Few in the fashion industry can have been surprised by the recent allegations that Terry Richardson preys on young, impressionable models, and takes not only their picture but also takes advantage of them. Jacob Bernstein writes in the Daily Beast today that “everyone in fashion knows Terry Richardson, 44, messes around with the girls he photographs” and that “they know it directly from Terry.” It hasn’t stopped Richardson from landing major work with magazines like Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, or Interview, or shooting ads for designers like Carolina Herrera, Miuccia Prada, and Tom Ford. Ford once called Richardson his “favorite photographer to work with,” adding, “You can’t scare him. You can’t scandalize him.”
Says one person who’s worked with Richardson: “It’s just impossible for me to see him as a sexual predator. What he does is completely out in the open.”
Adds another fashion world insider: “This is an industry filled with crazy people and big personalities. The boundaries are different than they are in a purely corporate enterprise. It’s not IBM, it’s a business with beautiful girls, sex, and malfeasance. To single out one person as some sort of ringleader is absurd. We traffic in women’s bodies.”
Yes, the boundaries are different in fashion. People who work in the industry can probably get away with going to work in a leather miniskirt. They may even come to expect a culture of extreme bitchiness in the workplace. But pushing those boundaries is different than pushing boundaries on a nude shot.
Richardson, who hasn’t responded to the recent accusations, is relevant. His work is relevant. We can’t know exactly what happened on the shoots recently called into question. But just because “everyone in fashion knows” a photographer is messing around with his subjects doesn’t make it okay. Plenty, maybe all, of Richardson’s models were willing to participate in situations that may have involved one or both of them being naked. But when you’re 16 or 18, trying to make it as a model, and faced with possibly compromising your morals in order to please one of the industry’s most in-demand photographers, what do you do?
Most women probably have a story about how they did something with a dude they wish they hadn’t. Just because they seemingly consented at the time and everyone knew about it doesn’t make swallowing that pill any less bitter for them.