Some of you may have read about the accusations against renowned photographer Terry Richardson at the weekend. Terry Richardson is the photographer provocateur of the fashion industry. His work pushes acceptable boundaries with brazen suggestive posing and highly sexualised imagery. His work became highly sought after in the 90’s, and he was featured everywhere from Pop magazine to Miu Miu campaigns. His hyper-sexualised styling coined the terms ‘porn chic’ and ‘faux-porn’ and his repertoire of models included the young, the androgenous and sometimes the troubled (he featured one shoot around a drug addicted model, including one close up of her black eye after an attack from a boyfriend).

In recent weeks, former models have come out and claimed that he was fully exploiting young and impressionable girls, asking/expecting them to pose naked and engage in sex acts with him on set. Women’s issues online magazine Jezebel had a lengthy interview with one of the models who described her experience working with the photographer. Apparently everyone on set expected the shoot to end in an orgy; everyone was expected to get naked and everyone referred to Richard as ‘Uncle Terry’.  According to some of the models who spoke out, there was a culture of fear – you would be blacklisted as a model if you refused to play the game.
Richardson is claiming that everything was consensual and that everyone was happy to work with him. And with photographic testimonials from Kate Moss to Barack Obama, Vogue and Tom Ford in between, the questions is why everyone so willingly bought into the Richardson oeuvre.

The whole expose makes me feel very uncomfortable. I have enjoyed much of Richardson’s work; especially the celebrity portraits and some of the high fashion shots. When I felt uncomfortable about some of the sexually explicit shots, I presumed it was just prudishness or a hangover from the Great Irish Catholic repression. But this is a dangerous game. Natasha Walters discusses the problems around the new female liberation in her recently published book Living Dolls. Women feel conflicted around porn and the sex industries but the overarching climate is one of acceptability so as not to be seen as ‘reserved’ or ‘sexually inhibited’. The modern age is a complicated one,  boundaries are redrawn and constantly shifting, opinions are subverted, stances are crumbled. We live in a culture where taste is highly subjective and anything goes. But when someone stands up to say they are not comfortable, that they do not want to be complicit in this – it’s really quite important.

It will be interesting to see how this unfolds in an industry where sex sells, but not too much sex. The fashion industry uses women’s bodies to sell clothes and fantasy; the porn industry uses women’s bodies to sell sex and fantasy. There was always a distinct split: in that the fashion industry regards itself as a much more legitimate, acceptable, high-end industry. But perhaps the allegations against Richardson proves just how closely related fashion and porn really are.