Photo: REX USA/Stewart Cook/Rex.
UPDATE: The Post has added Richardson's byline to the letter, confirming it's from him or his representatives.
We've written quite a bit about the allegations leveled against photographer Terry Richardson over the years. Throughout all that time and all that spilled ink, however, the elusive fashion photographer, employed by nearly everyone from Purple to Vogue, has never made any comment himself about the accusations and, almost as importantly, the ongoing media scrum around them. The conversation, though lopsided, has been no less heated for that.
Today, that changes. The New York Post's Page Six column, famous for mixing spurious third-hand rumors with hard-won, 100% fact, claims to have obtained an exclusive letter from Richardson addressing the allegations. It hasn't cited a source, nor has Richardson or any party affiliated with him made any statements verifying or debunking the letter's authenticity.
It's a strongly worded statement that both explains Richardson's past silence and addresses fresh accusations from a woman named Charlotte Waters. "I chose to primarily ignore a cycle of Internet gossip and false accusations against me," the quotes go. "I felt that to dignify them with a response was a betrayal of my work and my character.” That's a fairly predictable response in a situation like this, but here's where things get interesting:
"Sadly, in the on-going quest for controversy-generated page views, sloppy journalism fueled by sensationalized, malicious, and manipulative recountings of this work has given rise to angry Internet crusades. Well-intentioned or not, they are based on lies. Believing such rumors at face value does a disservice not only to the spirit of artistic endeavor, but most importantly, to the real victims of exploitation and abuse."
Photo: Courtesy Terry Richardson's Diary.
Richardson goes on to call out the conversation of late an "emotionally charged witch hunt." He doesn't at any point directly call out Waters (or any other accuser, for that matter), only saying that this letter is "a humble attempt at correcting these rumors." But, while he doesn't acknowledge the voices of his detractors, he does give space to those who continue to support him. After comparing himself to Robert Mapplethorpe, Helmut Newton, and all the artists who “explored the beauty, rawness, and humor that sexuality entails," Richardson turns to the women he's worked with. "I collaborated with consenting adult women who were fully aware of the nature of the work, and as is typical with any project, everyone signed releases...I have never used an offer of work or a threat of rebuke to coerce someone into something that they did not want to do."
Many a Richardson supporter has taken to the comment sections of the aforementioned "witch hunt" to point out that any woman who agrees to work with Richardson is effectively consenting to participate in the sexually charged, high-pressure environment he is widely rumored to encourage on set. Others still would go as far as to say that these women, including those who matter-of-factly accuse Richardson of violating them, knew what they were getting into and thus don't have the right to call foul after the fact. Richardson himself takes a similar line, writing: "I give everyone that I work with enough respect to view them as having ownership of their free will and making their decisions accordingly."
This is an unequivocal defense of his methods and a denial of harassment. Over the years, there have also been multiple women who asserted with just as much certainty that Richardson — not to mention the culture that supports him at large — has pressured them into humiliating, violating, non-consensual sexual activity.
So, what do we make of this?
Assuming that Richardson or someone from his camp is indeed the author of this letter (neither his Twitter nor his blog make any mention of it, and continue to post normally for the time being), this is a very passionate defense that leaves us with a lot of unanswered questions. It's not the responsibility of the defense to explain what could possibly be the root of such charges, but, if everything he's doing is above board, why does this keep happening? He readily blames the media, and certainly, we have all played our part in continuing this conversation (something that we, for one, are not ashamed of). But, the truth is that not one of the women who has come forward has gained fame, notoriety, or even support from having her accusations published on the Internet. If anything, these women have gained a dedicated and vicious following of trolls.
It's important to note that the allegations against Richardson shed light on a larger industry problem — namely, a lack of oversight on set, which would ensure the protection of models' rights. In an industry that regularly employs very young women whose guardians are not always present, this is a crucial step that needs to be addressed regardless of whether or not Richardson in particular is guilty.
Of course, in an all-too-familiar scenario, we come to a standstill. To those who side with Richardson, this sounds like the plea of an innocent man. To those who don't, it sounds like victim shaming and a desperate attempt to cloak unethical behavior. To those on the fence...well...actually, why don't you tell us what you think? Is this a step forward for Terry, or the beginning of another Allen-esque unraveling of fame and fortune? Pending any future legal action, only the industry influencers who've given him power can take that power away. If public outrage continues to swell, they might just have to. (Page Six)