Friday, May 21, 2010

Musings on a Scandal

I debated on whether or not to even blog about this, but it's something that I do want to address. I love fashion a lot, but that doesn't make me blind to the negative aspects of it. The sexual exploitation and power imbalance that can define the relationship of photographer to subject, with the whole scandal around Terry Richardson being the most recent and high-profile example, cause a lot of conflict for me. How can an industry that purports to celebrate the female form and allow women to express their creativity and individuality also allow a man like Terry Richardson to continue working?

The exploitation maybe isn't as obvious the higher up you go in the modeling world, but that doesn't mean it's nonexistent at other levels, and to go on pretending that it is does no service to anyone. I've held my tongue before but this time I want to make my feelings known.

Collection Privee
Vogue Paris June/July 2010
Ph: Terry Richardson
Styling: Carine Roitfeld
Other Models: Lara Stone

This editorial is lazy, flat and trite with a recycled aesthetic to boot. Was there any effort put into this at all? Because it sure doesn't look like there was. And to even have Lara and Freja mimic Terry's personal trademarks (thumbs up, aviators, wide grin) is absolutely distasteful in my opinion. To be honest, I'm just really disgusted. Not because of what the images look like, but because of who's behind them. For this is a case where I can't separate my feelings out and even attempt to look at this editorial objectively. For me, the scandal and subsequent inaction that has been taken towards Terry have left a very bad taste in my mouth. (How can there be no consequences for his actions? Why are women like Anna, Carine and DvF still working with him? What message is this sending to other photographers and models? What message is this sending to young teens?) From now on, the way I regard any of Terry's work will always be negatively colored. Freja's presence in this editorial isn't even a little bit of a saving grace. In fact, I really hate that she's working with Terry a lot more now than she ever was before. She appears to be such a strong individual that it's disheartening to see her working with such a weak one. And to see her even purposely taking on his persona (like in the 9th picture) is just a slap in the face.

And all the people coming to Terry's defense and making up excuses for his behavior just show me how easy it is to turn a blind eye to the truth when it's beneficial to your own self. It shows me how easy it is to maintain the comfortable status quo instead of enacting change. It shows me how hard and risky it is to actually have the courage to speak out against disgusting actions performed by people in positions of power; for inevitably the judgment, scrutiny and blame will unjustly fall back on the victims. It also makes me realize that the job I do in my day to day life, and the industry that I work in are still as needed as ever in the world today. Perhaps even more so because many people now operate under the assumption that everything and everyone is equal, and that we live in a post-modernist, post-racialist, post-feminist, post-whatever other "ist" you can think of world. Well, clearly we don't.....complacency can be a dangerous thing.

I think Tavi said it best and better than I ever could, and no I'm definitely not afraid to admit when a 14(?) year old is more eloquent than I am. You can agree or disagree, you can tell me I'm overreacting, you can call me a typical American prude (even though I'm not objecting to sexualized photography or nudity, just the impetus behind it), you can say whatever you want to say but nothing can change the way I feel about Terry and consequently, his work.

Nevertheless, I do feel guilty for indulging in fashion as a whole when I know that this Terry situation isn't the first, nor is it an isolated, case. After all, aren't I being complicit simply due to the fact that I consume these images? I do feel like a huge hypocritical ass sometimes, but at least I can recognize and admit that. That's something, right? And maybe I'm no better for merely acknowledging it and then moving on and really doing nothing about it. But that's a battle I'll continue to have with myself (rather than attempt to further play out so poorly on this blog). So this will probably be the last time I do a post about Terry's work with Freja, assuming that they work together again. And for the time being I'll just try to focus on all the good that comes from fashion, but I'll still make sure that I'm at least aware of all the bad.

If you've read this all, thank you for indulging me.....I'll step down from my soapbox now.

Image Credits: Scanned by tFS member Valentine27


Anonymous said...

I really do not understand why Terry still has a job. Doesn't this industry pride itself on being tough as nails and not putting up with anyones bs? Is Terry's repeated scandals not the ultimate in bs? It seriously puzzles me, he can easily be replaced by some other "hip" photographer.

Oh and this part of your piece stuck me "And to see her even purposely taking on his persona (like in the 9th picture) is just a slap in the face." I think I know what you mean by this but at the same time I have no clue. Care to elaborate.

Anonymous said...

I think what she meant was that Terry usually takes pictures of himself like that. Smiling, sometimes aviator sunglasses.
It's like Freja is Terry in that picture. Same with the third picture I'm hoping that's what she meant lol

Rrose Sélavy said...

^Yes, that's part of what I meant. :)

This ed was shot around the same time the allegations were being made, so I just think it's in poor taste to have models mimicking him. It just seems to me like he's taunting everyone and saying "look, I'm a big shot and no one's going to do anything to me. In fact, people love me and have no problem joking around, even pretending to be me." I hope that clears things up a little. :)

Anonymous said...

its her choice to do that

Anonymous said...

To the last commenter:

If there is a general consensus your argument, then every woman who walks down the street in tank top and miniskirt deserve to be raped also. Ethical issues like the current Richardson's scandal creates anxiety in many which in turn activates the Just-World Phenomenon wherein the bystanders rationalize the injustice they recently witness by claiming that the victim deserves it to assuage their agitation. This phenomenon is selfish and sexist at its core for the bystanders know very well it can happen to them.

To illustrate this, a research study was done by L. Carli of Wellesley College. Participants were told two versions of a story about interactions between a man and a woman. In both versions, the couple’s interactions were exactly the same, at the very end, the stories differed; in one ending, the man raped the woman and in the other, he proposed marriage. In both groups, participants described the woman’s actions as inevitably leading up to the (different) results. Once again, women are subjected to patriarchal criticism because it is still a "man's, man's world" regardless of whatever pseudo-intellectual label it has on.

Richardson is not raping the models per se, but the structure of the fashion world has created a very fertile crescent for his form of female exploitation. This is less about rape than about ethical assault to these models. By law, these models are adults but their age do not warrant wisdom. For most of their lives, these... girls - I'm reluctant to use woman for it implies a sense of maturity that few possess even at this age regardless of their profession - are in a warp dimension that encourages them to worship absolute commodity fetishism. Of course the real world worships the same god also; however the classes people take in high school and college give them an opposing viewpoint of the issue to ponder over. That is a "choice" in a way that the individual can choose to agree with the dominant discourse or not since the information is readily available. Yet the same cannot be said for models due to their limited life experiences and schooling. These girls are being herded from casting to casting, and everywhere they go the only "substantial" remarks they hear is about their look. Names such as Mary Wollstonecraft, John Stuart Mill, or Kate Chopin sound more like up and coming designers' name than man and women who have something serious to say about human rights. Richardson's photo shoot then is an ethical assault in the derogating way it portrays people by reducing them to sexual objects with clothes to sell. In this way, the models are being exploited twice: as mindless sex dolls, and as a commodity.

So no, these girls do not have a choice. What people called "free will" is an illusion, a tag line in advertisement campaign. B. F. Skinner see the world as a series of conditioned stimulus, reinforcement, conditioned response, and reward that upheld law and order and... obedience of course, and he does have his point. If everyone disappears, and you are the only person left, then free will is possible. However, such scenario is far from ever happening, thus we must see the issue from the vantage point of the community. And in society, and particularly the fashion industry, the elites are doing their damnedest to maintain the status quo even if it means subjugating fourteen and fifteen years old teenagers in the name of "art" and ...most importantly, profit. Very fucked-up indeed, but not irredeemable, as consumers we can still voice our opinion through the dollar vote. If angry letters to the editors or vindications on the blogosphere cannot deliver, than economic boycott will do. Accountants are quite sensitive to the slightest change in the bottom line after all. Let the consumers dictate the market for once.

Rrose Sélavy said...

^Wow! I don't know who you are but will you marry me? lol

Seriously though, brilliant comment. Do you run a blog or something? If you do, I would love to read it as you are extremely insightful, intelligent, and basically said what I couldn't even begin to say. Bravo, a hundred times over!

Anonymous said...

To the last Anoymous poster thank you and will you marry me, also :)

Anonymous said...

Good post. Two thumbs up.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your response. And for creating this blog. My recent interest in the fashion world had led me to numerous fashion blogs, but most were anemic in contents when compare to yours. It was mainly because of your eloquent critique of Richardson that prompted my lengthy and at times excessively wordy comment.

I have thought about creating a blog but laziness keep getting in the way, in the summer perhaps. In the mean time, I am content with making occasional visits (this is a rather liberal use of the word "occasional" if you don't mind my confession) to your blog.

Anonymous said...

Controversy has always been art, making degradation art. It's very sad but also very amusing. Murder will soon be art, suicide a sacred form. Terry Richardson should try that out. He might be famous instead of infamous.

COCAMIA said...

WOW!!! This post is powerful! Well said, well done!!!

Rrose Sélavy said...

@ anonymous at 12:20: No one is making you visit this blog. So if something is too difficult for you to read, please exercise some courtesy and just pass on by. Otherwise, you need to grow up because (and I hate to break it to you) you won't be able to just "tl;dr" issues that will pop up in your life.

@ anonymous at 6:54: I was so apprehensive about writing this post, but it was worth it for your elegant, insightful comment. So thank you. If you ever do start that blog please let me know!!

Niandra said...

I'm willing to bet that Terry wouldn't dare pull that sort of shit with big name models like Lara and Freja. Still, you think they would have heard something? Indeed, they're young though, my age. It took Rie Rasmussen's comments to expose all of this. Rie is 32, well-established in her modeling career, and not solely relying on modeling as she also directs, writes, acts, paints, and does photography. I just feel so awful for all the really young girls who get destroyed by all of this, the ones who don't truly have agency and are made to shape aesthetic ideals regardless. Rie has nothing to lose, but they have their careers at that point.

I also must say that I am glad that you, Rrose, wrote something about this TR debacle. People are still upset about it, so it must be hitting a nerve. I personally am so sick of seeing editorials where women are portrayed as helpless, weak, exploited, trite S&M shit, strung out, half-dead, end-stage anorexics, addicted to drugs, etc. And then there's Terry. Flat, boring, creepy and guilty of all those other things. I do not understand how he continues to get work. Yet not liking Terry's work is taken by some as an affront to fashion. Or I'm a prude. And so what? Because I'm sick of women being represented this way in fashion?

I'm reminded, more than anything, of the song "Suggestion" by Fugazi:
She does nothing to deserve it
He looks at her cause he wants to observe it
We sit back like they taught us
We keep quiet like they taught us
He just wants he wants to prove it
She does nothing to remove it
We don't want anyone to mind us
So we play the roles that they assigned us
She does nothing to conceal it
He touches her 'cause he wants to feel it
We blame her for being there
But we are all here
We're all... guilty

(I suppose I am a bit hypocritical, exposing myself as treading the ideological line here, and I really don't like it when people ripoff subcultures that were all DIY, cheap as fuck and turn around and sell $200 pre-destroyed t-shirts of it 15-20 yrs later...but that's another thought).

As much as I appreciate a beautifully designed and constructed garment and take pride in how I dress myself (without spending tons), it’s hard to separate fashion in general from this sort of bullshit.

p.s. 6:54, ramble on, please!

Rrose Sélavy said...

@ Niandra: Thank you for your comment! I'm so glad that I'm not the only one with these feelings in regards towards Terry. It's just nice to know I'm not going crazy or something. I can't believe all the stuff I've read in support of him. It's stuff like that that makes me lose faith in fashion and its potential for good. Makes me rethink my decision to waste so much interest on something that can be so harmful.

But I suppose as long as there are people like you and the other posters who have commented here, discussion and debate will always be paramount and perhaps change will eventually occur. We can only hope. Btw, amazing song lyrics!

Tavi said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts so eloquently and powerfully (and thank you for what you said about my post :-) It's so important that people SPEAK OUT about this. You're definitely right about people who believe that we live in a post-everything society. Sexism is not dead, nor is racism, etc...people wonder why we get so worked up about sexism in culture when "it's only one song/movie/creepy photographer!" but we have to eliminate these kinds of things from our culture NOW because then it ends up being what the youth grows up with, and sexism continues to be alive and kicking.

Olivia Isabella. said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and speaking out about this issue. The more people who do it, the more powerful arguement. It is shocking that it takes so much effort to rid one, obviously perverted, man from the fashion industry. People need to just think about the basics of the situation; that a naked man takes naked pictures of girls and touches them, masquerading behind the pretence of being an "artist". Sounds completey shifty right? And if he was not famous then it would not take a genius to work out that this guy is not safe.
UO x

Anonymous said...

To Rose and 11:46 am:

Will you both marry me? Wait, let's not let Terry hear that or he will want to get in on the action.

Anonymous said...

Women like Anna, Carine and DvF are not the law /police ..... the man has yet to be taken to court what do you expect them to do hold him down for a confession....i for one do like the Paris Vogue fore the way its shot that does not mean i like the rest off his more over the top nude pics ...i hope there will be as much to continue about the lack off non white models and girls that are way to skinny and big luxury brands making cheap stuff in china sweat shops in italy etc there is so much more to be done and talked about .

Anonymous said...

the more i read about this "photographer" and see his "work", the more i am appalled not only by him, but by the fashion industry itself. there's nothing wrong with sexuality in photos or nudity, as the author observed. i'm a fan of von wagenheim's among other "shocking" photographers work. but in his and newton's work, there is a beauty and grace that's lacking here. a respect for the subjects of his work and a sense that they are working together to create these pictures. terry richardson is all about power, contempt, control, and degradation.

i've come to the inevitable conclusion that this asshole just takes pictures to have access to naked young girls and famous people who facilitate his access to vulnerable and naked teenagers.

shame on the people who still hire him. shame.

Anonymous said...

The people that facilitate Terry do so because they a probably of the same moral code if not worse. Terry is one of many within that industry that exploits these young girls. It is a great shame that this creative, insightful and somewhat genius medium has such people degrading it. Really sad.

Anonymous said...

A different take on Terry's work and fashion in general. The guy who writes is a fashion and model fan.

A take on Karen Mulder Breakdown

Amber said...


The entire Terry Richardson scandal left me completely dumbfounded. Witnessing so many blindly defend his actions, and his 'art' was absolutely discouraging to me personally as I want to work in the Fashion Industry in the future. I felt confused and doubtful of whether I wanted to enter an industry that would allow what he has done. It wasn't until I read Tavi's post, and watched Arabelle's video that I remembered that I too have a voice, and what I have to say is relevant, and thankfully, not distorted by bullshit. I applaud you for speaking up and speaking truthfully, and fearlessly. I encourage others to do so as well.

Anonymous said...

Hey Rrose. Well done. I see they have linked this article of yours on Big smile for you. of course have been speaking out against Terry and his behaviour for a while now. Thank God.

Anonymous said...

thats really sad that Tavi, a 14 yr old is blogging about a sexual predator/photographer on the internet.

Terry is about T&A. He is delusional and thinks he is pushing boundaries when he is really acting out his own predatory desires. The photos are about a desperate photographer trying to achieve status thru exploitation. Of course he is still working, many people in the fashion industry have the same desire to achieve status regardless of exploitation. Just another scandal.

Micaella said...

Entirely agreed. Why not put Melissa Rodwell in as the photographer's for his shoots. She's amazing and he is total crap. Disgusted with Lady Gaga that she would allow such a pig in her wonderful midst as well.