|June 17, 2012 | PHOTOGRAPHY||Posted by Tahlia Anderson||
‘I'm this powerful guy with his boner, dominating all these girls’.
Who am I?
Celebrity-loving, controversial, straight-shooting Richardson. Fashion snapper, regular in fashion glossies and left-of-centre mags Richardson. Forty-something, taboo, tattooed, spectacle-wearing Richardson. Sexually lewd, X-rated profiteer, porno as high fashion Richardson.
Yes, according to some.
From beginnings at Hollywood High School, photographing just any ol’ thing he saw came Terry Richardson. After a five-year pit stop as bass guitarist for punk rock band, The Invisible Government, Richardson drifted back to his original calling — the big, bad world of snapping just any ol’ thing – most commonly sexually graphic everything – for money.
His CV resembles a plastic surgeon’s waiting room table — French Vogue, British Vogue, i-D, GQ, Harper's Bazaar, and Purple. He’s captured every celebrity, model, and ad campaign worth knowing and directs a music video or two when the mood strikes. Kate Moss is a close friend; Jared Leto features prominently on Richardson’s blog, Terry Richardson’s Diary, gazing daintily up from a plate of afternoon tea or playing dress ups; and he’s even snapped himself proudly arm-pumping President Obama. Marc Jacobs describes Richardson as ‘not ill-spirited’, Lady Gaga co-authored a recent coffee table extravaganza with him, Lady Gaga x Terry Richardson, and fashion editors fete him as their ingénue du jour.
So, what’s so great about his photographs?
Well that’s a bit byzantine really.
Sexually graphic imagery permeates his work. Some have described him as the ‘prodigy of Helmut Lang’ — the late avant-garde fashion photographer. The foreword to his book, Terryworld, describes him as the man ‘who took 1970s porn aesthetic and made it fashion chic’. His photographs explore what’s often seen as a perverse eroticism — lesbian trysts, models licking cow udders and gobbling bananas (as was depicted in his 2010 shoot for the exclusive Pirelli calendar), and self-portraits of Richardson mid sexual act with countless women. Not exactly the kind of stuff you show off to mum, but then again, Terry Richardson’s mother isn’t your average crocheting granny.
In fact, a series of shots entitled, Mom, tell a different story entirely. She’s a bare-chested, gap-toothed, spindly armed lady dressed liked a Hell’s Angel having a rollicking good time in her rocker. But that is the beauty of Richardson’s work. His photographs turn expectations on their heads. They manage to compel the viewer to not only look, but to think, and to react. They dismiss the preconceptions of stereotypes and that they should be pushed to the borders of society and by doing so makes them iconic.
Remember The Rolling Stone cover of Blake Lively and Leighton Meister suggestively licking an ice cream?
Yep that was him.
As was a bare-arsed Tom Ford spanking a group of male models mid shower with a wet towel.
As the foreword to Terryworld explains, ‘Pop stars, supermodels, transsexuals, hillbillies, friends, pets and celebrities all do for his lens what they'll do for no other.’
But is there such a thing as going too far?
He’s been criticized for the casualness at which he’ll strip down to nothing but his camera strap whilst shooting. Women’s groups, including feminist-slant US website, Jezebel, have a particular penchant for exposing Richardson as ‘unprofessional’ and ‘pervy’. Take the multiple accounts of young models he’s reportedly harassed. One, Felice Fawn, describes an online chat with a man claiming to be Richardson in which he admits to being ‘a pervert like the rest of fashion’ and reneges on an offer to shoot her after she makes it clear to him that she won’t ‘suck dick for fame’. Another, Jamie Peck, describes a shoot with Richardson when she was 19-years-old where he stripped down and coerced her into ending up with ‘Uncle Terry’ ‘all over [her] left hand’.
But Richardson claims it’s all about ‘having a bit of fun’. ‘I don't like to exploit anybody. That's not my bag. Everyone has fun on my shoots.’
His personal life might be rather controversial — the stereotypical sleazy photographer with an insatiable appetite for hot, young models but his photos take stereotypes and rescue them from being trivial. Whether his personal life and professional one should be mutually exclusive or whether one should inform the other and our judgements as viewers of him is an uncertain moral dilemma; but it does seem evident that Richardson has a knack for taking the media’s stereotype of him and fuelling it in a bemusing way.
His odd habit of getting everyone he photographs to pose as him – the ultimate form of narcissism perhaps? Or a way of parodying himself? Who could say? But no one seems to object. And why would they? It’s Terry Richardson.
He’s a talking point. That’s indisputable and regardless of whether you sing his praises or want to string him up, his photographs are as controversial and undeniably intriguing as he is.
Words: Tahlia Anderson