There's no denying that Terry Richardson has the love and trust of many, many people we all respect. He's famous (infamous?) for palling around with celebrities whose pro-feminist reputations are basically unassailable. And, yet, year after year, we're presented with stories like the following, which not only call into question his continued prominence in the fashion and editorial worlds, but cast a shadow on people like Kim Gordon, Lupita Nyong'o, and dozens of others who support him.
Today, on The Daily Beast, we came across a woman named Charlotte Waters, a nurse’s assistant in L.A., who shared with Vocativ her experience with Richardson during a shoot five years ago, when she was a 19-year-old art student. According to Waters, she is the anonymous commenter who posted her story on Reddit last week — a story that got vocal anti-Richardson models, like Sara Ziff and others, talking. Waters shares that she had prior experience working nude with other photographers, including Richard Kern, and she felt confident that she could control the experience shooting with Richardson. Unfortunately, she was wrong.
Waters was already naked, and the shoot was well underway and proceeding normally, when Richardson began to cross the line. As Waters says, "He comes over and asks me to hold the top of his jeans while he takes pictures pointing down. At this moment, things were starting to go in a direction that wasn’t good, but for some reason, I still had a lot of trust in whatever he told me to do, so I just did it." She continues, "But, then he had me unbutton his pants, and he took his penis out, and it was all completely downhill from there." Indeed, it was.
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Afterward, Waters says she was in "shock and utter disbelief," and Richardson and his photo assistant could tell. "It seemed like they had done this a million times," she said. In reading this and other stories, we can see how both Richardson and his assistants have a certain procedure: compliments, building trust, abusing that trust, then emotional cleanup. It speaks to a certain level of premeditation and an awareness that what is being done is not actually okay.
What we have here is a gray tale of legally consensual — but morally and ethically questionable — behavior. And even more problematic, this is just another in a string of complaints that suggests Terry Richardson has an exploitative and uncomfortable relationship with women. So, maybe he shouldn't be the celebrity photographer of choice.
Now, it is, to an extent, unfair to throw such accusations against one man without any concrete proof to back them up. Moreover, we understand that Richardson's alleged behavior isn't illegal and this isn't a court of law. However, what Waters describes was clearly a misuse of trust, power, and position. Most importantly, there's no doubt that whatever his intentions, more than a few women have been traumatized by his actions. Most people, even if they thought themselves in the right, would alter their behavior after such reactions. Richardson, by all accounts, hasn't.
We understand no one has given the photographer a reason to change. That's clear. What we're really struggling with is the fact that so many figures we respect continue to entertain and value his presence despite the fact that no one, except perhaps Charlotte Free, has stepped forward to deny anything that's been said against him. Others have been banned from Hollywood and New York power circles for far flimsier, far less damning accusations than these.
In industries where reputation is reality, how much longer can big-league magazines and brands continue to keep Richardson on their roster? Just as importantly, why do big stars continue to appear alongside Richardson on his blog, giving a cheery thumbs up? We just don't get it.
Models Won't Work With Terry Richardson Amid Sexual-Harassment Claims
Terry Richardson Under Fire Again? Petition Calls For Fashion Boycott
What Charlotte Free Got Wrong In Her Defense Of Terry Richardson