Nothing is too vulgar for the magazine world’s Marquis de Sade, Terry Richardson, whose full-frontal photographs of supple body parts, often in orgiastic orchestration, can really grab ya. His uncompromising style has left a trail of sticky magazine pages from here to down there and inspired a generation of photographers to keep it real. Taken with an old Instamatic, Richardson’s body of work has become one of fashion’s most instantly recognizable, and sought after; his sizzling images have appeared in the pages of i-D, French Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, as well as campaigns for Gucci, Sisley and Armani Exchange.
The product of an unconventional childhood—divided between New York and Los Angeles, where his father, the eccentric 60s fashion photographer Bob Richardson, lives—Richardson continues to occupy a space in between, blending a New York fashion sense with L.A. street cred. Richardson sat down with LEE CARTER to reveal his soft spots for cinema, cars and naked skateboarding.
Lee Carter: Is Terry Richardson a New Yorker or a So. Cal. kind of guy?
Terry Richardson: I think it’s not where you’re from, it’s where you are, and right now I’m in New York. I feel like a New Yorker.
LC: Do you have another place in New York, or do you call this studio home?
TR: This is it—home, everything. I like how you refer to it as the studio. The French call it le studio. A lot’s gone on this couch, let me tell you.
LC: Uh, should I get up?
TR: No. Just kidding. Sort of.
LC: Do you still skateboard?
TR: The last time I went skateboarding I was hit by a cab. I got a bruised hip and my face was cut up. I realized I shouldn’t be skating around the streets of New York City. Safety first. Now I have an indoor skateboard.
LC: You skate in here?
TR: Yeah, on my little skateboard, the best $6 I ever spent in a thrift store. We have naked skateboarding contests. That’ll be the concept for a future ad campaign, naked skateboarding.
LC: Naked skateboarding would be one of your tamer concepts. Has there been a time when you felt you’d gone too far? Too explicit?
TR: No, but there are a lot of pictures that have never run.
LC: I was thinking on the way over here that you would be ideal as a celebrity photographer for Playboy. Or something raunchier like Penthouse.
TR: Well, I’m working on some top secret stuff out in LA.
LC: But you can tell me, of course.
TR: Let’s just say I get a lot of offers. But I like putting sexual images in mainstream magazines, not porn magazines. With porn mags, you’ll see penetration and people fucking and fucking, but it all looks the same after a while. Fashion can look the same, too. I like to be subversive, to push images as far as I can and still get them run. It’s a challenge to see what I can slip in.
LC: Pun intended?
TR: I like to explore sexuality and people instead of just showing cum shots, fist fucking and whatever to shock people.
LC: Does that make you an artist?
LC: I saw an art show of yours at Alleged gallery a while back. And the soundtrack was the sound of really vitriolic phone messages, but no one knew who it was. I found out later they were between you and your father.
TR: Actually, it was just my father. He bombarded me one afternoon.
LC: What provoked it?
TR: Who knows? It goes deep. Everyone needs to vent sometimes.
LC: Is he still taking photos?
TR: Don’t know. I haven’t talked to him in about a year. He’s still kicking. He’s a strong fucker.
LC: I’m waiting for your quote about how he still gets a hard-on every morning. I’ve read that everywhere.
TR: Do I say that a lot? He says it all the time to me.
LC: The first time I read it, he was 70 and still getting a hard-on, the second time he was 71, then he was 74. He’ll be 100 and still getting boners. That libido must run in the family.
TR: Yep, it’s in the genes.
LC: Pun intended again? Maybe you can do what Ted William’s son is trying to do and cryogenically freeze your dad’s body. There’s something in his DNA that needs to be preserved.
TR: Yes and no. [laughs] He’s one-of-a-kind. He can’t be duplicated.
LC: Not even in you?
TR: A bit. That’s what I’m working on in therapy, not to repeat the same patterns.
LC: Do you want to have kids?
TR: Yes. Kids are amazing, I think the best conversations I’ve had in the last six months have been with 3-year-olds. They’re so direct and honest. They don’t know about too much stuff yet.
LC: Think you’ll be a good dad?
TR: I think so. But I’m still just an eligible bachelor right now. It’s kind of nice. I can do whatever I want. I like the freedom and the time to myself.
LC: What’s a typically date like with Terry Richardson?
TR: [yells out to assistants] Hey, what’s a typical date like with Terry Richardson, as I refer to myself in the third person?
TR: Nothing wrong with fantasy.
LC: Do girls throw themselves at you?
TR: Sometime, but the sleazy photographer thing is cliché.
LC: Can I see the famous instamatic? You have two, right?
TR: Oh, boy. [gets cameras] They’re old, they don’t make them anymore.
LC: Have you ever used a digital camera?
TR: No. [Editor's note: Terry later used a digital camera to take his self-portrait seen on the first page, the first time he'd taken a digital photo.] I like the idea of having negatives and making prints, but I’m not against digital. We just learned how to scan, actually. It’s very exciting, we can send people pictures. We had the scanner for 2 years, but never did anything. We finally had somebody come over last week to show us how to use it. We needed to know so we can start building my website, www.terryrichardson.com, which should be up and running later this summer.
LC: You’ll be the master of your own domain name. What else are you working on?
TR: A book for Taschen. I’ve done three books before, but this one is more of a retrospective art thing. I guess it’s a coffeetable book. That’s such a cheap term for a book, so vulgar. Whoever invented that should be shot. It sounds like there should be a little holder for a coffee mug and an ashtray. So I’m doing that, editorials, ad campaigns and just taking tons of picture. I’m also taking off across the country this summer in my car, a suped up black ’87 Buick. I love cars. They’re beautiful, like art objects.
LC: Sexual, too.
TR: Exactly. My car is called Mandingo, like the old pulp novel about a Southern plantation that would castrate the male slaves, but they’d also have a breeder, the stud, that the white women would all want to fuck, too. It was made into a film in the 70s with Ken Norton, who played Mandingo, James Mason, Perry King and Susan George. It’s excellent, like an exploitation of Gone With the Wind.
LC: Sounds like you’re a movie buff.
TR: Yeah, I’m in the midst of writing a screenplay, too. I have to submit it in December. I’m still putting ideas on paper. They want a European art house thing, with lots of sex.
LC: You’re just the man for the job. What’s the first film you saw that really impressed you?
TR: Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Five Easy Pieces, Carnal Knowledge, Out of the Blue, Over the Edge. And early Nicholson. My dad took me to see all that great 70s American cinema, like Godfather. And I like all those Jerry Shatzberg films with their bleak, unhappy endings that started with Midnight Cowboy. They’re anti-heroes because they’re criminals, and they die in the end.
LC: Which was a new thing at the time, not wrapping things up neatly at the end.
TR: Oh, totally. Have you read Easy Riders, Raging Bull? It’s about all those guys making those realistic films of the 70s.
LC: Which is, in a sense, exactly what you’re doing.
TR: Yeah. Keeping it real, that’s what the kids say.
LC: You’re one of few photographers who can marry art and commerce. You can bring a lot of sexuality to a brand like Sisley and it seems right.
TR: My best pictures are improvisational. It’s all about casting, especially with Sisley. If the cast is wrong, the whole thing is fucked. If you get people who know what’s going on, who are into it, then you just let them go, let them get into their characters.
LC: How much do you have to prod them?
TR: A little, but the casting is where I do the big grill session to see who’s comfortable. A lot of people are exhibitionists once you get them going. I’ve had people fuck on set, and suck, and fuck some more. And guys fucking, girls fucking, guys and girls, penetration. Sometimes I’ll cast a couple if I want them to do it, but strangers have done it, too. That’s why casting is so important. I can’t make magic with just anyone! But I’m not going to connect with everybody. I’ve walked off sets a couple of times. I said I was going out for coffee, then I’d leave.
LC: Are magazines very controlling? Or do they let you do what you want since you’re Terry Richardson?
TR: There’s more freedom with magazines than advertising. But even European mags are worried about advertisers now. You can’t work with a glossy and bring in all new girls. They want the big names. It makes it harder for new people to break in. Like I’ve always said, it’s not who you know, it’s who you blow. I don’t have a hole in my jeans for nothing.
LC: How long have you been shooting the Sisley campaigns?
TR: About five years.
LC: What’s the inspiration behind the fall campaign?
TR: It was the first time we went into the studio. We just wanted to do a shiny black thing. Next time we’re going back on location, for atmosphere. I think we’re going to shoot the next one in LA again.
LC: They’re the most sexually-charged ads I think I’ve ever seen.
TR: Yeah, we tried to put a picture of a girl with little pompoms over her tits on a Sisley poster in Soho. This one [points at the catalog]. They said no because a little of her areola was showing.
LC: Or, as I like to say, hairy-ola.
TR: [laughs] I like that word. They said it was too sexy and it would be too close to a church and a school. It’s all so silly and conservative.
LC: I didn’t realize until recently that i-D runs an exclusive Sisley ad of you with each new campaign.
TR: We give them my self-portrait each season. It’s not even in the catalog, just in i-D. I always look forward to it. Humor is good. I love to make people laugh from a photograph. I think that’s the best compliment.
LC: Sex and comedy mixed together. You’re sort of the Woody Allen of photography.
TR: Annie Hall and Manhattan are my two favorite films ever. To me, photographs are more about people than clothes. I’m not one of those photographers who says, “Ooh, that dress is just making me crazy.”
LC: Think Woody ever went to rehab?
LC: I have to ask about rehab.
TR: Oh my god, where do you get the goods?
LC: I don’t think it’s embarrassing. It’s common knowledge.
LC: Sort of. Better to air it. Everyone’s doing rehab these days anyway.
TR: Oh, I know, it’s chic. I know so many people doing it.
LC: Silver Hill?
TR: No, somewhere in Pasadena. It was my first time. It really changed my life, made me really look at myself. It brings it all right down to simple things. It’s nice to put your life on pause. Life is a beautiful thing. Before rehab I wanted to feel good all the time. “All things in moderation,” as my mother always says. But a little excess can be good every once in a while.
this interview was originally published on hintmag.com