Now that Mario Testino and Bruce Weber are suspended from Condé Nast following allegations of sexual exploitation, who the heck is left to take photos for Vogue?
Vanessa by email
Zac the intern using his iPhone? I jest, obviously (all Vogue interns are called things like Lady Charlotte Aristo de Money and Kate Moss’s Daughter). But it’s certainly true that the biggest photographers in the industry seem to be falling like skittles, what with Terry Richardson suspended last year, and now Weber and Testino, felled by allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse of male models and assistants. All deny the allegations, but Condé Nast, to its credit, suspended the photographers as soon as the story was published in the New York Times last weekend, suggesting reaction times have improved of late. After all, Condé Nast International didn’t drop Richardson until – hmmmm, let me check my diary – October last year, even though some of us were writing about the multiple allegations against him five years ago. I guess suspending accused molesters just wasn’t in fashion back then.
But this does leave fashion magazines in something of a quandary given that, unlike Playboy, no one has ever bought Vogue for the articles. It also prompts an existential question: if a fashion magazine doesn’t include a grinning photo of a celebrity on the cover taken by Testino, does it actually exist? Alas, I have misplaced the world’s tiniest violin again.
Weber, arguably best known for taking homoerotica into the mainstream with his 90s campaigns for Abercrombie and Fitch, faced more allegations on Wednesday when the website Business of Fashion published multiple accounts of male models saying he abused them, with some going all the way back to 1982.
“Any time you’d bring Bruce up it was always like, ‘Oh yeah, he’s a little weird, he’s a little creepy, he does these weird breathing exercises,” Jason Boyce, a male model who has filed suit against Weber, told the website. “No one would ever fully fledged say: ‘He assaulted me.’ It was always like a shrug it off, ‘Oh well, let’s not make this a big deal,’ as men do, ‘Let’s not make this a big deal’ … The culture was: you did what you were told. That was how they sold it. If you do what I tell you, you’ll make it. If you just do what I tell you. you’ll make it. My agent told me that all the time.” (When the new allegations were put to Weber’s representative, he repeated his earlier denial of the “outrageous claims”.)
Now, the fashion industry is a small world, and a gossipy one. And while we can all act like no one in positions of power on fashion magazines heard anything suspicious about Weber in the 36 years since these allegations began, I’m just not sure I have the energy. Perhaps I need to go on a January detox? Would green juice help?
A tangential issue here is why so many photographers are being accused of sexual harassment and why it has taken so long for anyone to act on the allegations. For reasons I’ve never understood, photographers are treated like gods in the fashion world. I get that fashion is a visual medium, but a lot of people are involved in making those visuals: the editors, the stylists, the makeup artists and so on. But go on a fashion shoot, and they all flutter around the photographer as if he were the wicked witch of the west and they mere flying monkeys. And as the allegations against Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose and so on suggest, when you treat some men like gods, they tend to think they can do what they want, and they can, because no one stops them.
So boo hoo to magazine editors who will – at least for the time being – have to think of more than three photographers to feature in their publications for the first time in about 30 years, and hello brave future, in which all magazine shoots are done by Annie Leibovitz. Who knows, maybe magazines might consider commissioning a second female photographer instead of always relying on these men? Ha ha, don’t worry, just kidding. That’s just crazy talk!