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Comments: Week of June 30, 2014

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The cover story by Benjamin Wallace on fashion photographer Terry Richardson stirred up a vehement debate (Terry Richardson Shot Himself,” June 16–29). Many thought the article was too soft on Richardson, particularly when it came to the numerous reports of models who’d felt ­pressured into engaging with Richardson sexually on shoots. Those readers’ problems often began with the online headline, “Is Terry Richardson an Artist or a Predator?” It was a question meant to suggest that one answer might be “both,” but that wasn’t how many interpreted it. “Phrasing the proposition as an either-or binary is not only insultingly reductive, it’s also wildly misleading: as though it’s possible that the end product justifies the sexual coercion that created it, or that a respected photographer isn’t capable of preying on the women who pose for him,” argued Callie Beusman at Jezebel. “The question here shouldn’t be whether ­Richardson is an artist or a predator. It should be why, when so many women have come forward with allegations, are we still treating this question like it matters?” “What the article does not make clear is that Richardson’s sexual escapades go way beyond artistic ‘boundary-pushing’ and involve serious sexual harassment and abuse of young models in the workplace,” wrote Sena Cech, one of the models who has spoken out about her experience with him. “The biography paints Richardson as being mentally unstable, abusive, and extremely perverted, but it also seems to validate Richardson’s disgusting behavior in the name of ‘art.’ The article cites an anonymous source close to Richardson who insists that I was the instigator and that I willingly returned after the casting to take more sexual pictures. This is a flat-out lie.” And Jamie Peck, another model, wrote for The Guardian’s website about how she felt when Wallace pointed photos out to her she had no memory of making: “It made me wonder what else I wasn’t remembering. It was not a very good feeling to have, least of all when I’d already spoken at length about my experience in the belief that I was telling the absolute truth. I worried what conclusions Wallace would draw for his readers. My conclusions would, I figured, be somewhat different: Sexual trauma affects memory, often in ways that allow predators to traumatize their victims while simultaneously rendering them unreliable witnesses to their own lives.” She went on to say, “After reading more about Uncle Terry’s fucked-up childhood, I have to wonder: Is the more important question How did he get this way?, or rather How do we stop him? Or is the real question even more complex: What does this say about the fashion industry as a whole that so many people have let him and other, sneakier people get away with this for so long? Would we really be having this conversation if Uncle Terry were just another abusive uncle and/or a member of the economic underclass?”

Other readers did not think the story had in any way exonerated Richardson (interestingly, most of those who said so publicly were men). “For many readers, New York magazine’s profile of Terry Richardson this week was deeply unsatisfying. With all the talk of the photographer as ‘artist,’ critics said, it was as if his extensive misbehavior had never happened. Where was the dirt?” wrote Tom Scocca at Gawker, before proceeding to lay out the nearly 3,000 words’ worth of accusations and other damaging information Wallace’s article did contain. “I did not come away from this Terry Richardson profile thinking that it was very positive. What did I miss?” tweeted editor Bill Wasik. “The subtext is all about how warped and creepy he is. Is it now unacceptable to leave that as subtext? None of this is absent from the story. It’s just not explicitly argued! Does the writer always need to be outraged?” The New York Times’ Vanessa Friedman wrote, “I think it’s worth reading not simply because it lays out a very hot-button issue fairly dispassionately, but because it also highlights one of the problems with modeling: namely, the young-models problem. Almost all the girls mentioned who have come forward about their problems with Mr. Richardson experienced them as ‘new girls’—girls just beginning their careers, when they felt the most vulnerable to the casting couch and the skewed balance of power between the object of a picture and the person behind it.”

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