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?”
The article comes 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.” It further noted, “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.
Chances are, Harper’s Bazaar will not breach its contract with Richardson. If you are 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 are not going to follow through on a contract you signed has some serious legal ramifications, ones that can be very expensive for the breaching party.
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.
As for that “good reason” bit … I am referring to defenses, a claim that would more or less allow Harper’s Bazaar to get out of the contract without enduring too much financial damage. Without getting into all of 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 Bazaar 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. It is 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 does not matter, as he certainly has a well-known reputation in the fashion industry.
As a result, Harper’s Bazaar 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.
At the end of the day, we are not currently living in the age of magazines, and having Richardson on staff provides Harper’s Bazaar with a few noteworthy benefits (as ethically questionable and unsavory as continuing to employ him may be). Primarily, he produces work that embodies shock value, which sell. He also has a strong celebrity following, 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.
UPDATED (7/7/2017): The last project that Richardson worked on for Harper’s Bazaar – per Models.com – was the cover of the December 2015 issue. He has since been working regularly with various international Vogues, Document Journal, Interview,