|Submission, 24X20, by Carol L. Douglas. $1500.|
We have two competing views of women here at the start of the 21st century. Neither is healthy: woman as casual sex object vs. woman in a burqa. I painted Submission, above, at the beginning of the 2003 Iraq War. Sadly it hasn’t gotten any better in the last eleven years.
Terry Richardson is an American fashion and portrait photographer whose clients and models include the glitterati of New York. He has repeatedly been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior. “Is Terry Richardson an Artist or a Predator” tells us that he’s both. However, he’s also a product of our culture.
Richardson’s assistant, Alex Bolotow, has been photographed fellating her boss many times, starting in her very early twenties. “There was something exciting about being involved in something that feels just really freeing,” she said, “like, ‘Oh, I’m totally expressing myself, and this is great.’ I remember being like, ‘I’m just glad to be alive in a time when this is happening.’”
Artists and their models can be friends; sometimes they’re even lovers. But every artist-model relationship also involves an implied balance-of-power calculation. In the case of Richardson and his models, that varied depending on who was in front of the camera.
“Miley Cyrus wasn’t asked to grab a hard dick. H&M models weren’t asked to grab a hard dick. But these other girls, the 19-year-old girl from Whereverville, should be the one to say, ‘I don’t think this is a good idea’? These girls are told by agents how important he is, and then they show up and it’s a bait and switch. This guy and his friends are literally like, ‘Grab my boner.’ Is this girl going to say no? And go back to the village? That’s not a real choice. It’s a false choice,” said an agent (who chose to remain nameless).
|Terry Richardson likes to photograph his models in the nude, by which I mean he is in the nude. Here he is with Kate Moss in a shot from Terryworld. Sadly, that’s as innocuous a photo as I could find.|
Richardson is an amazingly messed-up guy. He was the child of a broken marriage. His father was schizophrenic and drug-addled; his mother was brain-damaged. He’s taken his trauma and driven it brilliantly through a culture surfeited with sex. It’s what the public clamors for: used copies of his books sell in the thousands of dollars.
Is repugnance at his working methods a sign that our attitude has changed toward casual or even coercive sex? Not at all. Terry Richardson is just the sacrificial lamb for a culture that is still wallowing. Anathematize him, and he’ll be replaced.
Yes, the burqa is abusive, but so too is our current western approach to sex and relationships.
I have three openings left for my 2014 workshop in Belfast, ME. Information is available here.