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Richardson Magazine

After a seven year hiatus, the provocative, controversial erotic journal Richardson returns. Dazed Digital delves between the sheets with editor-in-chief, Andrew Richardson

“Sorry I was being polite because you had put me in a public and difficult position. I actually think the magazine brings nothing to the potential art of pornography and do not want to be quoted in any way. Sincerely, Richard Avedon.”

That was a letter written by the legendary photographer to Andrew Richardson that is proudly reprinted in the opening pages of the third issue of the magazine published in 2002. With its confrontational, potent mix of sex, politics, art and a hefty dose of punk rock attitude, Richardson was never going to be to everyone’s taste. But even if Avedon passed on it, plenty of the highest calibre of photographers ranging from Glen Luchford, Mario Sorrenti and of course, Terry Richardson have shot for its pages, elevating it far above the realms of the mere sex magazine. That the magazine more closely resembles a beautifully put-together coffee table book is probably due to British-born Richardson’s background as a highly-sought after fashion stylist. But inside its pages, stories on group sex, sadomasochism, internet hook-ups, a guide to sexual fetishes represented by handkerchiefs and contributions from the likes of Bruce LaBruce, Harmony Korine, Richard Prince, Jack Pierson, Larry Clark and anarchist, Stewart Home serve to discomfit and entice in equal measure.

After a seven-year hiatus, the magazine returns with an unflinchingly honest look at the female gaze in A4. Crossover porn star, Sasha Grey gives a full and frank interview whilst posing seductively, whereas elsewhere Amy Kellner dishes on Riot Grrl, and transgressive artists like Annie Sprinkle, Valie Export and Carolee Schneeman are profiled in detail. At a time when the conservative nature of advertisers means that sexual provocation in magazines has become a rare commodity, the return of Richardson provides a much needed jolt and frisson of excitement.

Dazed Digital: Where did the idea for Richardson magazine come about and when did you first think of it?
Andrew Richardson: I started off as a fashion assistant and I worked with Steven Meisel a lot. I ended up working on Madonna’s Sex book and I was going to a lot of places to get stuff for that book where I probably wouldn’t have gone otherwise. Working as an assistant, I had come from that school of sexual provocation and was always interested in sex. A guy from Tokyo called Charlie Brown who published a magazine called Dune asked me if I wanted to do a sex magazine called Richardson. There were some issues of censorship and editorial differences and so once we did the first one I wanted to do something different for the 2nd one and we went our separate ways.

DD: Early issues of Playboy were marked by a more cerebral approach to porn – was that any influence?
Andrew Richardson: For sure. I grew up in a post Playboy culture where Russ Meyer was part of punk. I liked the text side of Playboy and the quality of the contributors like Norman Mailer but I wasn’t interested in the imagery.

DD: So what were models or inspiration for Richardson?
Andrew Richardson: There was a magazine out of Italy in the eighties called Frigidaire that was run by Stefano Tamburini. It was a real transgressive magazine – it had sex and pictures of mafia slayings. That made a big impression on me even though I couldn’t read Italian. I had also seen Richard Prince’s ‘Spiritual America’ at the Whitney in 91. It was like I was always looking at this stuff and collecting this stuff in my head so when it came to the time to do Richardson, it was just a question of getting it commissioned really.

And there were magazines I didn’t know about at the time but I now know about like Eros and Avant Garde that were done in America in the 60s and the visual contributions of Richardson is more linked to that. The guy who published them, Ginsburg ended up fighting a lot of legal battles, First Amendment stuff and went to jail for obscenity. He did a lot of the work opening the door for what Richardson would be. I’m too much of a pussy, I’m not really interested in going jail.

DD: What was your agenda when you started the magazine? Have you stayed true to your original intentions after these years?
Andrew Richardson: They’ve always been the best I can do with the means that I had. My mother looked at the magazine and said that my attitude of antagonism was reflected in the magazine. As an editor I’m always looking for something a bit unsettling, repulsive and compelling at the same time.

DD: Why has it been so long between issues?
Andrew Richardson: It’s always about money isn’t it? It’s a lot of effort to make a magazine. Even though the magazine was well received, it was always a struggle to put it out. When I did the last one, I ran out of money. So I had to get back to styling and I made a big push and put all my energies into it and took it more seriously and for the last seven years I’ve been working quite successfully as a stylist. When the recession hit, things definitely slowed down and I had more time on my hands. Once I got over the fear, I realized what I really want to do was to get back to doing the magazine. I had been thinking about the magazine all the time while I was styling. I learnt a lot working for brands, that’s been really useful now to make the magazine more successful and a bit more viable so we can do it more consistently. To start a community through the internet, have the website and do t-shirts and have these little co-branding things. I know people talk about the recession but it’s actually a good time to do something like this.

DD: It’s interesting that hardcore gay images sit next to heterosexual ones in the magazine. Do you have a more fluid take on sexuality?
Andrew Richardson: In doing the magazine, I’m definitely less prudish. If you read the Kinsey report it gives an indication that the sexual fantasy world we live in versus the choices we make in real life and the magazine is a reflection of the full range of the human perspective. I think it’s much more palatable now whereas with the first issue it was much more outrageous. But it’s not a big deal anymore. People are much more open to bisexual practice.

DD: You started the magazine in 1998. In 2010 how have you seen the landscape for pornography change?
Andrew Richardson: In 1998 I listened to Howard Stern and it was through him that I was getting connected to pornography. That’s how I found out about Jenna Jameson. I had an interest in porn like any young man did but I never had a big collection of porn. So Howard introduced me to these porn stars and I wanted to do something like Vanity Fair does with its profiles – who are these women? Where do they come from? What do their mom and dad think? In 1998 those were questions that weren’t easily answered but now they are. Look at someone like Sasha Grey who has effortlessly crossed over into the mainstream not because she really wanted to but because it was asked of her. That pretty much tells the story – that from celebrity sex tapes to the internet, porn is so prevalent. Everybody’s seen a three way gang bang now but in 1998 you would have to go into a porn shop and buy a video and really participate but now it’s everywhere. That’s definitely changed and pornography is about to change because it has been demonetized by the internet. So our position about being interested in porn but in an objective way is still a good one. You turn on HBO or Showtime, you see a lot of stuff that I would have liked to have in the magazine if I had the budget. The emancipation of the world of pornography through cable television is where I was coming from in 1998.

DD: How does the new issue of Richardson reflect the increased importance of the internet on the porn landscape?
Andrew Richardson: The magazine reflects wherever I am at with it. I am someone who at times in my life been overwhelmed by the pornography on the internet. I’ve been through a whole feast-or-famine with it. There’s your base self and there’s your higher self and I think the magazine tries to connect to both of those parts. This issue tries to deal with how women deal with pornography and sexuality. It was what I was interested in a year ago. I got the book ‘Doris’ by Gunter Rambow which I thought was an interesting way at looking at vaginas. MOMA is showing at the moment a lot of stuff that’s in the magazine and there’s no coincidence that there is this zeitgeist going on about pro-sex feminism, with Marina Abramovic and Valie Export who are dealing with sexuality in a sober way. The magazine always tried to have a sober take on sexuality and porn.

DD: Mario’s Sorrenti’s story of the woman and the dog in A2 definitely make for uncomfortable viewing. Do you ever feel like you’ve gone too far?
Andrew Richardson: In the first issue, Jenna Jameson talked about having a rape fantasy. I didn’t put it in the magazine because I felt like it was irresponsible but that was just me being quite prudish – some women do have these fantasies. In the current issue, Malcolm McLaren gave us the Guitar Boy image which was the Sex Pistols poster to promote their first gig in Paris before Jamie Reid got involved doing their graphics. We did actually censor the image and we did actually have to retouch the boy’s penis out of the image. Which I really didn’t want to do. But we got legal counsel that said we didn’t have a leg to stand on. And again I didn’t want to go to prison – it didn’t seem worth it. For me, that’s upsetting because it’s a sign I’m getting older.

DD: When is an image art and not porn? Does it have to do with the intention of the person making it?
Andrew Richardson: There’s some porn that can transcend convention and there’s some bad art that’s not even nearly as good as porn. I’d say it depends on who’s looking at it.

DD: Let’s talk about some of the cover stars like Jenna Jameson and Sasha Grey – who in addition to being beautiful are very smart, independent women. How do you go about selecting them?
Andrew Richardson: When we did the first issue, Jenna was the biggest thing in porn at the time so she was in control of her career. She communicated intensity in her performance rather than extreme situation she’d been in.  Sasha Grey is much more your American Apparel generation, a girl who is not commercialized. She came into pornography because she wanted to and she thought it was a safe place to play with sexuality. There’s this genuine quality to her and she’s the embodiment of the emancipation of women. She’s somebody who will have a big impact on pornography. You look at Pamela Anderson releasing a sex tape and Sasha Grey is the porn endgame of that. It’s a lot easier for a woman to use her sexuality in a very direct way to generate interest in her career.

DD: What was the reaction when you shot the story ‘Dogging’ with Steven Meisel? Was it an attempt to bring some of the aesthetic of Richardson to a high fashion magazine?
Andrew Richardson: That story I thought was a masterpiece – it talked about iphones, the internet, free sex; but it was not a graphic story visually. But psychologically it was disturbing and ended up getting killed from Italian Vogue and ended up running in V in a slightly different version of what we originally shot. I had found the book, The Park which was about Japanese infra-red photography in the park which had been going on since the Seventies. I thought how Steven interpreted infra-red was very beautiful. I thought it was the best thing I had done in my life. Needless to say it was like the beginning and the end in a way.

DD: When you started Richardson, high fashion was using a lot of explicit imagery to promote itself, notably with the YSL Opium ad and Tom Ford for Gucci’s advertising. How has that changed today?
Andrew Richardson: Yeah around the same time, Terry Richardson did a Katherine Hamnett ad campaign that was very provocative, so there was this language that’s been in fashion since the Sixties. The more indie magazines like The Face used sexuality as a reaction to the commodification and commercialisation of fashion editorials. That’s why people like Terry did very well because magazines were very open to having graphic open sexual representation in the magazines and that was the way how they were compelling. When magazines became more beholden to their advertisers and the list of credits that have to be included, there’s less room for creative play on part of the editors. You end up looking at magazines that are less visually dynamic because there is this restraint. Magazines will never die but they have been severely diminished because there are other avenues now like the internet.

DD: I really love that you published the letter from Richard Avedon in A3 – how did that come about?
Andrew Richardson: I had worked with Dick before and his book ‘Nothing Personal’ had moved me to tears. So when I worked with him I asked him to sign that book and I also gave him my magazine. At the time he was very enthusiastic and effusive about how great that a magazine like this existed. But Dick Avedon was a famous bitch. I had wanted to do another issue and wanted a quote from his studio. I got that letter back and it was hurtful at the time. I’m glad I kept it and got to use it. He died before the issue came out but I think he would actually have appreciated it. He would have admired me for putting it in rather than minding being exposed for being a two-faced bitch.

DD: What can we expect from the next issue of Richardson?
Andrew Richardson: It’s all about men – but not in a gay way! Well maybe a little bit gay. It’s about men’s relationship with woman, their relationship with men. There actually isn’t that much porn in this issue but the next issue will deal with pornography in a more direct way.