How Should Clients React to Sexual Coercion Allegations Against Terry Richardson?

Now that another model has come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against photographer Terry Richardson, his clients face a difficult question: What ethical obligations, if any, do they have to take a stand?

Over the past several years, reports have periodically flared up that Richardson has manipulated some models to engage with him in unwanted sexual contact during photo shoots at his studio. The models have described the incidents as casting couch situations that occurred when they were students or aspiring models, not established models working on set for ad campaigns or editorial shoots.

The allegations surfaced again in recent weeks after former model Charlotte Waters published a graphic account of a shoot with Richardson that spiraled out of her control. “I was completely a sex puppet,” she recounted anonymously in a post on a Reddit thread. The post has since been removed, but after her story was widely circulated, Waters identified herself as the author.

She has spoken to New York City police, according to Styleite.com, but she reportedly never said “no” to Richardson’s advances, and she isn’t pressing any charges.

In the hot seat of bad publicity once again, Richardson issued an angry denial to all the allegations in a letter to the Huffington Post, calling them “hate filled, libelous tales.” In the letter, he painted himself as the victim of a “witch hunt.”

Richardson says in the letter, “I collaborated with consenting adult women who were fully aware of the nature of the work.” Overlooking the disparity in power between himself and the models, he adds, “I have never used an offer of work or a threat of rebuke to coerce someone into something that they did not want to do.”

For the past 20 years, Richardson, well known for his graphic images, has exhibited and widely published photographs of young women posing in sexually explicit ways, frequently with Richardson himself. Defenders, among them a number of creative directors and celebrities, have praised Richardson for being fun to work with, and for challenging taboos and celebrating the joy of sex. (He was the subject of a mostly flattering New York Times profile in 2012.)

But critics say his work crosses the line into pornography. (Judge for yourself. Warning: NSFW)

One of the first models to speak up against Richardson was Rie Rasmussen, who confronted Richardson in 2010 for degrading women and young girls with his work. She did not accuse him of manipulating her into sex, but told the New York Post that Richardson “manipulates [models who are young] to take their clothes off and takes pictures of them they will be ashamed of. They are too afraid to say no because their agency booked them on the job and are too young to stand up for themselves.” Another high-profile model, Coco Rocha, told Fashion magazine in 2010 that Richardson had made her uncomfortable and that she wouldn’t work with him again.

Around the same time, an art student named Jamie Peck came forward with a lurid account on TheGloss.com of how Richardson manipulated her to engage in sex while she had posed for him at the age of 19. “Of all the fine folks I’ve frolicked au naturel for, he’s the only one who’s left me feeling like I needed to take two showers,” Peck wrote in her widely quoted account. She chalked the experience up to her own youth and vanity, and was more disgusted than angry at Richardson’s behavior.

Jezebel.com followed up those reports with a story full of allegations of Richardson’s predatory behavior from models, modeling agents, magazine editors and others in the fashion industry. But all spoke out anonymously, for fear of losing their jobs or being blacklisted in the industry, according to Jezebel.

The allegations flared up again last fall. In October, a petition appeared on Change.org calling on Richardson’s clients to quit hiring him. The petition met with some backlash from Richardson’s defenders, and organizers so far have just over 31,000 signatures toward their goal of 50,000.

In late February, models Sarah Ziff and Alise Shoemaker brought up the lingering sexual misconduct allegations against him on a segment of HuffPost Live. Ziff said she wouldn’t work with Richardson, and that he “will ask you to take your clothes off at the casting, and in some cases, give him sexual favors.”

A week or so later, in early March, Charlotte Waters came forward with her story about working with Richardson. That prompted fashion web site Styleite.com to publish a timeline of models’ lurid complaints about Richardson. Jezebel.com published a report titled “Who Supports and Funds Terry Richardson?” which listed his magazine clients since 2010, when allegations against him first started to surface.

The strongly worded denial of wrongdoing he submitted to the Huffington Post suggests that Richardson is worried about the effects of the bad publicity on his business.

His PR agency, 42 West, also contacted PDN upon learning this story was in the works. They declined to answer questions about how the persistent allegations against Richardson are affecting his business, however.

So far, one of the only clients that has betrayed any concern about Richardson’s alleged behavior is H&M, for whom he’s shot ad campaigns in the past. Last October, after a Twitter user brought the allegations about Richardson to H&M’s attention, the company tweeted, “If these accusations are true, it’s totally unacceptable to us.”

H&M told PDN last week that they “[do] not hold any current or planned campaigns with Terry Richardson.” But the company declined to say if the relationships has been affected by the publicity, or whether they’ve ruled out working with Richardson in the future.

Other clients aren’t talking at all.

GQ and Harper’s Bazaar, which are two of Richardson’s regular (and most frequent) editorial clients, according to the Jezebel list, didn’t respond to numerous phone calls and e-mails for comment. The Wall Street Journal magazine, which has hired Richardson for several celebrity shoots in recent months, said through spokesperson Arianna Imperato, “We’re going to decline to comment.”

Modeling agencies are also silent. Requests for comment from Wilhelmina, Next, and Muse went unanswered.

That’s not surprising, considering that money talks in the fashion industry, and Richardson’s work drives business for both magazines and brands. But for a client to defend him openly might be perceived as condoning his allegedly creepy behavior toward women. And to disavow him publicly when he hasn’t been charged with anything, or sued by anyone–let alone held liable for wrongdoing–is likely to draw a backlash from Richardson’s fans and defenders. It could also expose clients to legal claims by Richardson, if he feels sufficiently injured.

For want of courage to take a public stand, about all clients can do is weigh in through their actions–and either hire him, or not. Over the next year or two, credit lines will do the talking. How much Richardson is working, and for whom, will send a message to the industry about which clients give credence to Richardson and continue to support him, and which give credence to the allegations and care enough to stand up for models.

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15 Responses to “How Should Clients React to Sexual Coercion Allegations Against Terry Richardson?”

  1. Mark Rutherford Says:

    Anyone with a dslr, on-camera flash and access to the talent Terry shoots could make pictures that are just as banal as he does.

  2. Doug Birnbaum Says:

    Mark, Well put. A local SF retailer went looking for the Terry Richardson “look” and when they flew someone up from LA to shoot it. They were shock to find out that this photographer was an inexperience amateur.

  3. Photofan Says:

    One of the most effective things to do if you don’t support this type of behavior is to write an actual letter (anyone remember those?) to a publication or a fashion brand.

    A well-written signed letter on paper sitting on a publisher’s or CEO’s desk can be exceptionally effective in leading to change.

  4. accounting jobs Says:

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  5. Courtenay Nearburg Says:

    What’s interesting is that it took the Fashion industry exactly 5 minutes to completely obliterate John Galliano’s career, both from Dior and from his own eponymous line, after the drunken anti-semitic rant in the bar in Paris got caught on video.

    These are people who have the ‘No, you can’t sit with me’ mentality to a tee. So why not excommunicate Terry? What’s the hang up with him? It’s interesting that people defend him so vigorously.

  6. Todd Beltz Says:

    How is that this man, who has zero fashion sense, no artistic ability whatsoever and claims to have a unique style, which a 6 year old child can easily replicate what he does, still gets hired for his work? I’m sorry to say but his work is so amateurish, overexposed, plain, boring and generally of bad taste. But some of the biggest names in the industry still go to him and to think that photographer made $58 million dollars last year is unbelievable.

    Please stop hiring this guy and bring in someone who is more deserving of their talent, time and energy.

  7. Timm Eubanks Says:

    Ditto to Mark Rutherford’s comment. Made the mistake of going to Terry’s blog, if this is amazing photography then Anthony Weiner is a photo god! Clearing my web history.

  8. Gaetano Mansi Says:

    I agree with Todd Beltz, I think molesting the poor models is the only a way to boost a shameful career.

  9. How Should Clients React to Sexual Coercion Allegations Against Terry Richardson? | A Photo Editor Says:

    […] via PDNPulse » How Should Clients React to Sexual Coercion Allegations Against Terry Richardson?. […]

  10. landry Says:

    The women in this business need to stand up for young girls and protect them. Agencies need to do their jobs and not send young girls to predators. They know what these guys are doing and don’t even warn the girls they send to them. Besides the fact he has zero talent.

  11. Sam Rodriguez Says:

    If he forced himself on them, then let them damned well sue and/or file criminal complaints. Otherwise, for all the facts, he’s just a very successful sleazebag. But last time I studied the law, there’s no law against being a sleazebag.

  12. Barry Goyette Says:

    I find it slightly amusing the general vitriol from the photo community against Richardson. While I’d certainly, in my business life, never engage in the kind of activity that apparently is pretty common in his world, he’s been pretty open about what he does, and how he does it (he “wrote” a book about it). In a world where pornography has largely become democratized and mainstream, is it really that difficult to see where the industry (and the public’s) fascination with him comes from? And the general BS, that he is largely a hack, because he seems to singularly utilize a simple (and psychologically loaded) technique that any one can mimic, is missing the point. In general, we find that most of the great fashion and celebrity photographers have used similarly “simple” techniques, easily created and mimicable, which defined their work on one level, but in reality is simply a tool of choice. (and that, by the way is not calling richardson a master). Terry Richardson has become one of this generations most recognizable photographers because he reflects us and gives us what we want, and shows us a world that we are curious about (or gasp) maybe envy.

    Richardson has photographed thousands and thousands of young girls naked. He has probably had sex with, or in the general vicinity of, quite a good number of them. A tiny number have raised their hands and complained, only one or two of whom have suggested something truly nefarious has gone on.

    I’m sorry, but given the odds, I’m going to side with Terry on this one. I have a hard time imagining that anyone gets inside that studio of his without basic understanding of what goes on in there. I’ve never been in a leather bar. I have a pretty good understanding of what goes on in the bathrooms of leather bars. I choose to not go to leather bars.

  13. Jon Miller Says:

    I see your point Barry and will say that everyone going to a Richarson casting should know what is possible. The man has a high profile reputation and in the world of models and fashion one going in will be thinking that “if I give him what he wants I may get chosen”. Having been a magazine photographer for years I had models coming through the door taking their clothes off before they even introduced themselves and I would have to stop them and question why they did what they did and most would say “it’s what every photographer expects” and man that was when the shocking truth of the “casting couch” came to life , this was 80-90 Hollywood mentality. I had to post a sign that said please keep clothes on until asked… I shot for men’s magazine and was photo editor of entertainment magazine.. but it was this attitude that I realize what the business entails and even today some 30+ years later some of the young one will do anything to get accepted… at times I have to tell these young women that they do not have to do something that they are not comfortable with ever!!
    So no I do not support Terry’s behavior he is in a position of power and control and he is taking advantage of it big time. Just because the fruit is there you don’t have to take a bite out of it.

  14. Peter Leverman Says:

    Whether or not Richardson is talented is not the point. He is a perv who victimizes underage girls in a criminal manner. And no, the girls don’t deserve it just because their model agencies sent them there.

  15. Pushing the Boundaries of Art or Decency? » On the Boardwalk with Beach Camera Says:

    […] facts of the case are true, is definitely unethical. Terry Richardson currently stands accused of abusing his position as a celebrity photographer in order to coerce several women into compromising […]