Kate Moss Shot by Terry Richardson for Harper’s Bazaar May 2014
Last night, I was flipping through the May issue of Harper’s Bazaar just as New York Magazine released it’s hotly anticipated cover story on fashion photographer Terry Richardson. I read New York’s mostly apathetic profile online, rolled my eyes and turned back to Harper’s.
The main editorial, shot by Richardson, featured Kate Moss wearing her own TopShop collection. It was mostly an ode to Terry’s signature style: plain white backdrop, bright and overexposed, a toothy grin. The only thing missing was a shot of the chief hipster himself, wielding that goofy smile and a thumbs up. It’s something that honestly could have been shot by any professional photographer (or even an amateur) with an eye for framing and a flashbulb. I thought about the sexual abuse allegations against Richardson, the female celebrities who, protected by an entourage and a famous name, flock to work with him anyway, and the alleged $160,000 day-rate that New York Magazine says he commands. And, suddenly, I’d had enough.
Harper’s Bazaar is one of the few (if not the only) American fashion publications that continues to regularly hire Terry Richardson and, as BuzzFeed recently pointed out, is predominantly staffed by his long-time friends and collaborators. After the last set of allegations many brands and publications (including American Vogue) went on the defensive by saying they hadn’t worked with him recently and had no plans to do so but Harper’s kept mum.
Look, it’s possible that the many, many stories of inappropriate behavior are false or somehow misunderstandings or just, as Terry implies to New York, some kind of baseless Internet witch-hunt. But I don’t think so. I think that this is a man haunted by demons, who has not only been given the power to exploit women, particularly young models, for his own ends but has been praised and rewarded for it.
There is an argument to be made that perhaps these models could say no, could refuse the job, could say they were uncomfortable and leave. That modeling is inherently about giving up power to a photographer and becoming a commodity of the male gaze. In our society, a camera somehow negates the possibility of abuse. You could even argue that they chose to participate. That since nearly all of these allegations have been made by “nameless”, less successful models, they must have a hidden agenda for coming forward. Maybe. But how many of these models are just teenagers, living on their own for the first time, some in a strange country, possibly in debt to an agency that is telling them what an important photographer he is, and not to blow such a big opportunity? How many of us at 18 would have been able to correctly handle that situation? Way back in 2010, model Jaime Peck described “zoning out” in order to cope with the situation to The Gloss. Call me old fashioned but I’d rather not have models be in a borderline dissociative state just to get a “good” picture.
I may not be able to give those women back their sense of agency but I can stop being complacent in their exploitation. Rather than just bemoan his work and discuss his alleged abuse in an endless online cycle, I wanted to actually do something.
So I dumped the May issue into the recycling bin, went online and cancelled my subscription to Harper’s Bazaar, a magazine I used to love and admire. It’s not enough but it’s a start. Do I think that losing my twelve-dollars-a-year will actually stop them from hiring Richardson? No, of course not. But it seems to be the only way that I have to voice my anger that this industry has continued to nurture and protect a predator while vilifying his victims.