Terry Richardson, Exploitation, and the Fashion Industry

As a fashion photographer who previously shot erotica, my ears always perk up when I hear about Terry Richardson.  Not out of interest or fascination, but out of education.  I've always felt like Richardson was a walking lesson in how not to run a photo shoot.  Granted, I've never met the man, or anyone who has worked with him, but if you have a history of models coming out accusing you of sexual assault, you're doing something wrong.

There have been allegations against Richardson for years, and the New York article only served to continue discussion, even if the article itself was flawed:  several models have responded that their comments were edited to the point of misrepresentation; writer Benjamin Wallace failed to accurately convey the romantic history between Alex Bolotow, who essentially served as a character witness, but a biased one.  The piece was so self-serving, it makes me wonder what kind of history Richardson has with New York to produce a multi-page defense of his behavior under the guise of public examination.  There's nothing to defend.  There's nothing to explain.  The man is a predator.  There is no reason why model after model should work with someone, then leave feeling violated.  The argument that these models originally consented is a wholly specious one.  They went as far as they were comfortable, he took it further.  That's not consent.  

Richardson's specific actions are especially egregious because he's SO influential, but I think it's important to recognize that while one specific man is being targeted, his behavior is symptomatic of larger issues within the modeling/fashion industry. This is a hyper-competitive industry that both appeals to and targets young, underage women, often foreign-born,  and without the necessary language skills, experience, and/or maturity to protect themselves and stand up for their rights. They go to a job, and they're afraid to displease anyone lest it hurts their fledgling career, so they begrudgingly agree to do whatever the photographers want, and the photographers know it. That's why Richardson is a predator. Child actors and porn stars both have more laws and regulations in place to protect their rights than models; models are usually lowest in the food chain and have the most instances of exploitation.  This needs to change.  I'm only one photographer, but I pledge I will do what I can to change this, even if only slightly.

I won't let this story go. I do not support this man, so much so that I've actually tweaked my marketing plan to avoid potential clients who have shown support for him.  In the grand scale of the history of fashion photographers, I'm a nobody.  I know this.  Being in SF (by choice) I'm working three times as hard to have 1/3 the career I could be having if I was in NYC full time.  That is the choice I've made.  That doesn't mean I have to sacrifice my morals.  

I recognize the position of power I can be in when I'm on set, and I find the predatory nature of photographers like Richardson (and so, so many others) to be absolutely deplorable. I never understood it, frankly. Sure, go out of your way to make your model, a creative collaborator on your project, visibly uncomfortable. Yeah, I'm sure your pictures will turn out great.

Models are people, not tools. Treat them well. End of story.