Tag Archives: Women

Pushing the Envelope?

Terry Richardson.

To some he is a visionary. A cultural behemoth.

His work, with its hallmark 1970s pornographic aesthetic, is as iconic as his signature handlebar moustache. It receives patronage from the most prestigious magazines – carrying, as it does, the dual stamp of editorial approval from Anna Wintour and Carine Roitfeld – and is feted by commercial clients.

To others he is a pornographer-in-chief.

With allegations that his modus operandi exploits the subjects of his art, it seems striking that – whilst Richardson’s trademark portraits are set against a white wall and bleached virginal with a strong-flash – a picture of the man himself is nuanced and dark.

I have long known his portfolio, and its flirtation with controversy, but had not felt the need to comment. Until now. Until this. (NSFW!)

The most preliminary examination of a glossy magazine will reveal that nudity and fashion form an intoxicating marriage.  Provocative images tumble from almost every page;  however, whilst some have pushed the boundaries of visual style or elicited my blushes, none have offended.  The naked female form holds such beauty, and – as Helmut Newton documented – this can often be captured by the lens with great taste and originality.

In furthering the genre of nude photography, some might argue that Richardson is merely the creative progeny of Newton. It might also be argued that my approval of one, and rain of opprobrium for the other, is contradictory. I would shrug my (fully clothed) shoulders and reply that an important distinction needs to be made.

Newton was an observer, Richardson is an actor.

There is something about his physical proximity to the subject in The Journal that transgresses the parameters of professional distance. The exchange, though consensual, seems violating insomuch as it accentuates the imbalance of power between the young woman and her celebrity photographer. The act of intimately touching her with his hands – rather than simply with the artistic gaze of a lens – makes a statement of his superior status and manipulates the model into being little more than a vessel for his own sexuality.

Newton empowered his subjects, Richardson makes them passive.

With a bruised face bereft of makeup and disarrayed hair, the model’s depiction gives every semblance of her being underage. Though contrived, this amplification of youth brings her vulnerability – and thus, exploitation – into even sharper focus. It is this quality of fragility that is not evidenced in the portraiture of Newton and, even though he worked with the same medium of raw, unprotected souls, his imagery gave every appearance of emboldening women with their own latent eroticism.

As one of the most prolific photographers of his age, it seems clear that Richardson’s entrenchment amongst the fashion elite is absolute. But should that be the case? Should the readers of fashion magazines find the pages adorned with images of genitalia so gratuitous it would make a gynecologist coy? Should editors continue to disseminate his work and, in doing so, legitimise pornography with the lofty titles of ‘fashion’ and ‘art’?

I will let you decide but let’s end on this…

Whilst the stench of misogyny and manipulation lingers on these particular prints, it is my hope that other strong voices of protest will be heard because, let’s face it, they put out a better message than the one Richardson seems intent on making.

{Okay, I’m coming off my soapbox now. The floor is yours.}

|Terry Richardson|

11 Comments

Filed under Style Souk