Model's shocking story sparks boycott

ENMESHED IN FASION: Richardson and model Gisele Bundchen in New York.
ENMESHED IN FASION: Richardson and model Gisele Bundchen in New York.

The name 'Terry Richardson' has been synonymous for some time now with the phrase 'predatory photographer with a reputation for cajoling models in to situations they are uncomfortable in'.

But with one of the American photographer's alleged victims recently going public with details of their session together, his time as protected provocateur may be finally coming to an end.

As the allegations pile up, fashion blog OMG That Dress is asking for people to support a #nomoreterry boycott. The boycott commits to refusing to buy, watch or promote any outlet or form of media that employs the services of Richardson - a hard ask, given how deeply enmeshed he is in the industry.

POWERFUL PLAYERS: Terry Richardson with Paris and Nicky Hilton during MADE fashion week in New York.
POWERFUL PLAYERS: Terry Richardson with Paris and Nicky Hilton during MADE fashion week in New York.

Allegations have been swirling for years about Richardson's conduct, but they've always been shrouded in anonymity. According to this 2010 piece in NY Mag, many people aware of Richardson's (allegedly) abusive tendencies - either as victims of it or observers - have been too afraid to speak out for fear of industry reprisals. As one recent accuser says, "If you talk about him openly, you never work again."

Richardson enjoys the support of some of the fashion world's most powerful players. He shoots regularly for highbrow glossies like Vogue, V, Harper's Bazaar and enjoys contracts with commercial outfits like H&M.

It appears the people behind these titles have been prepared to either look the other way or dismiss entirely the rights of young models for whom they collectively should feel a duty of care, while Richardson's proclivities are rebranded as 'cutting edge' and 'provocative'. And without a name to put to the accusations, the rumours apparently proved easy to ignore.

Until now. Charlotte Waters was only 19 years old when, in 2009, she accepted a job modelling for Richardson. Her harrowing experience - which included having Richardson's assistant photograph while Richardson ejaculated onto Waters' face - is documented in graphic detail here, and readers should be advised that it carries a hefty trigger warning for sexual coercion, gaslighting and victim blaming.

Suffice it to say, Waters has spent the last five years running the gamut of emotions associated with sexual assault - shame, disgust and, perhaps most affecting, the guilt and self recrimination of wondering why she didn't say no. (Waters confided in a few people at the time, but decided to come forward publicly to give some concrete weight to the numerous similar stories associated with Richardson. She has also reported the matter to the police. Since Waters' interview, yet another model has anonymously alleged that Richardson tried to solicit sex from her in exchange for a photo shoot.)

It isn't unusual for celebratised industries to close ranks around stars accused of abuse like Roman Polanski, Sean Connery and Sean Penn. Meanwhile, the music business put Chris Brown in the naughty corner for a nominal period of time, and then re-embraced him as quickly as you could say 'album sales'.

There have been numerous allegations of rape against one recent Oscar winner, to little impact. Contrary to the much touted argument that accusations of assault - particularly rape - will irreversibly destroy a man's career, it appears that with great power comes great immunity.

In many of these situations we are urged to separate the art from the artist, even while the artist continues to be rewarded via lucrative contracts and high standing within their industry.

In the cases of Allen and Richardson, we are implored by the men themselves to pay no heed to 'vicious rumours'. Such spurious 'lies' are mounted by deranged women and jealous opponents, and deserve to be ignored as such. Both men have recently written open responses to the accusations against them, and both lead with almost identical arguments. To wit: that these 'rumours' are so far beneath them that they have chosen to ignore them until now - but that the record must once and for all be set straight so that they can get on with the important work that has caused them to become targets to people who want to destroy them.

In his own defence, Richardson writes: "I give everyone that I work with enough respect to view them as having ownership of their free will and making their decisions accordingly, and as such, it has been difficult to see myself as a target of revisionist history. Sadly, in the on-going quest for controversy-generated page-views, sloppy journalism fueled by sensationalized, malicious, and manipulative recountings of this work has given rise to angry Internet crusades. Well-intentioned or not, they are based on lies. Believing such rumors at face value does a disservice not only to the spirit of artistic endeavor, but most importantly, to the real victims of exploitation and abuse."

As Tom Hawking writes on Flavorwire, "This could be a case study in how to perpetuate rape culture: undermine the credibility of your accusers ("people have become comfortable concocting hate-filled and libelous tales about my professional and personal lives"); act all high and mighty ("I felt that to dignify [accusations] with a response was a betrayal of my work and my character"); and throw in a sort of nebulous "can't we think of real victims" appeal for good measure."

Indeed, gaslighting is classic tactic of an abusive personality. Richardson insists that it is an ill-informed, pitchfork wielding internet leading the charge against him while subtly failing to address the fact that these allegations have come from multiple sources, repeatedly and over a number of years.

But if the allegations are true, then Richardson isn't just undermining his victims by questioning the credibility of their accusations - he's further abusing them by attempting to erase them from the situation altogether.

And if his employers, patrons and high profile celebrity subjects (which include Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus and even President Barack Obama) continue to protect and support him, then they might as well be the ones holding the camera and pretending it's business as usual.

- Daily Life