As you’ve probably read by now, Condé Nast, publisher of some of the world’s leading magazine such as Vogue and GQ, has finally decided to stop working with famed fashion photographer Terry Richardson due to allegations of sexual misconduct, many years after those allegations first came to light.
The news broke via a leaked e-mail in which Condé Nast executive vice-president James Woodhouse stated, “Condé Nast would like to no longer work with the photographer Terry Richardson. Any shoots that have been commission[ed] or any shoots that have been completed but not yet published should be killed and substituted with other material.” Fashion brands Valentino and Bulgari quickly followed suit. It’s not clear which member of CN’s staff leaked the email, but it would hardly be a surprise to uncover that it was Woodhouse himself.
The hypocrisy of this move is immense. Allegations against Terry Richardson have been swirling around for years, some eight of which have reached the public domain. One led to a civil lawsuit, which was settled out of court, but none of them led to criminal proceedings. Of course, this doesn’t excuse the photographer’s behavior, but it’s important to note when comparing him to Harvey Weinstein, as so many have been quick to do recently.
Terry has always maintained his innocence while still being thoroughly open about the fact that he’s a perverted old horn dog. I mean, that much is clear as soon as you see him or his work. He has always claimed that any dank, dirty sex that occurred during his shoots was both expected and consensual. Often it was, as we can see from photographic evidence in his smutty coffee table photo book, Terryworld. But for a number of women, and probably even more that continue to hide from the public eye in order to maintain their privacy, Richardson’s behavior grossly violated the boundaries of both professionalism and decency, and was no doubt predatory as well.
It’s clear that Condé Nast and other publishers are only dumping Richardson now due to the collective shock of the Harvey Weinstein allegations, which have exposed an entire ecosystem of complicity that purveys Hollywood, one that provided safe haven for Weinstein’s predatory behavior for decades. Weeks later, the story still hasn’t been buried by the relentless churn of the Internet content cycle, and Western society itself is currently under severe scrutiny. Sensing that critical eyes would soon turn to the fashion industry, Woodhouse and others like him seem to be preemptively dodging negative publicity. It hasn’t really worked, though: many are asking why it has taken Weinstein’s spectacular fall to nudge fashion publishers and luxury brands into severing ties with Richardson after so many years. After all, there isn’t any new evidence against him, the fashion world is simply following public sentiment in the most opportunistic of ways.
Let’s make one thing clear: Woodhouse’s discovery of a conscience was almost certainly driven by business logic rather than any sort of moral imperative. If it wasn’t, his Terry ban would’ve come sooner. Because the fact is that he’s not bothered by said allegations, what really seems to trouble him is how they could affect CN’s image in this current climate of outrage. As I mentioned earlier, there has never been any doubt that “Uncle Terry” is a pervert. No one has been more open about this than Richardson himself. This is his personal brand. His unique selling point. The very reason why for so many years Vogue and Supreme and Tom Ford and countless other big shots in the fashion industry came to Terry to shoot their campaigns and tutorials. The penis-shaped cross that Terry is currently nailed to was the same one that they worshipped at for so many years.
Not only did this adoration make Terry Richardson stinking rich and fabulously successful, it also reinforced his lecherous behavior. The photographer has always insisted that any sex that occurred during his shoots was beyond consensual: it was pleasurable and fun for all involved. For some it certainly might have been, but the reinforcement that he received from within the fashion world no doubt emboldened him to push the boundaries of sexual propriety. There’s a difference between being forward and predatory, and if the allegations against Terry are true, then those who celebrated him for being so forward must bear at least some of the responsibility for the times that his actions violated the boundaries of consent.
I realize that some of you are probably in the comments section already typing away predictable accusations that I am also a hypocrite for accusing Condé Nast’s VP of hypocrisy when Highsnobiety has published multiple posts relating to Terry Richardson and his work, few, though not all, of which have been particularly critical. For those of you doing precisely that, you’ve missed out on a key distinction here: Highsnobiety never commissioned Richardson’s work. Never has this publication facilitated a situation where he could prey on another human being. Yes, we have validated his work by writing about it, thus adding to his aura, so we can’t completely absolve ourselves of responsibility. But our position was always observational and our ties indirect. There is a difference; a small one, perhaps, but it’s there.
When a brand like Supreme collaborates with someone like Terry Richardson, we are expected to report on it by our readership. It’s what a publication like Highsnobiety exists for: to keep readers informed on the topics that interest them and to strive to be the first to do so. A decision to refuse him coverage would’ve changed nothing as long as others higher up the food chain continued to commission him. A publication such as this one reports on Terry Richardson because of his significance within our sphere. His newsworthiness outweighed the sex appeal of his work, although it can’t pretend that this was inconsequential. For the brands and titles that commissioned him, sex and its saleability is the primary reason why they worked with Terry and this is why their sudden piousness smells so off.
This whole episode throws up difficult questions for those in both the media and the fashion industry. Up until now, Terry Richardson’s behavior obviously didn’t bother us enough collectively to ostracize him. Because the allegations were never tainted by criminal charges and came as no surprise to anybody that has flicked through Terryworld, we could avoid making big decisions or asking ourselves difficult questions. The Weinstein revelations have been so seismic that it feels like these decisions and questions cannot be avoided any longer. This feels like a watershed moment. Whether it lasts and if it meaningfully changes anything remains to be seen. If it does, then James Woodhouse and Condé Nast will have earned their praise, but not before.
The views and opinions expressed in this piece are those solely of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of Highsnobiety as a whole.
If you have been sexually assaulted, there are resources to help you.
Donate to Rape Crisis here (UK) or RAINN here (US).
- Photography: Gareth Cattermole / Getty Images