Terry Richardson, the widely employed fashion photographer newly accused of disturbing sexual assault by the model Charlotte Waters, has broken his silence.
In a piece provocatively titled “Correcting the Rumors,” Richardson, against whom such allegations have long been lodged, writes that he has previously chosen not to respond in public to what he calls “false accusations against me.” As he puts it: “I have come to realize that absent my voice in the conversation, all that remain are the lies.”
Richardson’s defense begins with the statement of fact that his work is defined by the gritty aesthetic of the 1990s East Village and of frank human sexuality (no argument there!). In order to get that aesthetic across, Richardson writes:
“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. I give everyone that I work with enough respect to view them as having ownership of their free will and making their decisions accordingly, and as such, it has been difficult to see myself as a target of revisionist history.”
Richardson’s argument cannily conflates his art — which, aside from his work for fashion magazines, does often depict women in states of undress — with his alleged conduct. In Richardson’s telling, he’s vulnerable to allegations because people are frightened by his “provocative work”: “whether you love my work or hate it,” he writes, he hopes “you give it, and me, the benefit of the truth.”
But it’s not Richardson’s work that’s on trial here; the new allegations lodged against Richardson were made by a woman who’d previously worked as a nude model. She wasn’t stunned by the idea that she’d be using her naked body in order to convey ideas about sexuality — that had already been her job. The detail that “everyone signed releases” is completely bizarre, here, not least because the new allegations include the detail that a perfectly normal release form was proffered and signed.
Indeed, Richardson never denies that he engaged in sex with his models. He merely denies that he behaved coercively. Even presuming this is true, one man’s perceived free exchange between people may be another woman’s coercion. And that statement disregards the fact that Richardson literally was providing the models work, whether or not he believes that work was being used as a tool of coercion. The person, here, whose opinion about whether or not Richardson behaved in an inappropriate manner is most compelling is not Richardson.