When Vocativ published former model Charlotte Waters’s story in March accusing Terry Richardson of assaulting her during a photo shoot, the news wasn’t all that shocking. After all, Uncle Terry, as he likes models to call him, is well known for his explicit images and has faced similar allegations since 2010. But this time, the accusations seemed to ignite a “witch hunt,” as Richardson wrote in the Huffington Post, to dethrone one of the fashion industry’s highest-profile provocateurs.
Since March, more women have stepped forward claiming to have been victims of similar incidents, including a model named only as “Anna” whose account was published Wednesday on Jezebel. Anna wrote that she had been approached by Richardson’s assistant at a party to come to his studio for an impromptu photo shoot. Things quickly escalated when, as Anna was posing, she suddenly felt the photographer’s penis pressing into the side of her face. “He clearly wanted a blow job and wanted it documented on camera,” the woman wrote.
In an exclusive interview with New York magazine, writer Benjamin Wallace talks to Richardson about his rise to the top of the fashion world, his take on the events that occur at his photo shoots, and whether he slept with Lindsay Lohan. Here are the best bits.
Despite the bad press, Richardson has a pretty strong professional rap sheet.
Having photographed for almost every major fashion magazine, Richardson shoots regular covers for Harper’s Bazaar and GQ. He has also “photographed virtually every major contemporary figure in film and music, not to mention Barack Obama” and shot videos for Beyoncé and Miley Cyrus. Both discount retail stores (Target) and high-end luxury brands (Valentino & YSL) have regularly enlisted him for campaigns.
His signature, provocative style has tainted his work.
“He has cultivated a reputation of being a professional debauchee,” Wallace writes. “A proud pervert who has, outside of his commercial work, produced a series of extremely explicit images—often including himself naked and erect—that many find pornographic and misogynistic, and which can make viewers distinctly uncomfortable.”
He gets it from his father.
Richardson’s father, Bob, was also a photographer. He “came out of nowhere and blew up the field.” Even though “a lot of editors found him impossible to work with, he introduced a dark, dreamy realism into a genre then characterized by cold perfection.” His shoots, oftentimes for Vogue, would also “wind up with sex.” In 1969, Terry’s father left him and his mother for then 17-year-old Angelica Huston. They had an almost absent relationship until Terry saved a toothless Bob “from a life pushing a shopping cart in Santa Monica” in the 1980s. It was then that Terry became interested in photography and the two eventually partnered together as “the Richardsons,” snagging assignments at Interview, Glamour, and Mademoiselle. Bob became increasingly hard to work with, so Terry split from the partnership mid-assignment for Vibe, tackling it solo. “The resulting black-and-white photographs of downtown street life—kids at urinals, spitting beer on the sidewalk, roller-skating at the Roxy—launched his career.”
The Internet has changed everything.
Richardson thinks the Internet is “totally out of control” and “like a little cancer” where “people can just do whatever they want, say whatever they want, be totally anonymous.” It’s also changed how comfortable people are with participating in his work. “Back when Richardson was taking, exhibiting, and publishing his Terryworld and Kibosh pictures,” Wallace writes, “the market of people interested in extreme photography seemed tiny and self-selecting. You didn’t yet assume that any image will be instantaneously transmitted, via Twitter or the Huffington Post, into every single computer-owning human being’s home.” The same holds true for how people view his work. Wallace writes that the Internet is “full of not just reactionary conservatives but also culturally engaged people, many of them young, who reject the sophisticated titillation that once greeted Richardson’s work, seeing predation instead of transgression. All of which is perplexing to the photographer, who finds himself maligned as repugnant for being the same person who was once broadly celebrated.”
The agencies push the models to “do whatever it takes to get the job.”
Ziff was around 19 when her agency sent her to see Richardson for the first time. While Richardson contends the shoot was advertised as a “semi-nude casting,” Ziff disagrees. “It was supposed to be for a mainstream fashion magazine, but when I arrived, he unexpectedly asked me to pose topless,” she tells New York magazine. “I felt pressured to comply because my agent had told me to make a good impression because he was an important photographer who shot for all the major magazines and brands.”
When Sena Cech was 19, her agent urged her to make a good impression as well. “She says her agent told her it was ‘really exciting’ that she’d been booked and that she should ‘just do whatever it takes to get the job.’” The shoot unraveled after Richardson took his clothes off, which became his “gambit to make models comfortable posing naked,” and Cech was instructed to “grab his dick and twist it and squeeze it really hard.”
Richardson emphasizes that everything that happens at his shoots is always consensual.
Drugs and alcohol were never involved and other people were always present during the shoots. “It was never just me and a girl ever,” the photographer told Wallace at his studio. “It was always assistants, or other people around, or girls brought friends over to hang out. It was very daytime, no drugs, no alcohol. It was a happening, there was energy, it was fun, it was exciting, making these strong images, and that’s what it was. People collaborating and exploring sexuality and taking pictures.”
There are still girls who love participating in his work, and his longtime assistant thinks everyone needs to take ownership of their actions.
Alex Bolotow, Richardson’s assistant of roughly 10 years, has also appeared in numerous X-rated photos and loved it. “There was something exciting about being involved in something that feels just really freeing,” she told Wallace. “I remember being like, ‘I’m just glad to be alive in a time when this is happening.’” She also hates when people uses her images to “make a case against Richardson.” “I think part of being a strong women is owning the decisions that you’ve made in your life,” Bolotow told Wallace. “Trying to put the onus onto someone else for your own decisions is really cowardly and kind of dishonest.”
Wallace calls out Jamie Peck, a former model who wrote about her experience posing for Richardson in The Gloss in 2010, for a hole in her story.
Since Peck’s accusations in 2010, she has repeatedly claimed only one sexual encounter with Richardson, yet Wallace noticed two separate images in Kibosh (one of Richardson’s explicit photo books) where Peck has different hairstyles. “Jesus Christ, I have no explanation for that,” she wrote to Wallace when he showed her the images. “I’d be scared this undermines my credibility but if anything I think it shows I was/am more traumatized by the experience that I thought.”
Richardson claims he never slept with Lindsay Lohan.
There is one rumor Richardson wants to put to rest once and for all—his name appearing on Lindsay Lohan’s “sex list” that leaked in March. “Somehow she said we spent a romantic night making love at the Chateau Marmont,” Richardson told Wallace. “Which never happened. Then, on the internet, people are like, ‘He did this and that.’ But it’s totally untrue.” The duo has worked together multiple times, most recently in April, but it all boils down to a classic case of “he said, she said.”
Numerous people are still willing to publicly defend Richardson.
Jared Leto told Wallace that “you’d find a line down the block to talk about how generous and warm and gracious he is.” According to Wallace, “much of the fashion Establishment continues to prize his work” and Dian Hanson, an editor at Taschen, “believes the accusations are unfair.”