I was just introduced to the long standing controversy regarding fashion photographer Terry Richardson’s “unprofessional” behavior in the studio, through this Jezebel article Meet Terry Richardson, The World’s Most F-ked up Fashion Photographer, by Jenna Sauers. While in many ways I didn’t want to humor the attention that he is getting of late, I do think there is an interesting debate buried somewhere deep in all of this, regarding the sexualized work that occurs in nude modeling and pornography, that still needs to be understood as work. Richardson’s “art” crosses the line, I think, not based on the degree of lewd, crude, or nude content, but through the means by which he obtains such images.
The environment she [model, Jamie Peck] writes about at the studio, where she is surrounded by Richardson and his assistants, all armed with cameras (and, apparently, towels), all cheering her along, and all acting like it’s the most natural thing in the world for a photographer to interrupt a shoot and demand a hand job from his model, is even more troubling. “Inappropriate” and “unprofessional” don’t even begin to cover it. Given the power differential that exists between Richardson, who is old, wealthy, regarded as an artist, and vastly influential, and most of his model subjects, can the consent of these women even be said to be freely given?
To those who would argue that any nude shoot carries an implied risk of lewd behavior on the part of the photographer, or that models should be aware of Richardson’s oeuvre and avoid him if they don’t like working in a sexualized environment, I say: Bullshit. Nudity is common in fashion, and when the clothes come off, it doesn’t denote a holiday from the responsibilities of maintaining a safe working environment.
For a full feature on Richardson check out this NYMAG article Is Terry Richardson an Artist or a Predator?
–Caterina Gironda, Southern Editor