My Blog__ TERRY VS. THE MODELS: AN ISSUE OF POWER
A few days ago New York Times journalist Laura M. Holson published an article titled, "The Naught Knave Of Fashion's Court". It made Jamie Peck really angry. So angry, in fact, that Peck called up her friends at Jezebel (again) and published the sequel to her first anti-Terry piece, the new one titled, "Why Does The Media Continue To Act Like Terry Richardson Isn't Fucked Up?" In the piece, Peck mentions how she was interviewed by Holson for the New York Times piece on Richardson. "I hoped that by cooperating with her, I could provide these crucial details to the story," Peck wrote. "As I am to date one of just two people willing to go on the record non-anonymously about a negative encounter with Terry."
"The negative encounter" Peck is referring to is one she wrote about for The Gloss last year. Peck talked about her experiences modeling for "cheesecake" photos with Richardson when she was in her late teens and early twenties. Peck's story paints Terry as someone who is weird and sexually manipulative as he "got naked" and persuaded Peck to give him a hand job while Richardson's entourage of adult employees egged Peck on, took photos and then handed her a cum rag.
As Peck's story came out, so did more accounts from models alleging abuse from The Hipster Photographer. Young up-and-comers like Coco Rocha said they would never again work with Richardson because they felt uncomfortable, but Rocha did not spill the details. After the other stories had surfaced, it was easy to assume that Rocha had the same feelings as Peck and model Rie Rasmussen.
In her latest retort to Holson's pro-Terry profile, Peck wrote:
"The way the industry is currently structured, a model has zero recourse if a photographer is behaving inappropriately — other than to walk out, lose the job and damage a relationship, plus risk being reprimanded by her agency. Does that sound fair to you? Terry's behavior is emblematic of this, but he is by no means unique. I'm going to venture that most of the Times' readers are not fashion insiders, so a bit of critical background might be of use.
The article is heavily weighted with quotes from people like Chloe Sevigny and Richardson's editor at Taschen Dian Hanson, who think the things he does are cool and adorable and not at all criminal. And yet, even when people praise him, their words are somewhat revealing. "Maybe it is manipulative, but when you are with him, you don't feel it," says Chloe Sevigny. Yes, Chloe. You don't feel it. That is the whole point of being manipulative. If people realize you're doing it, you've failed."
Terry with Lana Del Rey
The whole Richardson-sexual-abuse issue speaks to the relationship between photographer and model, sexual power dynamics and the grey area of sexual abuse and rape. Like I said when these allegations first surfaced, "The problem isn’t that Terry fucks models, the problem is why Terry is able to fuck models and why they fuck him back [even if they want not want to]. Maybe some girls were cool with his advances, but Jaime and Rie weren’t." If we're going to talk about people abusing their position as "boss" in any work environment, we should bring up the idea that there is always a "passive" receiver of abuse and an "aggressive" abuser. This is usually a female-male treatment, a dynamic that lends itself to rape, non-rape, whatever you want to call it, when someone tries to make sexual advances on another person while in a position of power. It's wrong, but it happens all the time. It happens all the fucking time.
The story is further complicated when a hand full of Richardson's clients paint him as a sexual deviant and on the opposing side, a hand full of his friends paint him as a lovable, hard-working genius. Who the hell are you supposed to believe? If this was the 1980's, you can bet that there would be a lot of slut-shaming going on and none of those so-called "sluts" would have had their stories told. The Richardson issue is a classic case of her story verses his story, and in a lot of ways, he has the power.
Richardson and his art are supported by a lot of well-respected, cultural makers and these influential people deny the allegations from women who claim to be abused by Uncle Terry. Fame complicates things by bringing it to a public level. Responsibility changes. Opinions of the public change. If this story was just about some nobody photographer, maybe people would have no problem calling him out on his actions? But, Richardson is not nobody. He is respected and ultra-famous. He's essential to his industry, which is why it's so much harder for women to come forward if they have had bad experienced with him or with anyone at his level. Maybe it's why Coco Rocha isn't dishing the details of her encounter, but is instead just saying she won't work with him anymore. Maybe the relationship between Rocha and Richardson was ruined by something that wasn't sexual, but it's easy to assume it was sexual, especially with all the other allegations.
Terry with Elton John
As my friend Hether Fortune said:
"Things get tricky for me when art and sex collide because I value the collision so much. Some of the creepiest, most fucked up people in history have produced some of the most beautiful art (Terry is not one of them in my opinion, but you know what I'm saying). Like Roman Polanski, for example. Is he a slimy Casanova wanna-be that fucks underage girls? Yes. Does that discredit him as an artist and a filmmaker? No. I don't think it does. And the fact is, if he weren't sexually deviant he wouldn't be who he is & his contributions to film wouldn't exist and I think his contributions are important. See how this is tricky for me? As a woman & a humanist/feminist, I want to throw stones at anyone who takes advantage of another human being in any way - specifically sexually. But as an artist, I want to celebrate them for having the courage to be exactly who they are, as depraved and fucked as it may be, and to MAKE something out of that depravity and force others to see things that they may not want to see. Not everything is black & white. Not every man who enjoys seducing young women is a bastard, an abuser, or a rapist. It's just not that simple."
Social media has also played a part in this. We can now know everything about everyone, even people A-listed beyond us. Some would argue that an artist's personal life should not affect the way his/her art is viewed. No one seemed to shun Eric Clapton for getting high on heroin and then raping his wife. Not many people hate John Lennon because he was violent and abusive towards women. Led Zepplin is still respected despite the fact that they were notoriously sexist towards women, mainly groupies, even teaming up with their roadies to fuck a girl with shark parts and admitting it in the biography "Hammer Of The Gods". Maybe if these groupies had felt violated by these actions (and it was 2012 not the 1970's), they could talk about it more openly without being called "sluts". I think we can thank feminism for the gender discussion and the internet for providing a place for global conversation. (Thanks Jezebel, Feministing, Hay Ladies and the millions of other places that talk openly and controversially about these gender and sex issues.)
How does Richardson feel about all this? He's ignoring it. In the New York Times piece, Holson touched on the allegations against Uncle Terry:
"Ms. Rasmussen and Ms. Rocha declined to comment when reached through their representatives recently, and at Smile, Mr. Richardson was not interested in revisiting the controversy. “Of course it was hurtful,” he said. “Yes, I was upset. It’s not nice for all these people to make up stuff about you. The flip side is, I just stopped reading it and I kept working.”
Richardson can say this because he is in the position of power. Whether he did these things or not and whether those things are considered sexual abuse or not, it doesn't matter as much as the fact that Richardson can (and does) "stop reading" and "keep working" without the media demanding he comment beyond that. This issue here is about power and in this case, Uncle Terry has it.
All photos via terrysdiary.com