Terry Richardson: A master of pop art, or just sleazy?

MILEY Cyrus’s eyes are closed, her mouth gaping open as her hands grab at her crotch. The Lolita pose, the harsh, unforgiving lighting, the blank white background; it could only be the photography of Terry Richardson.

Terry Richardson: A master of pop art, or just sleazy?

From those NSFW photos on his blog to her recent cover for Harper’s Bazaar, Richardson is publicly documenting the shedding of Miley’s Hannah Montana persona. When questioned by Canada’s Fashion magazine about their frequent collaboration, Miley said that Richardson was the perfect choice to shoot her ‘Wrecking Ball’ video, as “he’s about capturing strength versus beauty. His women look so strong in his images.”

Yet this is a man who, when asked the best way to break into modelling, said “it’s not who you know, it’s who you blow. I don’t have a hole in my jeans for nothing.” Although known for the highly sexualised context of his work, controversy has engulfed the 48-year-old in recent years. In March 2010, the New York Post reported that the Danish supermodel, Rie Rassmussen, confronted Richardson at a Paris fashion event over his ‘degrading’ treatment of women.

The Danish supermodel, Rie Rassmussen, confronted Richardson at a Paris event

She claimed that “he takes girls who are young, manipulates them to take their clothes off and takes pictures of them they will be ashamed of ... I don’t understand how anyone works with him.”

Soon after, Jamie Peck wrote about her experience of shooting a story for the influential fashion magazine, Purple.

After asking her to call him ‘Uncle Terry’, he allegedly stripped off.

After these women spoke out, the feminist website, Jezebel, reported that they received dozens of emails from models verifying the veracity of Peck’s story.

Jenna Sauers, a blogger for the site, said “a lot of models that he has worked with...say his MO is the same. You suddenly get naked and ...

“But you’re surrounded by his assistants and they are validating his actions.”

All those who contacted Jezebel did so anonymously, fearing the regard for Richardson within the fashion industry.

And make no mistake about it, he is highly regarded. American and British Vogue, Vogue Paris, i-D, Harper’s Bazaar, GQ, and V magazine are some of the major titles that Richardson works for regularly. He shoots campaigns for the top echelon of fashion brands, such as Tom Ford, Marc Jacobs and YSL, and he was named the highest paid photographer of 2013, in People with Money magazine.

Terry's raunchy photographs of Miley Cyrus and Lady Gaga are among his increasingly controversial portfolio, which is raising more than a few eyebrows.

On his personal travel blog, ‘Terry’s Diary’, there are photos of Rihanna, Beyonce, Jennifer Aniston, Kate Moss, Demi Moore, Lady Gaga — all are happy to be snapped with ‘Uncle Terry’, borrowing his signature, thick-framed glasses while they beam at the camera. He is now somewhat of a celebrity himself, when, if all the allegations against him are correct, his career should have abruptly ended.

Nothing has been proven. Richardson has said that “I don’t like to exploit anybody ... Everyone has fun on my shoots,” and Charlotte Free, who works frequently with Richardson, defended him, saying “Terry likes to do sexy stuff ... If you don’t wanna be part of it, make it clear in the beginning.... I hate when girls say, ‘but he asked me to.’ You should have said ‘no’, then, stupid bi*tch! There’s plenty of other girls waiting in line...”

She’s right. There are plenty of other girls; girls who, as Rassmussen said, are “too afraid to say ‘no’, because their agency booked them on the job and they are too young to stand up for themselves.”

If a young model expresses any doubts, Richardson has an interesting way of reassuring them. Speaking to the Observer in 2004, he said, “they’re [the models] like, ‘I don’t want to be naked.’ So I say, ‘I’ll be naked and you take the pictures. You can have the camera. You can have the phallus’.”

He never elaborated on why he believed that it would help a nervous girl if he, possibly three times the model’s age, suddenly created a sexually-charged work environment.

It’s naive to argue, like Free does, that models should just ‘say no’. Fashion is a small industry, and if they want to continue to be booked for work, models cannot afford to get a reputation for being ‘difficult’.

It’s not the models that we should be demanding to effect change; it’s the fashion editors, stylists, designers and brands that continue to hire Richardson, who all enhance his professional reputation.

As long as Richardson is in the position that he is in, with the power to make or break a model’s career, any whispers of alleged immoral behaviour will, no doubt, continue to be ignored.

And Miley, here’s something to think about. While you reportedly lost your American Vogue cover due to Anna Wintour’s horror over that raunchy VMA performance, Richardson remains one of the magazine’s most regularly hired photographers.

A pop becomes increasingly sexualised, someone is being empowered, but is it women?

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