Terry Richardson has denied claims of sexual harassment and allegations that he forced several young models into performing sexual acts on him during photo shoots. In a lengthy New York magazine cover story, Richardson calls the internet – where many of the allegations initially circulated – "totally out of control" and describes it as a "little cancer".
"When people call me a pedophile and fucking bullshit, that’s a horrible thing to say about someone," Richardson says. In March, the photographer penned an open letter that similarly blamed the internet for a enabling a "cycle of Internet gossip and false accusations".
In the New York feature, Richardson attempts to shed some light on his now notorious photo shoots.
"It was never just me and a girl ever," he explains. "It was always assistants, or other people around, or girls brought friends over to hang out. It was very daytime, no drugs, no alcohol. It was a happening, there was energy, it was fun, it was exciting, making these strong images, and that’s what it was. People collaborating and exploring sexuality and taking pictures."
Richardson claims that he has never had coerced any models into anything sexual, and that he always respected their boundaries. "When I was taking those pictures. I was very, like, ‘Cool, sounds great, let’s do it, great, okay, sure, great, cool, if not, no problem, never do anything you don’t want to do, of course, I totally respect that."
The 48-year-old has been dogged by allegations of sexual abuse since 2010, when model Jamie Peck said he cooerced her into giving him a handjob during a shoot. Other models, including Rie Rasmussen and Jenna Sauers, have also criticised the photographer. Most recently, a model called Charlotte Waters told Vocativ in March that Richardson "jacked off into her eye" during a shoot.
Richardson has shot numerous A-listers for magazine covers and high-profile campaigns for brands including Valentino, Sisley and H&M. While some companies have publicly distanced themselves from the photographer (H&M said it had "no further plans" to work with him), some of his friends in the industry are still sticking by for him.
"You’d find a line down the block to talk about how generous and warm and gracious he is," Jared Leto says. Danish supermodel Freja Beha Erichsen – whom Richardson last photographed for the March issue of Vogue Japan – says that Richardson "has never taken me anywhere I’ve felt uncomfortable with. I’d even go so far as to say he’s one of the most sensitive people in the business, who’s quite honest about how he feels".
Despit the storm of controversy around Richardson, he says that he has no regrets about the images that landed him in trouble. "I don't have any regrets about the work at all," he says, "but obviously I don’t ever want someone to feel like that. It was never my intention. But also, people do things, and then they have regrets, and that’s also nothing to do with me. Then don’t do pictures like that again... I’m okay with myself about everything, and that to me is the most important thing."
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