Famous, Successful (dirty old) Man, Terry Richardson
One of my favorite blogs recently posted about the outing of Terry Richardson as a total perv. As I read various media it seemed clear that reporters were on two sides, either they thought Richardson was a god and the models were not credible, or they sided with the models and felt outraged that Richardson is supported in his well known, predatory behavior. I was disturbed most profoundly by many of the responses from fellow photographers. At this point, I realized I needed to respond myself, see below
Should we as photographers– whose work shapes the way that the world is seen– focus exclusively on individual prerogative and financial success? I’ve read through many of the responses and put them into these positions:
TR is a successful, famous photographer and thus he is above scrutiny.
Models can’t be exploited because they are responsible for agreeing to the shoots and knowing who they are working with, based on the unstated belief that models, whether early or late in their career, have equal agency to famous photographers in negotiating shoots.
TR is an addict and his disease is out of control
Fashion is crazy. Sex is fun. Critics are just jealous of TR’s success.
TR is a douche and models should be protected
But this is not only about Terry Richardson and Rie Rasmusse. There are structural paradigms that we all exist in and participate in as image makers. We don’t exist in a vacuum, simply creating our personal vision in some a-historical, completely individual way. And moreover, acting against the powerful dominant structure has consequences.
The ‘opportunity’ for young, beautiful women to play the role as sexual, available, and accessible is nothing unique to photography, it has a very long history, we need only look to the tradition of Western art. European oil painting for example has a reoccurring theme of naked women. The way the women are posed and represented in these century old paintings has much in common with the work of Richardson, albeit his is more overtly pornographic.
The same market rewards the Renaissance paintings of Tintoretto, Rubens and Bronzino as rewards Richardson. It is not the fact that the women are naked, it’s how they are naked. Always in submission to some viewer, who is a assumed to be male, they’re body turned towards the viewer to maximize his view. The woman’s face may be passive, or enthusiastic but it is always receptive.
As image makers we should be critical of the content of the images themselves, not simply how much money is being made or if someone lied or told the truth in their complaint. These images, are part of a broad visual narrative that is being created on so many fronts which in turn shapes the way men and women see themselves and relate to each other.
Where is the critique of the images themselves? More than the degradation of an individual model, how do these images potentially degrade and demean young women who are then treated as sexual objects when they walk down the street, or perhaps more profoundly who see themselves as sexual objects as a direct result of what is reinforced in the marketing, advertising, music videos, and editorial images they see everywhere in our popular culture?
As to the honesty of the models about working with Terry, I’m surprised that anyone would not be aware of the lecherous side of the fashion industry or moreover that sexual harassment would be pervasive in an industry that is both so male dominated and so unregulated on an interpersonal level. The fashion industry is rife with abuse of power, and photography in general, in ironic contrast to corporate America, has few re-courses for dealing with sexual harassment or racism and homophobia, when it occurs. The power differences are so huge, and the ramifications for speaking out are very real. It’s not career building to challenge sexism on a photoshoot, particularly with someone more senior than yourself. Photographers like TR, in my experience are untouchable to the vulnerable models and assistants they take advantage of. No, with Rie Rasmusse, he simply miscalculated on a supermodel. He though he could get away with it, and this time he was wrong. Typically, people like him are not lewd with equals, but rather those they know they can manipulate. There is nothing shocking about this.
So my question to us, as photographers, is first,
Do we aknowledge that images have power to shape perception and affect the world?
And if so,
What images will we create?
I recognize that we are all limited by financial, personal, social constraints, but if we are only concerned about our individual fame and financial gain, why should anyone care to look at our pictures? Of what value is our ‘vision’?
A few months ago I asked one of my writer friends what book I should read next. She is brilliant so when she recommended The Book of Night Women by Marlon James, a book about a female led slave rebellion set in Jamaica, I was sold. I decided to buy the book on tape a listen to it on a drive to Maine. What I experienced forever changed the way I think about Slavery, human psychology, Jamaica and Colonialism. I was an African American Studies Minor in College, one class away from a double major in Government and African American studies, so this was not my first exposure to the subject. However, I have never come across a work so real, powerful, complex, brilliant in it’s understanding of human beings, unflinching, unwilling to simplify— as this. I encourage everyone to read it with the caveat that it is not easy material. No, it is more like Saphire’s Push but only significantly more violent and epic in it’s scope.
'While the gruesome history of slavery in the Americas is a story we may dare to think we already know, every page of “The Book of Night Women” reminds us that we don’t know nearly enough. James’s narrative, related in a hard-edged but lilting dialect, takes us back to the cruel world of a Jamaican sugar plantation at the turn of the 19th century.
Significant parts of “The Book of Night Women” are, understandably, very difficult to read. Rape, torture, murder and other dehumanizing acts propel the narrative, never failing to shock in both their depravity and their humanness. It is this complex intertwining that makes James’s book so disturbing and so eloquent. Writing in the spirit of Toni Morrison and Alice Walker but in a style all his own, James has conducted an experiment in how to write the unspeakable — even the unthinkable. And the results of that experiment are an undeniable success.
“The Book of Night Women” is a bright dream of hell, an overheated nightmare painted with a brush dipped in blood.
Its protagonist, a slave girl named Lilith, wouldn’t think much of that characterization, though. For blood is so ubiquitous in plantation life that it has no color to those who see it every day. As the narrator says, blood has no color when it “spurt from the skin, or spring from the axe, the cat-o’-nine, the whip, the cane, and the blackjack and every day in slave life is a day that colour red. It soon come’
Anti-Gay Republican Senator Roy Ashburn busted for DUI while leaving Faces Gay Bar with another man.
Anti-Gay Republican Senator Roy Ashburn busted for DUI while leaving Faces Gay Bar with another man.
'100% rating from the anti-gay Capitol Resource Family Impact group for Voting Against Every LGBT Rights Bill During his Tenure’. Read on
Ashburn has been a loud opponent of LGBT rights and has organized and hosted anti-gay marriage rallies for the Traditional Values Coalition. He also has an 100% rating from the anti-gay Capitol Resource Family Impact group for Voting Against Every LGBT Rights Bill During his Tenure’. Read more on Huffington Post, CBS and blogger Joe. My. God.
As one commenter wrote,
'The republican party is the projection party. Whatever they say they're against.. that's what they are.
Thoughts on Content Farms and the Exploitation of Photographers: Seed.com
I had a very interesting conversation today with two brilliant marketers in my life. We were talking about Seed.com, AOL’s new venture that utilizes crowd sourcing for content paid for by advertisers through SEO crawling keywords within the content. The way it works? Writers and photographers are asked to submit stories and photographs on a broad range of topics which are then curated by AOL Editors. I have heard that the rates are about $10-$50 and exposure. The rates are not enough to pay a cellphone bill but enough to entice amatuers, students and desperate underemployed journalists. I find the content farm approach to be dangerous to quality journalism and bankrupting for professional photography. There is an excellent piece on this by Chris Dunn, Mad as hell: Journalists and photographers must stop selling themselves short and by Alan D. Mutter, Stop the exploitation of journalists. Here are some nuggets.
'It’s time for journalists to stop participating in their own exploitation by working for a pittance – or, worse, giving away their valuable services for free. Apart from the sheer righteousness of being paid an honest dollar for an honest day’s work, journalists need to stand together – and stand tall – to reassert the stature of their profession. Last time I checked, the prevailing way to express value in our modern economy is via the transfer of m-o-n-e-y. I am urging everyone to join in my new year’s resolution to just say no to people who invite you to work for nothing or something awfully close to it.
I hear from people almost every day who want to commission an article or reprint a post in exchange for the ephemeral compensation known as “exposure.” Amazingly – or, should I say, outrageously? – most of the requests come from people who themselves are being paid for their work at either a for-profit or non-profit organization.’
'I’m tired of seeing student photographers/journalists getting ripped off and taken advantage of. I’m tired of knowing that companies — big and small — and individual clients think they can offer us little to no pay or, even better, “exposure” and a credit line in exchange for our hard work. I’m tired of seeing fellow (photo)journalists willingly give up their work for little to no pay and/or not realize they should charge for their work.’
/// 1. The 99%, or, everything that comes after the idea /// 2. The endurance of marathon work schedules, financial hardship, doubts, sleepless nights, and naysayers to transform an idea from vision into reality.