Photographer David Bellemere repeatedly denied accusations that he forcibly kissed a Victoria’s Secret model and propositioned a Lord & Taylor one by sending a bondage image via Instagram after a shoot. But fashion and beauty clients wasted no time dropping him and hundreds of Instagrammers have been quick to condemn him, in response to The Boston Globe’s investigative article that alleged sexual misconduct by him and other well-known photographers.
Bellemere arrived for an interview looking wan in a gray Champion sweatshirt, jeans and black Doc Martens. Folding his 6-foot-3-inch frame onto a rickety chair in a Union Square coffee shop, the photographer spoke emphatically about how his career is tanking in the wake of the Spotlight team-led article in the Globe. At one point covering his tear-stained eyes, and later hauling on an electronic cigarette for reenforcement, Bellemere composed himself enough to spell out guidelines to safeguard models, photographers and the people who employ them. “I had jobs until June and they all have been postponed or suspended. They want to see what will happen. I can lose everything. It’s not like a job today. It’s like every job of my career,” he said.
“There is due process. We have something called justice here. We have been walking on it since the [beginning] of the story of humanity. We are not savages in the Middle Ages. If you have any proof, you bring the proof,” Bellemere said. “Today if a feminist says, ‘He’s guilty,’ everybody is going to believe he’s guilty.”
The French-born photographer disputed the Globe report that he propositioned Myla Dalbesio after working with her on a Lord & Taylor shoot in Paris with a bondage photo via Instagram. Bellemere said he sent an image of his artistic work to her because they had discussed the prospect of working in that sector. The photographer said such artistic work of his is the basis of a Starz TV documentary, called “Nude.”
An $80,000 job with Maybelline that was scheduled for this week is no longer happening. “They don’t bet on people — they are sure about people they are working with. They meet you three times, and the third time you meet the client himself — the president of Maybelline. They decided to work with me because they were sure about the way I work with the girls and the quality of the product that I was going to give them,” he said. “When the [Boston Globe] article showed up, straightaway this client disappeared.”
Bellemere said he never forcibly kissed Madisyn Ritland, as reported by the Globe, and claimed that Victoria’s Secret executives never explained to him or his agent why he was dropped. The article alleged that the brand’s models had complained about “inappropriate touching and kissing.” Bellemere insisted, “I’ve never abused my power or position. I never forced any model to do anything.…I always took the Victoria’s Secret girls to my editorial work to make the brand look more modern. I’ve been so corporate, proactive and working as a coach near the art director.” He said the only dust-up he had was asking the art director to tell makeup artist Danielle Priano to stop chatting with a model in order to speed things along. Bellemere said Priano’s sister, Michelle, is Victoria’s Secret director of photo production.
A Victoria’s Secret spokeswoman said, “We are a company that celebrates and serves women, so this behavior could not be more contrary to who we are. We do not tolerate harassment of any kind. We have not hesitated to investigate allegations of inappropriate behavior and to terminate employment with those accused – including freelance photographers — where appropriate. We are conducting a full third-party investigation of the allegations contained in the Boston Globe report.”
With a minimum of 20 people on set and at times 200 people, Bellemere said, “If you have to move a girl, you ask her, ‘Maybe you should move the foot here.’ You don’t force anything. I never had any trouble with a girl on set or after. We are taking 20, 30 pictures in a day. We are like a machine. The shoot has to stop at 5 or 6 o’clock to avoid any overtime pay. We are really hard about this.”
He also suggested how the power of social media is eclipsing c-suite decisions in the fashion industry. “Today people believe what they read on Instagram. Everybody can say anything about anyone. Fashion magazines and newspapers are losing attention because of that. So what do we do to get the attention back? We are showing what’s going on on Instagram. None of it makes sense. Communication and information doesn’t feel real. You can invent yourself tomorrow. You can say anything.”
In a follow-up phone call, Bellemere suggested that an alleged ongoing investigation into a man who impersonated him on Instagram, soliciting models for a fake Victoria’s Secret casting, may have been a factor. He alleged that police in Lyon, France were looking into Yann Labrosse as a suspect. Police officials in Lyon confirmed an investigation is ongoing. Representatives for Labrosse, who works as a model with Mademoiselle, could not be reached.
It has not been decided if Bellemere will take legal action in response to the Globe article. “I’m destroyed. I’m receiving messages on Instagram all day. It’s awful to wake up every morning to. They want to drop me. [They’re saying,] ‘Burn in hell.’ ‘You’re a piece of s–t.’ ‘Your career is done,’” he said. “It’s too much. I’ve given my best all my life for the industry — for all those girls…”
At 45, the twice-divorced photographer pointed to his middle-age status and said he doesn’t own anything. “They are destroying people. They are destroying lives. My [15-year-old] daughter is crying. It’s too much. I’m going to lose everything. I’m not like Patrick Demarchelier or all of those [older] guys who have a career that is finished.”
Reading from notes on his phone, Bellemere suggested writing “a law statement” that the entire industry would be part of, “because everyone is responsible, from models’ parents, to agencies, stylists, clients, models and photographers.” Making the point how many are young or have just left their families for the first time, he said agencies should board them, and educate them about drug prevention and privacy issues in dealing with social media. Models and photographers are solicited by all kinds of people on Instagram, Bellemere said. “Models have to be aware and send them to their agencies. Anybody can knock on your door and it’s an open door. All of that is to avoid the seduction game that is a trap for everyone.”
While photographers should be “responsible, respectful and professional,” Bellemere suggested a model’s agent or chaperone should be present on location, just as a celebrity has a publicist on set. Also a code of conduct should be agreed upon with each new season. To enforce that after each shoot, models and photographers would each evaluate how well-behaved both parties were by signing off on a report in their own privacy. The objective would be to “prove that all as been done under respect or without misbehavior,” Bellemere said. “This is to avoid lies and problems. We have to sit around the table and write it down together. I want this war to end between feminists and the industry. We are wasting too much talent.”