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Last night, New York Magazine's much-anticipated Terry Richardson interview, which Jezebel touting as a "Terry-Richardson-is-innocent" cover story, was published. As the magazine promised, Benjamin Wallace's in-depth interview focuses on the allegations of sexual harassment surrounding Richardson's work, but allows readers to draw their own conclusions about whether Richardson is simply a boundary-pushing artist or a sex offender.
Wallace doesn't shy away from digging up history on all of Richardson's past work, not just the allegations that have made headlines recently. "His shoots could get wild, and he made no secret of that," Wallace reported. "In 2002, he told Vice about his forthcoming calendar for street-style brand Supreme, the goal being 'to put together a calendar you could jerk off to.' The shoot, he revealed, 'got a bit out of hand by the end. The woman producing the shoot got freaked out and had to leave. I think every person there fucked someone. It was intense.'"
Wallace also uncovered details from questionable shoots where other high-profile celebrities were involved. "Steve-O, a member of the Jackass cast, recalls in his memoir an afternoon when Johnny Knoxville called and said, 'Hey, I'm at Terry Richardson's studio. He wants to do a bukkake shoot, and we're just a few cocks short. You game?' Richardson photographed it all," wrote Wallace. "He wanted Steve-O '"pulling a girl's hair while I shot a load on her face and someone else pointed a gun at her head.'"
Richardson sees the extreme sexual acts associated with his work largely as fun parts of the job. "It was never just me and a girl ever," Richardson told Wallace. "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."
One of Richardson's former agents told Wallace, "You knew that people were having a good time when he was taking their pictures." [...] "I remember thinking that only Terry could get away with [photographing a nudist colony], because he didn't do it with any distaste," she says. "They let him take pictures with a sense of joy, a bit of exhibitionism that a lot of people subconsciously like."
However, when tales of Richardson's lewd behavior on set started spreading online, the backlash was overwhelming. "It's insane, the internet," Richardson told Wallace. "Totally craziness. Like a little cancer. People can just do whatever they want, say whatever they want, be totally anonymous. It's totally out of control."
Some of Terry Richardson's past work. Image via The Cut.
Magazines, brands, and celebrities, under pressure from the public accusations, started dropping Richardson left and right. H&M tweeted that they would no longer work with him if the allegations were proven true; Neil Patrick Harris and Lena Dunham, among others, made it clear that they did not support the photographer. Wallace notes that Richardson worked at a reported day rate of $160,000 for photography for several different fashion brands.
He also delves into Richardson's childhood. While there was not a blatant connection made between his early years and the type of work he is currently known for, the lines practically draw themselves. Richardson's father, Bob Richardson, was also an edgy fashion photographer known for his explicit work. His parents split when Terry was still a toddler—his father left the family for 17-year-old model Anjelica Huston and his mother, Norma Kessler, was linked to Jimi Hendrix and Kris Kristofferson, among others, before re-marrying British musician, Jackie Lomax, at Woodstock.
His father tried to commit suicide four times throughout his life, and descended into homelessness after his three-year relationship with Huston deteriorated. Terry had his stomach pumped twice before the age of 15 for overdosing on pills. He first smoked pot at age nine and started using heroin at age 18. The heroin usage picked up considerably in the '90's; Wallace recounted an episode in which, "after breaking up with a girlfriend three days before Christmas, Richardson put on a suit and tie, consumed $100 worth of heroin, swallowed a handful of Valium, and finished a bottle of vodka. He was found by his friends comatose in his apartment."
However, Richardson wanted to make it clear in the interview that he doesn't blame his parents. "I have nothing but so much love for my parents," he told Wallace. "They're artists, and they showed me films and took me to museums and taught me about art and things that I'm eternally grateful for."
In order to recover from his heavy drug usage and other "issues," Richardson played up the sexual nature of his work, often photographing himself in explicit scenarios. "Doing that nude work and taking his own clothes off is how he got over his own shyness," Terryworld editor Dian Hanson told Wallace. "And he's got a big dick. And once the world notices that, it's kind of encouraging to continue taking your clothes off." Terryworld, one of many published compilations of Richardson's work, was one of Taschen's "better-selling titles" according to Hanson.
A spread from Terryworld. Image via The Cut
Another book by Richardson, titled Kibosh, is labeled the most extreme collections of Richardson's photography. The limited-edition run of 2,000 copies is, as Wallace puts it, "a black, clothbound monument to Richardson's penis" and Richardson himself has called it "my life's work" and "the summary of my career."
As his fame grew, Wallace noted that Richardson didn't seem to mind the labels that the mainstream media was giving him. "Richardson seemed to relish having become what the Village Voice called the 'notorious sleaze fashion photographer,' wrote Wallace. He'd tell models to call him 'Uncle Terry.' In interviews, he'd say things like 'I was a shy kid, and now I'm this powerful guy with his boner, dominating all these girls.'"
Not all the models involved in Richardson's work felt uncomfortable with his methods. Wallace interviewed one of the models featured in Kibosh, Alex Bolotow, about her experience working with Richardson. "There was something exciting about being involved in something that feels just really freeing," she told Wallace, "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.' "
When asked about one of the photos in which Bolotow is fellating Richardson with the word "SLUT" lipsticked onto her forehead, the model had no harsh words. "I love that picture. I'm always like, 'I look so hot in that picture.'" Bolotow told Wallace. "The whole setup was even my idea; that was the full comedy of it. I think we had a friend coming over, and I was like, 'You know what would be so funny? If they walked in the door, and I was sucking your dick, and I'd just written slut on my forehead.'"
Terry Richardson with Alex Bolotow. Image via Getty.
She went on to tell Wallace that she disagreed with the models who were coming forward with accusations against Richardson. "I think part of being a strong woman is owning the decisions that you've made in your life," Bolotow told me. "Trying to put the onus onto someone else for your own decisions is really cowardly and kind of dishonest."
But Wallace also spoke to an anonymous photography agent who reads the situations very differently. "Kate Moss wasn't asked to grab a hard dick," the agent told Wallace. "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."