A recent profile in New York Magazine has brought a wide variety of allegations against photographer Terry Richardson back into the public eye. Richardson, whose work is described in the profile article as having an “erotic bent,” has faced accusations from numerous models in recent years of various acts that could be construed as sexual harassment. Richardson has vehemently denied the allegations. The New York Magazine article, in addressing the allegations, rather reductively asks whether Richardson is “an artist or a predator,” as though the two are mutually exclusive.
Since at least 2010, women who have participated in photoshoots with Richardson have come forward with allegations of pressure to pose nude, requests for sexual favors in exchange for photoshoots, and even direct sexual advances or contact. The New York Magazine article essentially treats this as part of Richardson’s professional persona, calling him a “professional debauchee” and a “proud pervert.” It includes accounts of inappropriate conduct from several models, including Model Alliance founder Sara Ziff, as well as accounts of models who participated in sexually-oriented photoshoots entirely voluntarily.
What the article seems to fail to appreciate is the difference between a photoshoot in which a model has given voluntary and informed consent, in advance, to certain activities, and one in which a photographer puts pressure on a model to do so. It fails to acknowledge the difference in power between a model, who is often quite young and eager to build a career, and a famous photographer who has power over the course of that career.
Jamie Peck was one of the first models to come forward, in March 2010, with allegations of sexual harassment against Richardson. In March 2014, she wrote an open letter in response to a letter Richardson wrote attempting to defend his alleged behavior, in which she perhaps identifies the key concern with his behavior. Richardson denied ever using “an offer of work or a threat of rebuke to coerce someone into something that they did not want to do.” He also claimed that he only worked with models “who were fully aware of the nature of the work.”
Peck observed that, according to multiple models’ accounts, the “nature” of his work, specifically the sexual nature, often does not become clear until a photoshoot is underway, and that they often sign releases after the shoot. The mere fact that Richardson might have a reputation for sexual photoshoots does not imply that any model shooting with him consents to any specific sexual act. Peck suggested that Richardson not only present models with a release before the shoot but that he specifically seek out models who are comfortable with whatever activity he is seeking.
The most recent model to come forward with allegations about Richardson is Anna del Gaizo, whose story does not indicate any attempt at prior consent. She claims that Richardson’s assistant invited her to an “impromptu shoot” at his home studio, only moments after Richardson met her at a party in 2008. While the assistant took pictures, del Gaizo claims, Richardson encouraged her to take off some of her clothes, and then he unexpectedly entered the shoot with his genitalia exposed. The allegations get more lurid from there. She states that she quickly put her clothes back on and returned to the party.
The employment attorneys at Phillips & Associates represent the rights of people in New York City and surrounding areas who have experienced unwanted sexual advances and other forms of harassment in the fashion industry. To schedule a free and confidential consultation to see how we can help you, please contact us today online or at (866) 229-9441.