On Thursday and in the wake of the Weinstein case, I was writing about Terry Richardson, fashion’s most renowned open secret who is… oh, yes, a highly paid and popular photographer.
What I wanted to say was that, while it’s true that if you work in fashion you know about him, it’s absolutely not true that we all don’t care enough to stop him. For some of us, he has been the subject of frustration for years. Watching as one high-end client after another hires him. Lamenting as his particular aesthetic laced with misogyny is plastered to the sides of buses or appears in magazines. There are many of us who find the man and his work offensive. But nothing compares to the disturbing experience reported by young women who say they have been objectified, manipulated, coerced and assaulted during the making of said photographs.
That’s why I posted a simple blog recording my efforts to raise awareness about him and challenge this behaviour. The following may read as a very strange shopping list. But it represents a serious attempt – by me – to speak out over a period of four years.
Terry Richardson is brought to my attention – I no longer work in high fashion, so I’m shocked to hear accounts of his behaviour dating back to 2001. I write a piece about the rise of porn in fashion imagery. His images are very objectifying. I’m prevented for legal reasons, I believe, from using Terry Richardson’s name for i-D magazine.
I write a follow-up piece. This time, I am allowed to name Terry Richardson, but it is sensationalised.
I give an interview to a female journalist at The Sunday Times to expose Terry Richardson. The feature was pulled at the last moment, but no reason was given as to why it was dropped.
I endorse a feature exposing Terry Richardson based on reports by many models on the internet and my own research, for the New Statesman.
I appear on primetime evening news to accuse Terry Richardson of assaulting models. I am told by a lawyer that I cannot describe what he is alleged to have done on Channel 4, as it is hearsay.
I meet with a highly respected art director friend to ask him why he continues to publish work by Terry Richardson. I pressure him to drop Richardson from his list of contributors.
I give an interview to the US author Michael Gross, describing internet accounts of Richardson’s alleged behaviour. This appears in Focus: The Secret, Sexy, Sometimes Sordid World Of Fashion Photographers, published by Atria Books.
Having completed my MSc in applied psychology with a study on fashion photographers and the objectification of women, I begin looking for a book deal to publish my findings together with my knowledge of fashion-industry behaviours.
I name Terry Richardson once again in a feature about complicity in the fashion industry. This time, I am much more graphic about his behaviour because I am supported by the female editor of Refinery 29.
I give another interview to list some of the ways I have spoken up about this man. None of it is used, except for the acknowledgement that I knew about him, which is kind of damning as it suggests I did nothing. This appears in The Sunday Times and I have requested and am awaiting online change.
Over the years, I have been informed that since I haven’t experienced any personal sexual abuse at the hands of this man, I am facilitating hearsay
You may wonder at my motivation. So do I. Over the years, I have been informed that since I haven’t experienced any personal sexual abuse at the hands of this man, I am facilitating hearsay and therefore engaging in libellous activity that could result in a lawsuit. This is very unsettling.
I’ve been quizzed more than once as to why I’m "making a fuss" – we all know it goes on and nothing will ever change; I’ve been told I’m "stupidly naïve" and "this is the way the world works"; I’ve been reassured by others I respect that they have met this man and he "seems very nice", also he has children now so perhaps I should review my position; I’ve been cautioned that I may ruin this great man’s career; I’ve been disapproved of – I seem to be "taking all this personally". These are responses that make me doubt myself. And after all, I’m busy, just like everyone else, so should I just let it go?
And that’s how it works. We become tired and fed up, even concerned that we are in the wrong. But if the above list tells us one thing, it is how confusing and complicated it is to break down the protective culture around powerful men .
With the news just in that Terry Richardson has been banned from working with major magazines, I am relieved. The powers that be have finally woken up and joined in. But credit where it’s due – I want to use this space to recognise some of the women who have helped lead the struggle.
One is former model Sara Ziff, founder of the campaign Model Alliance, whom I met in New York earlier this year to compare notes on progress. Since 2009, Sara, a prolific campaigner in model health and safety, has tackled sexual assault and predators in an international documentary; she has written for The New York Times and many other publications; championed child-labour protection for underage models; broadcast on radio; produced a research document through Harvard Law School; helped to facilitate an assembly bill on model harassment through Californian state law, as well as a social-science study on pressures to maintain unhealthy body weight amongst models.
There’s Alice Louise, who, at 18 years old, created the Say No To Terry campaign, which has received more than 35,000 signatures advising high-street brands not to use Terry Richardson in marketing aimed at young women. She has succeeded in placing the issue under people’s noses and getting them to talk. Journalists who have kept up the investigation are also important. Freelancer Harriet Williamson and I keep in touch since her piece in the New Statesman. And the website Jezebel has frequently raised the issue, reminding me how important it is to keep on.
The fact is this matters and the exploitation of the vulnerable by the powerful will always matter to me and others. Anyone in doubt as to why people like Terry Richardson need to be banned should access the accounts of models who say they have experienced assault. These are posted by TED Talk activist and model Cameron Russell as part of her campaign #MyJobShouldNotIncludeAbuse. Beware: they make for depressing reading.
I’ve been in fashion for 35 years and, while I’m thrilled by the power of fashion to enhance our sense of self and individuality, and delighted by the beauty and innovation of our emerging designers, I see its faults and I’m speaking out, not because I want to attack him, but because I want to stop this kind of behaviour from hurting more young people. And I want to prevent him setting standards for others to follow. I’m speaking out because I can and I must.
In the last few days, much has changed already. I’ve received lots of encouragement from complete strangers on social networking and many have contacted me to tell their own grim stories. Speaking out takes bravery, but we can all play our part, however big or small.