The blurred boundaries of fashion: is nudity necessary?

Nudity and fashion often overlap. Supermodel Heidi Klum was recently quoted saying that she doesn’t have a problem with posing nude. However, the question is never raised: why should there be nudity in fashion photography, when the idea is to show off designs?

Terry Richardson, world renowned photographer, has recently experienced something that should have been a severely damaging hit to his career. Known for his explicit and, shall we say, suggestive photographs, Richardson has been accused of sexually exploiting a number of models in anonymous allegations on the internet, whose claims are yet to be substantiated.

It all began at the recent Paris Fashion Week where model Rie Rasmussen accused the photographer of purposely choosing to work with young girls and manipulating them. “Everything he does is completely degrading for women,” she told the New York Post.

This sparked off a domino effect, and other models then came clean about how they feel towards Richardson’s controversial technique.

Jamie Peck, one of Richardson’s models, told The Gloss: “He asked me to call him Uncle Terry, and then he decided to strip nude. Then his assistant took photos of me taking photos of him.”

Richardson demonstrates that it's who you know that really matters. Photo: Anneka James

In 2004, Richardson explained to The Observer that he often gives his camera to models during photo shoots in order for him to undress.

However in stark contrast to what seems to be the seedy behaviour of a ‘backstreet’ photographer, the background of Richardson’s website is a photo of him shaking the hand of President Barrack Obama.

Even if none of the allegations made against the photographer are true, it is easy to see through his photography that he does push the boundaries, like many other photographers in the industry.

Nakedness is often a theme in high end fashion magazines, such as last month’s issue of Love magazine which featured explicitly naked images of models including Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell. Similarly, the very first task in the latest series of television show America’s Next Top Model shows the girls take part in an almost naked photo shoot.

Since the allegations, Richardson has been working for Vogue and seems to have gone unscathed by the accusations. His supporters include Marc Jacobs and US Vogue editor, Anna Wintour.

He has in the past worked with  H&M and Lacoste and this could suggest why he has gotten away with this behaviour, as he is a very in demand photographer.

Richardson defends his behaviour by saying that naked antics on set help achieve a ‘creative vibe’.

However, there has been some negative reactions to the how lightly the matter with him has been brushed over. On women’s lifestyle website, Jezebel, many models have come clean about the photographer’s behaviour towards them.

Jenna Sauers, the website’s fashion editor, said: “I think for people in the fashion industry, the way Terry Richardson works has been an open secret for a long time. A lot of people tolerate it in public because of his extraordinary power within the industry. In private I think many are very disturbed by his history of behaviour with many of the models he works with.”

One fashion insider says agencies “know full well Richardson’s predatory behaviour,” but that he “is tolerated because the industry folk are just sheep”.

Richardson was branded ”king of the creeps” by the media. And whilst his website homepage openly asks for those willing to pose nude, the question is whether his work can really be classified as ‘fashion’.

Anneka James, The Linc’s pictures editor, has her own opinions on the matter. “Fashion photography is all about the clothes. However, fashion photographers have to add a creative side to the shoot to make the photograph stand out,” she said.

On one hand, she sees nudity as an art form that can be ‘beautiful’. However, “naked photography for glamour shots are too revealing, and are no way a form of art or beauty. Nudity can work within the world of fashion – as long as it isn’t too revealing and doesn’t look distasteful,” she said.

— Thumbnail photo courtesy of American Apparel.

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