Terry Richardson, displaced from his old photography studio on the Bowery by a high-end fitness chain, was at his new space, an unadorned floor-through loft down the street. “It’s insane, the internet,” Richardson was saying. It’s totally out of control.” He was sitting on a couch near the windows, wearing the get-up that has made him the most physically recognizable photographer working today: widow’s peak, friendly muttonchops, oversize black plastic glasses, Converse sneakers, jeans, untucked plaid shirt, necklace with a cross, Star of David, and Narcotics Anonymous medallion. Four days earlier, an English model named Emma Appleton had tweeted a screenshot of what appeared to be a Facebook message from Richardson: “if I can fuck you i will book you in ny for a.shoot for Vogue.” The message was clearly an impersonation (Richardson does not have a personal Facebook account, and he hadn’t worked for American Vogue in four years), and another photographer might have ignored the incident.Wood floor, tin ceiling, brick walls interrupted by white swaths of Sheetrock. But Richardson occupies a singular, controversial position in photography.His portraits have an unmistakable style—shot head-on with a bright flash against a white wall—and an illusion of spontaneity.He excels at something increasingly rare in fashion photography: what the designer Tom Ford calls “capturing a very real moment.” Richardson’s own fame is due partly to his habit of including himself in shots of celebrities (his friends like to say he invented the selfie) and partly to his formal consistency: Most people who get photographed alongside Richardson adopt some aspect of his signature look, such as his glasses or thumbs-up gesture.
He works for luxury brands Valentino and YSL, and mass-market brands Target and H&M, at a reported day rate of 0,000.A few days later, in response to a tweeted link to a 2010 article about Richardson, H&M tweeted, “if these accusations are true, it’s totally unacceptable to us.Baron von Luxxury, a Los Angeles DJ, wrote a song called “Terry Richardson” with the lyrics “She’ll have a few more sedatives / I’ll have whatever comes next / And then I’ll burn the negatives.” In the past nine months, criticism of Richardson has moved from the periphery to a more central and dividing place, where one is expected to take a stand for or against him.In October, a British teenager uploaded a petition to titled “Big brands: Stop using alleged sex offender & pornographic Terry Richardson as your photographer.” It has since attracted more than 33,000 signatures.
It’s an unchanging cartoon, a self-cloning that reached its highest expression in a photograph in which Chloë Sevigny wears fake muttonchops, red flannel, and glasses and is kissing the identically attired photographer.
Richardson is also famous for another reason: He has cultivated a reputation of being a professional debauchee, a proud pervert who has, outside his commercial work, produced a series of extremely explicit images—often including himself naked and erect—that many find pornographic and misogynistic, and which can make viewers distinctly uncomfortable.