While no industry is immune to sexual harassment, the modeling/photography world has always been rife with stories about how certain photographers have taken advantage of young women and men or lewd behavior on the set or the runway.
Over the last several days, Cameron Russell, a well-known model, has been gathering stories from models on her Instagram feed about sexual harassment in the fashion world. So far, she’s collected more than 75 anonymous posts, which talk about abuse from photographers, lewd behavior, sexual advances and other sexual harassment. Elsewhere, #MeToo is being used all over the Internet in an attempt to show how prevalent sexual harassment and sexual abuse actually are.
Advertising executives surveyed said they’ve always heard stories about certain photographers, but they insisted they have never witnessed sexual harassment on their sets. They said their sets were never the sexual free-for-alls that are often stereotyped in fashion shoots.
Ad honcho David Lipman said sexual harassment never occurred on his set. As a father and husband, he said he’s very aware of the environment he’s creating on a set. “My sets have always been full of life, fun, exaggeration, crazy, lunacy and creativity, but never adultery or harassment or anything like that that I was aware of.
“Even in those crazy days, I don’t remember a girl getting abused. There were crazy moments of laughter and kookiness, but nothing I can remember on a set that I know of that ever happened. I know of stories, sure, I’ve heard the stories. I’m in the business so we hear the stories,” he said.
Asked if there were any photographers who are known for more sexually charged environments, he said, “There are the rumors, but I can’t speak to the rumors.”
Lipman said Russell was an activist even before the allegations of sexual harassment involving Harvey Weinstein. “Now that the Harvey thing came out, everybody is feeling this moment. But I think it’s deeper than that,” Lipman said. He said women marched on Washington, D.C., and now there’s the men’s playing field and the women’s playing field. “Men don’t have the right to play on a woman’s field, unless there’s a joint relationship that happens between a woman and a man.
“I don’t think it’s fashion, film and creative arts. This has been going on for ages. I think that the playing field is being leveled right now and rightfully so. I don’t think we’ll ever go back. I hope not. Of course s–t will happen which we don’t like,” he continued.
He recalled going to St. Barths with Peter Lindbergh and shooting Amber Valletta for the first time for David Yurman. “We were so joyous and celebratory, and I don’t think anything happened and we were worried about one thing — do great pictures,” Lipman said. “We did crazy antics to get crazy pictures, but never abused anybody. I’ve worked with so many photographers. I worked with Terry Richardson. Terry never abused anybody when I worked with him. And we laughed, but he never abused anybody,” he insisted.
“I wish I could give you a scandalous story, but it didn’t exist,” he said.
Lipman admitted he has worked with difficult stylists with big egos. “I’ve had abusive stylists, but sexually abusive? Maybe emotionally abusive. They take it out on the girls and guys and they took it out on me. I always embraced that banter back and forth. The best ones really believed in what they were doing,” he said.
Many years ago he worked with a photographer who died of AIDS, who abused people on the set. “I got in a fist fight with him. He was abusing someone who worked at the hotel. We were rolling on the floor fighting,” said Lipman. He said he had an experience many years ago when there were drugs on the shoot, and he stopped the shoot immediately.
Lipman said that when a guy takes a picture of a woman, or a guy takes a picture of a guy or a gay guy, “There’s a law of attraction that does exist, but there’s a fine line that you have to be aware of.
“I’m all for falling in love and I’m all for romance. The idea of taking pictures is a very intimate thing, even where there’s 50 people around. There’s a connection between photographer and subject that’s always there, but there’s got to be respect. When a photographer falls in love with a subject, I don’t mean romantically but falls in love with his or her spirit, that’s magic,” he said. “When a photographer or a movie producer or a president of the U.S. touches or abuses somebody, there’s no room for that. And as a society we have to stop it,” said Lipman.
Charles DeCaro, co-creative director of Laspata DeCaro, a New York-based ad agency, whose founding partners do the photography and styling, said about sexual harassment: “It doesn’t exist on my set. We’ve made this very sheltered existence. That dynamic is not prevalent on our sets whatsoever.”
He also has heard stories about harassment that has taken place on fashion shoots or on the runway. “It doesn’t have to be sexual harassment, it’s just harassment, period. It’s the fact that someone has to fit into this stereotypical string-bean, swizzle-stick vision of a stylist is just so bad,” said DeCaro, adding that it’s gotten worse. “We get samples from designers, and who can fit into this?” he said. “Fortunately, we work with girls who are healthy, they eat and they take care of themselves and are very health-conscious. By and large, it’s a little frightening when you hear what happens at the runway shows and what happens on other sets.”
DeCaro believes that what happened with Weinstein is not new by any means. “It’s very prevalent in every industry. In the modeling industry, people are finally saying ‘enough already.’ It’s in the modeling industry it’s in the tech industry, it’s in the pumpkin picking industry. It’s not just related to Hollywood and New York. It’s everywhere,” he said.
“It’s a little mind-boggling how people have gotten away with it for so long, and bravo to people who are finally speaking up about it.”
Neil Kraft, owner and creative director at KraftWorks, said, “I think sexual harassment exists in every business that remotely touches pretty women and men. It’s out there. I’ve only witnessed really bad things once in 25 years. The difference between my kind of thing and a runway model is we travel with the models. We go to Hawaii and travel all over the world.”
He said that during one of his campaign shoots, he walked in on Terry Richardson having sex with a girl in a bathroom. “I don’t know what the relationship was,” Kraft said. “It was during the day and he came back to work a half-hour later. It’s fairly well-known that the models tend to sleep with the assistants. That’s more youthful attraction. Herb Ritts was known to use his boyfriends as models. They were guys he was attracted to,” he alleged.
Asked whether sexual harassment on sets has gotten worse, he said, “I was under the opinion that all these things had gotten better. There was less and less of it out there.”
Questioned about the sexual atmosphere on his sets, Sam Shahid, owner of Shahid & Co., the New York-based ad agency that has done work for clients ranging from Abercrombie & Fitch to Wonderbra, said, “I’ve never been aware of it. It’s ‘you look beautiful, you look fabulous,’ while they’re taking pictures, but I’ve never seen sexual harassment. All these years, I’ve never been aware of any of that. I’ve worked with all of them, and it’s always been really great and fun. I’ve never seen that.”
He said when he did work for Abercrombie & Fitch, “whenever they did the nudes, they [the models] would sign a release and accepted it.”
“We would never do anything if they didn’t do that. It was always fun, the kids had a good time. I never felt it [sexual harassment] at all; if I did, I would never approve of it,” said Shahid.
Asked if he’s ever heard any backlash from models who don’t want to work with certain photographers, he said, “No, if they hear it’s Bruce Weber or Herb Ritts, they’d say, ‘That’s great! We’d love it if it’s Bruce or Herb.'”