed source said that, while Richardson is never going to ask a celebrity subject like Miley Cyrus or Kate Moss to grab his dick or balls, he uses his cultural cachet to force himself on unknowns.
“These girls are told by agents how important he is,” the source said “and then they show up and it’s a bait and switch. This guy and his friends are literally like, ‘Grab my boner.’ Is this girl going to say no? And go back to the village? That’s not a real choice. It’s a false choice.”
So there you have it. If you weren’t already convinced, then it kiiiiiiiiiiiinda seems like Terry Richardson has been a gigantic dirtbag all along.
via NY Mag
Photos: Bryan Bedder, Craig Barritt, Frazer Harrison, Jamie McCarthy, Ben Gabbe via Getty Images