Terry Richardson’s A-List ‘Feminist’ Enablers: Lady Gaga, Beyoncé and More
The renowned fashion photographer has long stood accused of sexual misconduct, yet scores of celebrity women in particular have continued to prop up his brand.
The fashion world’s favorite pervy photographer is out at Condé Nast International.
According to the Daily Telegraph, an email was circulated around Condé Nast International on Monday effectively blacklisting photographer Terry Richardson. Staff were told that any soon-to-be-published shoots with Richardson should be “killed or substituted with other material.” The email, written by executive vice president and chief operating officer James Woolhouse, began, “I am writing to you on an important matter.” Woolhouse continued, “Condé Nast would like to no longer work with the photographer Terry Richardson.” The media group publishes the international editions of some of the most influential magazines in the world, from Vogue to Glamour to Vanity Fair.
Richardson, who has previously denied allegations of wrongdoing, told The Daily Beast on Tuesday that he was “disappointed” by the reported blacklisting. According to the full statement from his representative: “Terry is disappointed to hear about this email especially because he has previously addressed these old stories. He is an artist who has been known for his sexually explicit work so many of his professional interactions with subjects were sexual and explicit in nature but all of the subjects of his work participated consensually.”
Richardson has been squatting in PR purgatory for years now. Despite facing numerous accusations of sexual abuse, harassment, and exploitation, he’s continued to field commissions from some of the biggest fashion magazines and labels—and the brightest stars. Richardson was first publicly denounced in 2010, when reports began to surface of degrading shoots and intimidating young models. Coco Rocha has said that while she shot with Richardson once, “I didn’t feel comfortable and I won’t do it again.” Model Rie Rasmussen emphasized that many young women didn’t have the power to issue such edicts, telling Page Six that many up-and-coming models “are too afraid to say no, because their agency booked them on the job, and [they] are too young to stand up for themselves.”
Rasmussen’s description fit Jamie Peck, a young woman who came forward with her own experience of modeling for Richardson when she was just 19.
Peck described her first shoot with the hyper-sexualizing photographer as relatively unremarkable. She wrote, “He spoke in the effeminate tones of someone trying very hard not to come off as sexually threatening, despite the fact that he was basically walking around in a hipsterpedophile costume,” adding, “He asked me to call him Uncle Terry and I obliged, because why not?”
Peck described her second shoot with Richardson as “the weird one.”
“I told him I had my period so I wanted to keep my underwear on, and he asked me to take my tampon out for him to play with. ‘I love tampons!’ he said, in that psychotically upbeat way that temporarily convinces so many girls that what’s fun for Uncle Terry is fun for them…”
Richardson proceeded to take his clothes off and asked Peck to take pictures of him. “All the while, he was dropping names like they were hot, casually mentioning his upcoming Miu Miu shoot with Maggie Gyllenhaal and Billy Crudup, wondering aloud if he could get the kid from Elephant to model, and suggesting I come upstate with him and his fab celebufriends…I’m not sure how he maneuvered me over to the couch, but at some point he strongly suggested I touch his terrifying penis…This is where I zoom out on the situation. I can remember doing this stuff, but even at the time, it was sort of like watching someone else do it, someone who couldn’t possibly be me because I would never touch a creepy photographer’s penis. The only explanation I can come up with is that he was so darn friendly and happy about it all, and his assistants were so stoked on it as well, that I didn’t want to be the killjoy in the room. My new fake friends would’ve been bummed if I’d said no. I must have said something about finals, because he told me, ‘if you make me come, you get an A.’”
The allegations against Richardson are too many to recount in detail and too nausea-inducing to consume in one sitting. Suffice to say, since the stories began surfacing they haven’t stopped, with numerous women describing Richardson’s alleged explicit demands, sexual harassment and assault. In a 2007 interview with Hint Magazine, Richardson boasted, “Like I’ve always said, it’s not who you know, it’s who you blow. I don’t have a hole in my jeans for nothing.”
While a Vogue representative stated in 2014 that the magazine has “no plans to work” with Uncle Terry in the future, other publications and A-listers were less scrupulous, some even going so far as to defend the photographer.
In 2014, singer Sky Ferreira took to Facebook to testify on Richardson’s behalf, writing, “As someone who has worked very closely with Terry Richardson on many many many occasions since I was 17 years old, I would like to say…from my OWN personal experience: I have never been forced or manipulated into anything.”
“I am NOT saying the women who have publicly spoken [about being harrassed by Richardson] are at fault or wrong or lying,” she continued. “The media & the fucking peanut gallery/trolls on the internet can paint any picture they want of you…They never have the full details. They can manipulate & project an image/persona that benefits them…There are many reasons & FACTS why I support Terry Richardson that media (basically) refuses to acknowledge.”
While Ferreira took pains to emphasize that her own experience with Richardson was not indicative of anyone else’s, these sorts of statements fail to reckon with the ways in which celebrity supporters can protect and embolden abusers. No matter how many times Richardson is referred to as “controversial,” the fact that major celebrities continue to work with him makes him a major player in the industry, thereby increasing his access to and power over young up-and-comers. Aspiring models will understandably want to work with a man who shoots high fashion covers and Miley Cyrus music videos; this is the formula that Richardson, aided by a complicit system and culpable assistants, has always relied on. By Richardson’s own admission: “I was a shy kid, and now I’m this powerful guy with his boner, dominating all these girls.”
Complicating the Richardson story is the fact that so many of his A-list supporters, stars who have worked with him repeatedly and bolster his reputation as a celebrity photographer, are self-identified feminists. To be clear, this critique isn’t about the tone of Richardson’s hyper-sexualized work; posing provocatively or in the nude isn’t un-feminist or hypocritical, despite what some think pieces may suggest. What’s disturbing is when influential women publicly collaborate with and tacitly condone the past actions and continued career viability of an accused serial abuser.
Take one of Richardson’s biggest muses: Lady Gaga. Gaga, a vocal advocate for sexual assault survivors, faced a justifiable backlash in 2014 when TMZ posted a clip from an unreleased Terry Richardson-directed music video. The video, which Lady Gaga wisely ended up scrapping, features the singer and her “Do What U Want” collaborator R. Kelly enacting a bizarre scene in which Gaga is a patient and Kelly is a doctor. In the footage Gaga asks Kelly, who has faced multiple accusations of sexual abuse, if she’ll ever be able to walk again. “Yes, if you let me do whatever I want with your body,” Kelly replies. “I’m putting you under, and when you wake up, you’re going to be pregnant.”
As an incredulous source told Page Six, “Gaga had a video directed by an alleged sexual predator, starring another [alleged] sexual predator. With the theme, ‘I’m going to do whatever I want with your body?’” Lady Gaga, who spent ten months with Richardson for a 2011 photo book, is one of only six accounts that Terry Richardson follows on Twitter.
The list of Richardson’s uber-famous collaborators includes some of Hollywood’s most famous feminists. Beyoncé, who overtly tackled themes of racism and misogyny on her groundbreaking visual album Lemonade, also hired Richardson to direct the video for “XO.” Kim Kardashian, who has spoken out on female empowerment and sexual autonomy, posed for an on-brand Richardson photoshoot for the London Sunday Times in 2010. Kardashian posted a throwback picture from the shoot on her eponymous website in 2016, writing, “My sexy shoot with Terry Richardson. I had so much fun on this shoot with Terry!”
Miley Cyrus has also been a steadfast supporter of Richardson’s work. The photographer directed her internet-breaking “Wrecking Ball” video in 2013, and later cemented her bad girl image with a pornographic-even-by-Terry-Richardson-standards shoot for CANDY magazine.
In 2014, Richardson shot Nicki Minaj for the cover of Rolling Stone. Minaj tweeted out a link and a shout-out, writing, “Love my new ROLLING STONE cover. Shot by TERRY RICHARDSON.” In 2013 Selena Gomez, who’s since faced criticism for calling for substantial speech on social media while failing to speak out on causes like Black Lives Matter, worked with Richardson on a Harper’s Bazaar cover. More recently, Richardson recast Rihanna as a high-fashion Marie Antoinette for the cover of CR Fashion Book, and the consistently scandal-ridden Kylie Jenner sold an official Kylie Jenner calendar by Terry Richardson on her extremely popular website, gushing about the “exclusive terry photos” on Instagram. The calendar is still available on Jenner’s virtual shop, albeit at a marked down price.
Representatives for Sky Ferreira, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Kim Kardashian, Miley Cyrus, Nicki Minaj, Selena Gomez, Rihanna and Kylie Jenner did not respond to requests for comment.