Celebrity photographer Terry Richardson’s explicit, sexually charged photo shoots have always been a source of controversy. He survived a spell of serious accusations about four years ago when multiple young models came forward with disturbing stories about his alleged exploitative behavior during photo shoots, including requesting sexual favors. (This was around the same time that racy “Glee” spread was published in GQ, causing outrage.)
That was the tipping point, but things mostly quieted down until he was suddenly back in the headlines again this spring when a woman gave a detailed account about her horrifying experience modeling for Richardson when she was a 19-year-old art student. A few days later, Richardson — who previously didn’t comment on the accusations — spoke out with a denial in the Huffington Post: “People have become comfortable concocting hate-filled and libelous tales about my professional and personal lives,” Richardson said. “In writing this, I make a humble attempt at correcting these rumors, because I have come to realize that absent my voice in the conversation, all that remain are the lies.”
And it looks like things are about to ramp up again. On Sunday, model Emma Appleton tweeted a screenshot of her phone with a message from a “Terry Richardson” that offered to book her for a shoot in Vogue — in exchange for sex.
Richardson’s publicist immediately said it was fake; a Vogue rep told Buzzfeed they had no plans to work with Richardson. Appleton deleted her Twitter account shortly after, writing: “Beginning to wish I hadn’t posted that…it doesn’t matter who you are or the what the industry is, just be a decent human being.”
Now all the stories about Richardson’s past are rising to the surface yet again, even as people are debating whether it was actually him who sent the text message. Obviously, it’s not the kind of publicity he wants.
While he’s made tons of headlines before for his lewd images (there’s a whole book full of them), the drum is starting to beat louder about how long the industry can get away with so many women coming forward with disturbing anecdotes about one of its biggest names. Last fall, a petition on Change.org started making the rounds calling out major brands to stop using him.
“Vogue, H&M, Mango, Harpers Bazaar, Mercedes Benz, Supreme, & all other brands: Stop using alleged sex offender Terry Richardson as your photographer,” read the petition, which got about 33,000 signatures. “More awareness needs to be brought to light that Terry Richardson is negatively influencing media with his supposed exploit & abuse of certain models, mainstream degrading pornographic imagery, and inappropriate and unprofessional behavior.”
Despite all of the stories, Richardson still lands A-list clients — such as a 20-year-old Miley Cyrus last fall. The pair had a very NSFW photo shoot and he directed her naked “Wrecking Ball” video.
Richardson hasn’t spoken out about the latest claims. In his Huffington Post blog a few weeks ago, he didn’t specifically address any allegations, but defended his photography style saying, “Like Robert Mapplethorpe, Helmut Newton, and so many others before me, sexual imagery has always been a part of my photograph.”