People Explains: Inside Celebrity Photographer Terry Richardson's Controversial Work and Sexual Assault Allegations

The photographer's sexually explicit work is being called into question once again

Brandon Maxwell A/W 2016 New York Fashion Week - Front Row
Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty

Richardson’s own past has now been associated with the ongoing sexual assault scandal facing disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. Earlier this week The Telegraph reported that Condé Nast International has informed its staff in a company email to stop working with Richardson and that any work by the photographer that hasn’t been published yet should be “killed or substituted with other material.”

Following the ban, a representative for Richardson released a statement saying that he was “disappointed” and that “all of the subjects of his work participated consensually.” But multiple fashion brands have vowed to drop the photographer as well. Valentino and Bulgari all took a stance to no longer work with him.

Most recently, Richardson shot Valentino’s resort 2018 advertising campaign (released last week) but the brand has no plans to hire him again. (It also removed his name from Instagram posts of the campaign.) The brand released a statement to PeopleStyle stating: “Valentino’s last campaign with photographer Terry Richardson was shot in July 2017 – there are no plans on a future campaign and of course take these allegations against Terry Richardson seriously.”

Bulgari issued this statement to PeopleStyle: “Bulgari has a long history of working with different photographers on various initiatives. The campaign that was done with Terry Richardson was a one-off, and there are no plans of working with him again.”

Diesel told The Daily Beast that they “don’t have plans to work with him,” though Diesel told PeopleStyle they are not releasing an official statement or comment on the matter.

Richardson’s Rise

The 52-year-old photographer got his big break during a street style assignment for Vibe magazine in 1994. Shortly after, he booked Katharine Hamnett’s spring 1995 campaign (models’ pubic hair was visible in the feature) and has continued to work with big fashion names. Richardson shot campaigns for designers including Marc Jacobs, Tom Ford and Yves Saint Laurent and shot editorials in GQ, Vogue and Vanity Fair.

His quite explicit snapshot-style photographs were seen by the fashion industry as a welcomed contrast to the glossy, well-lit, intricately produced photos often seen in magazines. He shook up fashion campaigns with sexually-charged images (a 2001/2002 ad for Sisley showed a model squeezing milk from a cow’s utter into her mouth), but pushed things even further with projects like his 2004 “Terry World” exhibition where photos depicted models performing oral sex on the photographer.

In a 2004 interview with The Guardian, Richardson said he disliked his work being compared to porn saying, “Everyone has fun on my shoots.” He elaborated: “My rule is that I’d never ask anyone to do anything I wouldn’t do myself. That’s how it’s got to go this far. At first, I’d just want to do a few nude shots, so I’d take off my clothes, too. I’d even give the camera to the model and get her to shoot me for a while. It’s about creating a vibe, getting people relaxed and excited. When that happens — you can do anything.”

In the same interview, art director Stephen Male who worked with Richardson on a Levi’s campaign commented on his fame within the fashion industry. “I remember when the contact sheets came in for the Levi’s shoot we did, every single one would feature a photograph of the model with her top off. I remember thinking, ‘How did he do that?’ I mean, it wasn’t really what was required for the shoot. Then it became Terry’s thing. It seems almost quaint and old-fashioned now that we’d find it questionable. But that’s fashion for you. Once somebody pushes the envelope, it doesn’t take long for taboo images to become acceptable. Plus, fashion needs people like Terry; it needs to feel it has an edge all the time.”

Richardson agreed: “Hell, somebody’s gotta come up once in a while and say bollocks to all that mainstream, glamour stuff.”

In addition to his fashion connections, he’s been behind many celebrity pop culture moments. He directed Miley Cyrus’ video for “Wrecking Ball,” (where she appeared naked). He shot Kate Upton’s infamous “Cat Daddy” video, which the model claimed was released without her knowledge.

And he recently worked on Kylie Jenner’s 2017 calendar and has shot Beyoncé, Kate Moss, Kim Kardashian, Lindsay Lohan and Lady Gaga just to name a few.

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Allegations Against the Photographer

In 2014, Anna del Gaizo came forward accusing Richardson of sexual assault, saying she felt pressured to have sex at a shoot in his home. “Suddenly, I felt a d–k pressing into the side of my face,” she wrote in an article on Jezebel. “He pressed it to my lips. He clearly wanted a blow job and wanted it documented on camera.”

In an open letter for the Huffington Post Richardson wrote, “When these allegations resurfaced over the past few months, they seemed especially vicious and distorted, moving outside the realm of critical dialogue and becoming nothing more than an emotionally-charged witch hunt.”

Also in 2014, model Emma Appleton accused Richardson of asking her for sex in exchange a chance to be in Vogue. A representative for Richardson denied the claims at the time stating: “Terry Richardson did not reach out to this woman. It was sent from a Facebook page that is fake. Terry has no knowledge of who sent this.”

Another model, Jamie Peck, wrote an article for The Gloss in 2010 where she described her second photo shoot with Richardson. She said after expressing her desire to keep her underwear on because she was wearing a tampon, she said Richardson asked her to take it out “for him to play with” and added that he also asked her to make tea out of it.

Danish model Rie Rasmussen, accused Richardson of exploiting models in an interview with Page Six in 2010. “He takes girls who are young, manipulates them to take their clothes off and takes pictures of them they will be ashamed of,” she said. “They are too afraid to say no because their agency booked them on the job and are too young to stand up for themselves. I told him what you do is completely degrading to women. I hope you know you only [bleep] girls because you have a camera, lots of fashion contacts and get your pictures in Vogue.”

She added: “Instead of arguing with me, Terry ran out of the bar. Then the next day, he called my agency and complained I called him names in front of clients in Paris. It was the most cowardly thing I have ever seen.”

In 2010, supermodel Coco Rocha announced that she would never work with the photographer again. “I’ve shot with him, but I didn’t feel comfortable and I won’t do it again,” she said. The one shoot they worked on together was for French Vogue where she was seen spitting out milk in an undignified position.

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What’s Next?

While more and more publications and brands are blacklisting the photographer, Vogue U.S. has not worked with him for eight years, Richardson continues to defend his career and professionalism.

After news of the Condé Nast blacklist Tuesday, a representative for Richardson released the following statement to PEOPLE. “Terry is disappointed to hear about this email especially because he has previously addressed these old stories. He is an artist who has been known for his sexually explicit work so many of his professional interactions with subjects were sexual and explicit in nature but all of the subjects of his work participated consensually.”

Condé Nast International said they would not be releasing a statement on the issue.

Richardson married Alexandra ‘Skinny’ Bolotow in July at Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in Taos, New Mexico. The two have worked professionally for a decade (she was his former assistant) before they started dating and welcomed twin boys, Rex and Roman, in March 2016.

In 2014, she came to the defense of her now husbands, saying that images he shot of her (engaging in oral sex together) should not be used against him. “I think part of being a strong woman is owning the decisions that you’ve made in your life,” Bolotow told New York Magazine. “Trying to put the onus onto someone else for your own decisions is really cowardly and kind of dishonest.”

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