New York Magazine published a repugnant fluff piece about photographer Terry Richardson today. I feel bad about doing this, but here’s a link to it. Read it at your own peril. You’ll be forgiven for vomiting your way through it.
In truth, the allegations against Richardson of sexual coercion and rape haven’t been proven, but the writer’s approach to those allegations is misguided at best, and completely irresponsible at worst. Take this bit from the profile:
As Richardson’s career accelerated, his personal work became more intensely sexual. He now routinely took off his own clothes during shoots, which he explained as simply a gambit to make models comfortable posing naked. In what he would later describe as both a replacement for the substances he’d forsworn and a catharsis of his “issues,” he increasingly photographed himself, or was photographed by his assistants, in a multitude of explicit scenarios. “Doing that nude work and taking his own clothes off is how he got over his own shyness,” says Dian Hanson. “And he’s got a big dick. And once the world notices that, it’s kind of encouraging to continue taking your clothes off.
Right. That’s totally reasonable, and not at all a method of coercion by a man in a position of power and authority. Paragraphs like that litter the article, which disgustingly sidesteps the seriousness of the allegations against Richardson.
Worst still is the positioning of the article. Most of the piece is a profile of Richardson’s life (spoiler alert: it’s weird), but the headline reads: ‘Is Terry Richardson an Artist or a Predator?’ A headline like that simplifies the issue, presents it as an either/or situation, and creates a false equivalence between his work and the crimes he’s accused of committing. If the piece actually took the time to confront that question, maybe it would sound less gross, but it doesn’t, and yes, it’s just as gross as it sounds.
How gross? Well let’s imagine, for fun, that the same kind of fluff pieces with similar headlines were written about some notorious (and way worse) figures from history.
‘Is Ted Bundy a Law Student or a Mass Murderer?’
‘Edward VIII: Prince of Wales or Nazi Sympathizer?’
‘Is Al Capone a Loving Father or a Ruthless, Violent Mobster?’
‘Charles Manson: Family Man or Murderous Cult Leader?’
‘Is Maximilien Robespierre a Revolutionary or a Terrifying Madman?’
‘Emperor Nero: Fiddler or Genocidal Lunatic?’
‘Is Attila the Hun a Nomad or a Cannibal?’
‘Vlad Dracula: Impresario or Impaler?’
Okay, Terry Richardson isn’t a mass murderer or a Nazi (at least not that I know of), but the point stands. This isn’t an either/or matter, and articles like ‘Is Terry Richardson an Artist or a Predator?’ in New York Magazine perpetuate a world in which rape and sexual assault are treated as something akin to a character flaw. When people talk about Rape Culture, it’s exactly that kind of article they’re referring to. If Richardson is a sexual predator — and by many accounts he very much is — then it doesn’t matter one iota whether he’s a great photographer or has had a hard life. In an article dealing with the allegations against him, those “facts” are completely outweighed and essentially irrelevant. Presenting them on equal footing is morally bankrupt, and the editors at New York Magazine should be ashamed of themselves for running the article.