New York Magazine rolled out its take on ever-the-controversial photographer Terry Richardson on Sunday evening, which has been met with an array of responses, ranging from strong anti-Terry sentiments to claims of click-baiting and suggestions that Richardson's PR team played a large role in both the the general direction and the contents of the article. Before that, though, Salon released a piece entitled, "Is this the end of Terry Richardson?" This article came on the heels of model Emma Appleton's allegations that Richardson propositioned her in exchange for a Vogue cover. (The Facebook account from which the was message was sent to Appleton received has since been deemed to be an impostor "Terry Richardson" account). My gut reaction was no, this is not the end of Terry Richardson, and my feeling withstands the most recent bout of controversy.
As Salon accurately stated in its article, "Richardson has continued to work seemingly nonstop – doing high-profile, sexually suggestive shoots with big stars in spite of these repeated and frankly gross claims about his behavior toward considerably less experienced and powerful individuals." Furthermore, "The message from the fashion industry for years has been a tacit 'Who cares?'" Sure, Vogue says it has no plans to work with him and H&M cut him off last year, but as indicated in New York Magazine's piece, Richardson has a contract with Harper's Bazaar, and unless they breach it, he is going to keep working. And while I hate to say this (because I do NOT endorse sexual harassment or unprofessional/predatory photographer/model interactions), keeping Richardson on board may technically be a rational business decision for Harper's (assuming it will not be tied to any potential criminal lawsuits stemming from Richardson's behavior, which it probably won't be, as Richardson is not shooting exclusively for Harper's). Let us not forget that fashion is a business.
If you're not familiar with contract law (which is actually rather rare in the U.S. (in comparison to other countries), as the majority of employment here is "at will" and thus, not delineated in contracts), up and deciding that you're not going to follow through on a contract you signed, generally isn't pretty. In other words, breaching a contract has some serious legal ramifications, ones that can be very expensive for the breaching party. And fashion is a business after all, let's not forget that.
If Harper's Bazaar were to breach its contract with Richardson (even though there is certainly no indication that it is going to) absent some good reason for breaching it, Richardson could and likely would sue. About that "good reason" bit … I'm referring to defenses, a claim that would more or less allow Harper's to get out of the contract without enduring too much financial damage. Without getting into the possible ways for that to occur, I will say that there are some common defenses to a breach of contract claim (aka the type of claim Richardson could sue for if Harper's decided that in light of all of this bad publicity, it no longer wanted him to shoot editorials for its magazine). These defenses include: duress (the breaching party was forced to sign the contract against its will), unconscionability (the contract is grossly one-sided in favor of the party with superior bargaining power), fraud (one party material misrepresented the facts underlying the contract), etc. These probably don't apply here, as far as we can tell. Did Richardson materially misrepresent his character? Probably not. Its pretty obvious, as the NY magazine article nicely summarizes, that Richardson's provocative style has been quite consistent for the past few decades. And if he did misrepresent his character, it probably doesn't matter, as he certainly has a well-known reputation in the fashion industry. As a result, Harper's knew who they were signing a contract with. Moreover, there is almost certainly no morality clause in the contract (a provision that restrains certain behavior, such as the use or abuse of alcohol, the use of illegal drugs or narcotics or the participation in illegal sexual activity), because … well, its Terry Richardson.
I'm not certain of the duration of Richardson's latest contract and even if the end date is rapidly approaching, there is no indication that Harper's Bazaar has any plans to let Richardson walk away, instead of renewing, as it has renewed his contracts in the past. Either way, while the contract adds an extra elements to the scenario, I think the argument can be made that if Harper's really wanted Richardson out, it may not be that difficult to sever ties. Richardson isn't exactly a struggling artist, even if an array of brands have dropped him. Italian design house Valentino debuted its Spring/Summer 2014 campaign, which stars and was shot by Richardson, who has been associated with the brand consistently since the May 2013 debut of the house's Fall ad. Per NY mag, "He works for luxury brands Valentino and YSL, and mass-market brands Target and H&M, at a reported day rate of $160,000." Miley Cyrus and Beyonce have also tapped Richardson to shoot their music videos, and he released a book with Lady Gaga. If he really wasn't feeling the love from Harper's, he could walk and pursue other projects.
Moreover, Harper's, which reported turned over record profits for 2013, could likely afford to breach its contract with Richardson. Its parent company, Hearst, is thriving; the corporation reported a total of $10 billion in revenue, in its fourth consecutive period of growth following the economic recession. Thus, while Hearst would certainly suffer a financial penalty (even a significant one given the rate Richardson demands) if Harper's were to breach its contract with Richardson, the magazine is keeping him on board. And its not all that surprising of a move. In fact, it is one that indicates that the media controversy that envelopes Richardson on a regular basis must not be negatively affecting its bottom line enough for the publication to force him out.
At the end of the day, we are not currently living in the age of magazines, and having Richardson on staff provides Harper's with a few noteworthy benefits (as ethically questionable and unsavory as continuing to employ him may be). Primarily, he produces shock value and sexually charged images, which sell. He also has a strong celebrity following (I mean, he has photographed virtually every major contemporary figure in film and music), and celebrities sell magazines. And yet another benefit: Terry Richardson, himself, garners attention that is distinct from and in addition to the attention paid to the photos he takes. His name, his persona, his edgy practices or the instances of sexual harassment (depending on which camp you belong to on the matter) are attention-grabbing. In this way, his work is arguably more in demand, despite the fact that a portion of the industry is very strongly opposed to him and his work. All of these add up to one important thing: Sales. Hearst is a business just like every other business, it wants to grow its revenue and its profits, and it seems that Richardson helps facilitate this.
For this reason, much more so than the outstanding contract between the two parties, I'd be surprised to see Harper's Bazaar let Richardson go anytime soon. Thoughts?