Wait, DOES Terry Richardson’s Work Exploit Women?

Look, first of all, I really enjoy photographer Terry Richardson’s work. I check Terry’s Diary probably once or twice a week, and I find it inspires me to make rad statements with furniture like this chair at Interview Magazine and also, to touch Pauly D’s hair . Yes, I have noticed he takes a lot of pictures of naked girls, and they’re not my thing so much, but it’s never really stood out. Lately, however, there’s been some question about whether or not his work really exploits women.

He recently photographed a lesbian fashion orgy for Purple Magazine. You can check it out here: Terry’s naked fashion shoot. It’s eye-catching. It was also photographed without Terry getting nudity approval from the model’s agents, which was kind of surprising, but at least one model on the shoot says that the nudity happened organically. A few days ago, Abby Kershaw remarked to the Times UK:

“Terry doesn’t force girls to do anything they don’t want to. He puts you in a G-string in a pile of mud because you want to do it. You touch yourself because you want to. For me, that shoot was the truth about how things were between us both, and I felt good doing it. I’m not ashamed of it — why should I be?”

Look, as a general rule, I’m of the “hey, we’re all naked under our clothes anyway so let’s not be all shocked by it,” school, but I have to admit that there has never been a point in my life when I’ve thought, “I feel like getting into a g-string and jumping into this pile of mud.” Maybe that’s just me, though?

Meanwhile, German model Rie Ramussen is horrified, and remarked to Page Six:

“He takes girls who are young, manipulates them 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….His ‘look’ is girls who appear underage, abused, look like heroin addicts . . . I don’t understand how anyone works with him….I told him, “what you do is completely degrading to women. I hope you know you only fuck girls because you have a camera, lots of fashion contacts and get your pictures in Vogue.” Instead of arguing with me, Terry ran out of the bar. Then the next day, he called my agency and complained I called him names in front of clients in Paris. It was the most cowardly thing I have ever seen.”

On one hand, I’m inclined to say, well, if he is taking advantage of under-aged girls, then Rie Ramussen is right to be upset. However, I’m also inclined to say that he probably called your agency and told them you called him names in front of clients in Paris because you called him names in front of clients in Paris.

Terry says “I don’t like to exploit anybody. Everyone has fun on my shoots.”

Again, if these girls do feel pressured into this, then it definitely seems exploitative. However, I can’t help but feel that if Terry were running around taking naked pictures of larger women rather than young skinny models (the women most likely to be at a photoshoot) we’d all be talking about how empowering his work is. It strikes me that it’s fairly hard to make a call unless you have a model actually saying “I felt bad about it.” But then, Rie Ramussen may be right – maybe saying “I felt bad about it” would mean that other photographers would think that you’d be difficult to work with.

But, really, if you’re a model don’t you kind of expect this sort of thing to happen when you work with Terry Richardson? The pictures on the shoot seem like the kind of thing that I see on Terry’s Diary every time I visit it. But, true confession, I did some nude modeling in college, so the line between okay-naked and bad-naked may be a little blurred for me. How do you feel about the whole controversy?

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    • mr.hicks

      Granted, this is a post that is a little old, but I feel inclined to comment. I agree, shouldn’t people expect this sort of thing from Terry Richardson? He has been doing his thing for YEARS and people still find reasons to bitch and complain. I totally love his work and will continue to love it til the day I die. Let it also be mentioned that Terry’s style stuck out like a fat lip about 2 years ago and now everyone on this big, dumb planet is copying him. Terry Richardson gave us what we see as ‘fashion’ in magazines today. We all have Terry to thank.

      • hey

        Yeah, we all should thank Terry that it became socially acceptable to objectify and subjugate women. Thank you, Terry. Besides: If you are a young aspiring model, you expect that your agency sends you to people who will treat you with respect and will be professional, just like you are. Nobody should expect to be exploited. If you take it further it will soon be acceptable to rape people for the sake of fashion and not be imprisoned because, guess what, “Terry Richardson did it and it’s what we see in fashion magazines today”.

      • BlackJaques

        Terry Richardson has been around a lot longer than 5yrs. Even then this style of photography was widely used… perhaps not in conjunction with all the nudity, however. The art of photography is in the lighting, and don’t think he could light his way out of a paper bag. It’s all shock-value. … Yes, just my opinion.

    • Avery

      Yes, Richardson’s work does exploit women. I’ve always hated his work and can’t understand how anyone can look at his photographs without seeing how he objectifies and subjugates women’s bodies. Saying people who work with him should expect that sort of thing is a joke. Young influential models who haven’t been in the industry long, who don’t know their rights, who don’t have much or any experience, who feel pressured to fit in, and who may not have any idea who Richardson is or what he expects of them, can not be told “oh well you should have realised you’d be exploited.” If your agency books you on a shoot, your expectation is that they’re putting you in safe hands and condoning whatever happens on the shoot, so there is an added pressure that you should have to go along with whatever happens because it’s been pre-approved by your agency. Richardson is revolting and so are his photos. Agencies should protect their models by no longer sending them to him to be exploited.

      • amanda

        THANK YOU.

    • sheherbano

      i don’t think it’s exploitative. if it’s consensual, that’s it. there’s always people stirring shit to get a story/revenge, but i don’t think it’s a thing really. i mean..it’s his perception of beauty. he’s a photographer, it’s art, people appreciate it. end of.

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    • J

      There are shades of grey when it comes to consent, everybody must realise this from personal experience. Especially in a group situation, or when you are asked by someone with a element of authority. Holding a camera, being a ‘director’, gives someone an element of authority, despite people saying that being photographed can be empowering. It is a natural reaction to obey someone’s requests when you are their ‘subject’, yet this doesn’t mean that upon second thought you would prefer not to do what is being asked of you.

      And you can imagine, three or more models together, giggling, teasing, flirting, acting up. And that’s not saying these models are not intelligent. But by the look and sound of Richardson’s shoots, the situations they find themselves in – they are not being asked to think, or be strong. They are being asked to be seductive and have fun – to let go. And the experience is probably extremely fun and gratifying, and they mightn’t regret any of their acts. (That is not my issue.) But what they’re not thinking of is how these images contribute to society’s perception of photographers, models and women. That taking your clothes off, kissing other women, hoisting your boobs is and should be fun – which I think it can be – BUT not for the pleasure of a passive and unknown male audience. This is now what girls will be doing at parties and they will feel like sexy models when they do it, which sets a bad precedent for TRYING TO PLEASE OTHERS in sexual acts with little or no regard to your own wishes and self-protection. Maybe not every viewer sees these images and follows it to the same conclusion, but if even a few do (and I think it’s more than a few – men and women both), then it is worth rethinking how we retail sexiness to society.

    • Elana

      Rie Ramussen is Danish just for the record…


      Self entitled ”Youth Ambassador” ”artist” and ”activist” Lady Gaga employs this freak.

      • BlackJaques

        Yes, and the sad fact is exploiters generally prey on the weaker. Not famous and powerful people. So, it’s shameful when celebrities come out and vouch for someone and don’t weigh out all the dynamics. People have many facets to their personalities.

    • rtghn
    • Guest1

      ergh, the penis photo is awful. I don’t give a shit what the man calls himself, his is a paedophile and a perve. Gross

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    • BlackJaques

      I know this is an old article, but this is still making news today. I’m amazed that this naive question begins this article …in apparent earnestness! I suppose if you don’t work in the industry you might have enough distance to honestly wonder??? I’m not sure that the images don’t speak for themselves, though. Many photographers take racy or nude images for clients and promo pieces. However, it’s not usually the case that their entire body of work is explicit imagery lacking any artful component. Just because you’re booked to work with someone who is known for raunchy images, you can’t presuppose this is what your job will entail. If the details of the job the agent receives don’t explicitly state nudity (another pay rate also applies for this), it’s easy to see how things could get less innocent if things are going to happen “organically”. I’ve even seen older models get backed into corners on shoots based on the photographers direction, when they were clearly uncomfortable. When you get a booking, you’ve been picked above everyone else to deliver what the photog is looking for. Are you going to question their authority? …have your agent annoyed (because other bs may be used to discredit you), and perhaps get passed over for future jobs? Photographers are the top of the food chain on set … more so than the client oftentimes. This honestly happens more than people want to believe. I think agencies have to do better for their models and prep them accordingly so they know they can say no if the shoot is moving outside of the brief. Unfortunately, what usually happens is they don’t ask and plead forgiveness later. They pressure the model and then tell the agent afterward “Oh yeah, she was great.. we’ll pay the rate change”

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