Those who are not familiar with photographer Terry Richardson’s work could turn to his ‘coffee table’ book, Terryworld, for a brief, if brutal, introduction.
The kind of images found within the pages of this glossy ‘art’ book include a woman naked from the waist down, in sexual pose, hanging by her hands from wall pipes. In another, a model presses her breasts together while thrusting her tongue between them.
Then there is the disturbing picture of 52-year-old Richardson himself being given oral sex by a young woman crammed into a dustbin with the word ‘Slut’ on her forehead. In another shot, she performs the same lewd act while trussed up in a suitcase.
On Friday, Richardson (shown left with supermodel Kate Moss in 2011) addressed allegations directed at him in recent days in a blog published on Huffington Post
In the past, Richardson’s scandalous reputation — not to mention his penchant for the ‘spontaneous sex acts’ that take place in his studio — hasn’t stopped him becoming the darling of the fashion and music worlds.
Feted by a string of designers including Tom Ford and Marc Jacobs, he has shot ad campaigns for such women’s clothing chains as H&M and Mango and worked with the likes of Beyonce and Miley Cyrus.
Richardson’s edgy, urban style is adored by celebrities from Kate Moss, Daisy Lowe and Poppy and Cara Delevingne to the Beckhams and even Barack Obama — all of whom have happily posed for him.
But in the fickle world of fashion, how quickly fortunes have changed for the married father-of-two. Yesterday, it emerged that the celebrity snapper — a former heroin addict who grew up in Los Angeles — has been banned from working with several major magazines, including Vogue, GQ and Vanity Fair, by publisher Conde Nast, which owns the glossies.
A leaked email sent by James Woodhouse, Conde Nast International’s executive vice president, ordered that ‘any shoots that have been commissioned or any shoots that have been completed but not yet published, should be killed and substituted with other material’.
The 52-year-old directed the sexually-charged music video to Wrecking Ball by Miley Cyrus
The email, which landed in staff inboxes first thing on Monday, appears to have been a response to allegations going back several years that Richardson used his position of influence in the fashion industry to sexually exploit models he worked with.
The son of Sixties fashion photographer Bob Richardson, his father left his mother, former Copacabana dancer Norma Kessler, for the then 17-year-old actress Anjelica Huston when Richardson was just four.
His mother went on to have relationships with Jimi Hendrix and Keith Richards, before being left with permanent brain damage after a car accident when her son was nine.
As a teenager growing up in California, he sang in punk bands and hoped to make a career for himself as a musician, but began taking photographs in the early Nineties, quickly making a name for himself, thanks to the gritty street scenes he shot.
His big breakthrough came when he was hired for a campaign for British designer Katharine Hamnett in the late Nineties.
The controversy surrounding the resulting shots, in which the models’ pubic hair was visible beneath their skirts, meant that Terry Richardson’s name was soon on everyone’s lips.
He is also the man credited with transforming Miley Cyrus from Disney child star to raunchy pop princess, thanks to the naked Wrecking Ball video he directed in 2013.
Rosie Huntingdon-Whiteley poses for photographer Terry Richardson for the 2010 Pirelli calendar (left). Pop star Beyonce (right) has also been a subject of his work
Although Richardson has always denied sexually exploiting any models, in the wake of the sex scandal surrounding Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, it seems that behaviour which may once have been met with a blind eye in the fashion world is now being re-evaluated.
Indeed, what is extraordinary about Conde Nast’s sudden decision to ban Richardson is that ‘Uncle Terry’ — as he is known among fashionistas — has never made a secret of his sexual peccadilloes.
‘Richardson took 1970s porn aesthetic and made it fashion chic,’ proudly announces the foreword to Terryworld, a book that features him naked on the front cover and comes with a ‘reversible panic jacket’ for those worried about being caught reading it.
The foreword continues: ‘Porn stars, supermodels, transsexuals, hillbillies, friends, pets and celebrities all do for his lens what they’ll do for NO OTHER.
‘And if anyone ever wonders why they did it, just blame it on Terryworld, where taboos are null and void and fashion finds sex a perfect fit.’
Indeed, over the past 20 years, multi-millionaire Richardson has become one of the highest-paid photographers in the world, thanks to his eye-catching and often shocking ad campaigns for High Street names such as Levi’s, Diesel, American Apparel and Mango, as well as racy magazine adverts for the likes of Gucci, Miu Miu and Jimmy Choo.
But while his lewd photographs have long been regarded as beyond the pale by some — one ad campaign for Italian designer Sisley features a model squirting milk from a cow’s udder into her mouth — Richardson has always maintained that what goes on at his shoots is consensual.
Figures from within the modelling industry, including former i-D editor Caryn Franklin, said Richardson’s behaviour has become an ‘open secret’. He is pictured on September 8 with his partner Alex Bolotow (right) and Carine Restoin-Roitfeld, former editor and chief of Vogue Paris (left)
‘My rule is that I’d never ask anyone to do anything I wouldn’t do myself,’ he said in an interview in 2004.
‘At first, I’d just want to do a few nude shots, so I’d take off my clothes, too. I’d even give the camera to the model and get her to shoot me for a while. It’s about creating a vibe; getting people relaxed and excited. When that happens, you can do anything.’
Some of the models who have worked with Richardson, however, tell a very different story — one that over the past 15 years, appears to have fallen on deaf ears.
One of the first to speak out was Canadian model Liskula Cohen, who walked out of a Vogue shoot in 2001, saying that Richardson ‘made me feel as if I was a prostitute’ after asking her to strip and perform a sex act on another man while he was also naked.
The men were not models or actors, she said, but friends of Richardson.
Four years later, Romanian model Gabriela Johansson claimed that she was pressured to pose naked under the promise of a potential modelling job and sacked when she refused.
In 2010, New Yorker Jamie Peck wrote about her experiences posing for Richardson at the age of 19, saying that, on her second visit to his studio, he suddenly removed his clothes and asked her to take photos of him naked.
Writing on fashion website The Gloss in 2010, she recalled how he took her to a couch and, in full view of two assistants, asked her to engage in a sex act.
She consented, while the assistants watched and took further photographs. ‘This is where I zoom out on the situation,’ she wrote. ‘I can remember doing this stuff, but even at the time, it was sort of like watching someone else do it.
‘The only explanation I can come up with is that he was so darn friendly and happy about it all, and his assistants were so stoked on it as well, that I didn’t want to be the killjoy in the room.’
Richardson’s contract arrangements with Conde Nast had been in discussion for several months – but after an article was posted that questioned why he was still being ‘feted by fashionistas’ ties were officially cut. He is pictured in 2016 at the Tom Ford Fashion Show in New York
Her payment for the work was supposed to have been a signed print of Richardson’s photographs of her, which eventually appeared in the fashion magazine Purple.
But she said: ‘I felt so gross about the whole thing that I never went back.’
She later said he was a ‘predator with a camera’.
That same year, Danish supermodel Rie Rasmussen caused a public scandal when she confronted Richardson in Paris, accusing him of abusing his position of power in the fashion industry to sexually harass women.
‘They are too afraid to say no because their agency booked them on the job and they are too young to stand up for themselves,’ she said afterwards.
‘I told him: “What you do is completely degrading to women. I hope you know you only f*** girls because you have a camera, lots of fashion contacts and get your pictures in Vogue.” ’
Her experience is mirrored by Anna del Gaizo, who wrote about being photographed by Richardson when she was aged 23. During the shoot, she says he asked her to crouch down, then exposed himself.
British fashion journalist Caryn Franklin, former presenter of The Clothes Show and now a lecturer at the London College of Fashion, added her voice to warnings about Richardson four years ago.
Accusing him of being ‘at the centre of this pornification of the fashion world’, she added: ‘Household brands are swallowing this tosh and continue to employ the multi-millionaire because sex — especially sex with very young women — makes money.’
Richardson has continued to deny that the explicit images he produced are pornographic. ‘The thing is, I don’t personally like porn,’ he said in 2004, ‘because there is so much sadness and pain in that world. So little joy or pleasure. That’s not my bag. Everyone has fun on my shoots.’
Paris Hilton (left), Nicky Hilton (centre) and photographer Terry Richardson (right) are pictured at an event together in 2014
It is an argument that, until this week at least, the fashion industry appears to have been happy to accept.
Model Daisy Lowe, who posed naked for Richardson for the 2010 Pirelli calendar in Brazil, for example, leapt to his defence in 2011. He also snapped her in New York sharing a kiss with pop star Florence Welch.
‘He just exudes this sexual energy, so he doesn’t need to ask girls to take off their clothes,’ she said in an interview with Oyster magazine. ‘Honestly, they just do it.’
In the past, Vogue magazine was among those prepared to defend Richardson’s behaviour. A article entitled ‘Back to work’, published in March 2010, said that Richardson was ‘attempting to move on from allegations that he exploited young models in his work by getting back to his day job.’
Announcing that he was working with model Doutzen Kroes for a Vogue shoot, the editorial piece added: ‘The appointment of Richardson as the photographer for this shoot, so soon after the controversy, is sure to be seen as U.S. Vogue’s decision as to which side of the fence they are on.’
Four years later, in April 2014, Vogue appeared to change its mind, declaring it had ‘no plans’ to work with Richardson in the future.
While Richardson has never responded specifically to these individual claims, in 2014, in an open letter to the Huffington Post website, he wrote about the need to respond to ‘a cycle of internet gossip’ and correct the ‘false accusations’ being levelled against him.
Richardson (shown left with Eniko Mihalik) has been the subject of widespread allegations of sexually abusing models over his lengthy career
He stated that the allegations were ‘vicious and distorted’ and said he had become subject to ‘an emotionally charged witch hunt’.
He wrote that ‘sexual imagery has always been a part of my photography’. His 2004 Terryworld book, he said, ‘explored the beauty, rawness and humour that sexuality entails’.
He insists that all the women he works with are consenting adults and all have signed releases giving permission for their photographs to be used and that he has never used an offer of work or a threat of rebuke to coerce someone into something that they did not want to do.
‘Over the course of my career, I have come to accept that some of my more provocative work courts controversy, and as an artist, I value the discourse that arises from this.
‘I can only hope for this discourse to be informed by fact, so that whether you love my work or hate it, you give it, and me, the benefit of the truth.’
Given the email sent to Conde Nast staff this week, it seems the company is more determined than ever not to work with Richardson, although their timing may lead to accusations of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.
Richardson himself continues to protest his innocence.
‘It was never just me and a girl, ever,’ he told New York Magazine at the weekend. ‘It was always assistants, or other people around, or girls brought friends over to hang out.
‘It was very daytime, no drugs, no alcohol. It was a happening; there was energy, it was fun, it was exciting, making these strong images, and that’s what it was. People collaborating and exploring sexuality and taking pictures.’
Richardson married his long-term partner, Alexandra ‘Skinny’ Bolotow, in July this year. It is worth noting that Alex, who met the photographer while working as an intern, is the same woman who was photographed performing oral sex on him with the word ‘slut’ plastered on her forehead. Now 34, she gave birth to the couple’s twin sons, Roman and Rex, in March last year.
In the past, Richardson has complained that he is the target of ‘revisionist history’ — and on one level, at least, he has point.
One minute, he was worshipped as a virtual god by the fashion industry, despite coming out with lines like: ‘It’s not who you know, it’s how you blow. I don’t have a hole in my jeans for nothing.’ Now, he is being treated as a pervert.
‘I don’t have any regrets about the work at all,’ he said at the weekend. ‘I’m OK with myself about everything, and that to me is the most important thing.’
A statement released yesterday by Richardson’s spokesman said: ‘Terry is disappointed to hear about this email, especially because he has previously addressed these old stories.
‘He is an artist who has been known for his sexually explicit work, so many of his professional interactions with subjects were sexual and explicit in nature, but all of the subjects participated consensually.’