The Untold Crime
Vogue Nippon August 2010
Ph: Terry Richardson
Styling: George Cortina
But hey, doesn't one of life's greatest lessons teach us that ignoring problems won't make them go away? So despite my extremely conflicted feelings I'm going to address this editorial and why I think it's existence is so problematic and so emblematic of the negative aspects of the fashion industry today. Now before you harp on me for being overly sensitive, prudish, extremist or whatever else you want to call me, you should know a few things about what I believe:
-The work that someone produces (no matter how good) should never be used to justify his harmful actions. I don't believe in compartmentalizing or creating a separation between the two because that can lead to a very slippery slope. Let me put it another way--would you excuse a priest who has sexually molested a boy just because of the work he does in his church? In this case would you ever create that separation? So even if I like how this editorial looks, I feel that to concede to it would essentially be to condone Terry.
-There is already an inherent power imbalance in the photographer/subject relationship made all the more worse by those who think they can sexually coerce others in the name of their "art." Our apologetic society, when faced with these issues of sexual impropriety, tends to blame the victims instead of force the perpetrators to take responsibility for their actions.
-Basic human rights and values should take precedence over all else, pretty editorials and fashion products included. Nothing can justify the degradation and exploitation of another human being. And as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, but it's not worth basic human dignity and decency.
-Just because something is commonly done among a group of people doesn't make it right. Nor does it give us the right to apathetically accept their actions as the status quo. If people throughout history had thrown up their hands in defeat whenever they were faced with rampant injustice, the world would be a much different place. I've heard so many times that Terry isn't the only photographer with a questionable work approach. But you know what? He's the most obvious and prominent offender with plenty of accusations stacking up against him and a body of work that shows it. If nothing can be done about him then the fashion industry is facing bigger problems than declining sales figures and pinched bottom lines.
I'm well aware that I'm not in any position of authority here. I exist outside the fashion industry and this blog exists on the very periphery of the fashion landscape. Most of the time I feel very guilty and hypocritical for consuming as much fashion as I do. I don't even know how many people are actually going to read this whole post. Maybe a handful of you if I'm lucky? My attempts to keep this issue from disappearing seem futile, but I would feel even worse if I didn't even try to say something about how disappointed I am that Terry continues to work for high profile clients despite everything that has transpired. Way to go fashion! Way to have a backbone and stand up in solidarity with the women you profess to love and empower! Oh wait....
To top it all off, it seems like Terry has toned down his aesthetic in order to appease the situation. This editorial (and also the last one he shot for W magazine) is decidedly less provocative than the work he was doing prior to the accusations. Hmmmm....I do believe this is intentional. In the same vein of him taking down certain pictures from his blog immediately after the clamor over his scandal erupted, I can't help but think that Terry is toning down his work to placate naysayers. And sadly, it seems to be working. After all, his work is back in the pages of W Magazine after a long hiatus, and general consensus about this editorial seems to be positive. It's as if everyone has already forgotten that the scandal even happened.
Well I'm not ready to forgive and forget just because Terry took some good pictures. But it's so disheartening to realize that nothing will ever be done, and that he will continue on without suffering any consequences. Instead of facing the issue and taking action, the industry at large (minus bloggers) has ignored allegations against Terry. In fact, it feels like they've rewarded him in a way. His work is showing up again in a mainstream publication that he's been banned from for many years (Stefano Tonchi, if this is the direction you're going to take W magazine in, I wish you would have just stayed at T.) And his fashion friends have been doing damage control by coming out and making statements to the effect that he isn't a bad guy. Now people have stopped talking about the issue as well. If we aren't the ones to make a big deal out of this and if we can't even create a sustained dialogue, then there's no reason for magazines and designers to stop working with Terry. There's no reason for anyone to make him face the consequences of his actions because no one is holding him accountable.
When I'm faced with inevitabilities like this I begin to understand why so many people eschew fashion because to them it seems superficial, petty and harmful. We turn our heads and pretend problems don't exist, just so collections and magazine issues get released on time. Underage models? Sweatshop labor? Sexual abuse? Unhealthy body expectations? All of those things are swept under the rug. At most they're posted about on blogs and treated like a water cooler topic among fans, but nothing is ever really done. These problems are pervasive and so deeply entrenched into the very fabric of what makes fashion, fashion.
And it's pretty evident to me why serious discourse around these social and political issues is nearly non-existent. The majority of fashion followers don't want to infuse this seriousness into something they regard as an indulgence and an escape. Either that, or they're just too afraid to speak up, too jaded to care, or just too enthralled with the glamorous side of things (like I once was) to even see the grit underneath. I can also understand that no one wants to bite the hand that feeds them. If I worked in the industry and my paycheck came from fashion, would I think differently about all of this? Would I stop trying to make this an issue? I would really like to think not and say that nothing could cause me to compromise my beliefs. But I guess you never really know until you're actually put in that situation.
Anyway, I know that this post isn't what most of you want to see or read on a Freja blog. But sometimes there are just more pressing matters at hand than how our favorite model looks in her newest editorial. I hope you understand. And for the sake of fashion's future, I really hope with all my heart that something will be done about Terry eventually. But I'm not holding my breath.
Image Credits: scans by tFS member MAGstyle