Mod­els ac­cuse pho­tog­ra­phers of mis­con­duct

Men say choice was com­ply or lose ca­reer; lawyers deny ac­counts

The Dallas Morning News - - Texas Health Daily - Times The Times The New York Vogue, Times The Times, Ja­cob Bern­stein, Matthew Sch­neier and Vanessa Fried­man, The New York Times

For a fash­ion model, suc­cess is the abil­ity to in­cite de­sire. The job re­quire­ments of­ten in­clude nu­dity and feign­ing se­duc­tion; provo­ca­tion is a lever for sales. In the in­dus­try, bound­aries be­tween the ac­cept­able and the un­ac­cept­able treat­ment of mod­els have been etched in shades of gray.

This has al­lowed prom­i­nent pho­tog­ra­phers to cross the line with im­punity for decades, sex­u­ally ex­ploit­ing mod­els and as­sis­tants. The ex­pe­ri­ence, once seen as the price mod­els had to pay for their ca­reers, is now be­ing called some­thing else: abuse of power and sex­ual ha­rass­ment.

Fif­teen cur­rent and former male mod­els who worked with Bruce We­ber, whose racy ad­ver­tise­ments for com­pa­nies like Calvin Klein and Aber­crom­bie & Fitch helped turn him into one of the fore­most com­mer­cial and fine art pho­tog­ra­phers, have de­scribed to

a con­sis­tent pat­tern of what they said was un­nec­es­sary nu­dity and co­er­cive sex­ual be­hav­ior, of­ten dur­ing photo shoots.

The men re­called, with re­mark­able con­sis­tency, pri­vate ses­sions with We­ber in which he asked them to un­dress and led them through breath­ing and “en­ergy” ex­er­cises. Mod­els were asked to breathe and to touch both them­selves and We­ber, mov­ing their hands wher­ever they felt their “en­ergy.” Of­ten, We­ber guided their hands with his own.

In ac­counts go­ing back to the mid-1990s, 13 male as­sis­tants and mod­els who have worked with the pho­tog­ra­pher Mario Testino, a fa­vorite of the English royal fam­ily and told that he sub­jected them to sex­ual ad­vances that in some cases in­cluded grop­ing and mas­tur­ba­tion.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives for both pho­tog­ra­phers said they were dis­mayed and sur­prised by the al­le­ga­tions.

“I’m com­pletely shocked and sad­dened by the out­ra­geous claims be­ing made against me, which I ab­so­lutely deny,” We­ber said in a state­ment from his lawyer.

Lavely & Singer, a law firm that rep­re­sents Testino, chal­lenged the char­ac­ter and cred­i­bil­ity of peo­ple who com­plained of ha­rass­ment, and wrote that it had spo­ken to sev­eral former em­ploy­ees who were “shocked by the al­le­ga­tions” and that those em­ploy­ees “could not con­firm any of the claims.”

Those who said they were on the re­ceiv­ing end of un­wanted at­ten­tion felt the choice was clear: ac­qui­esce and be re­warded with lu­cra­tive ad cam­paign work, or re­ject the ap­proach and risk hob­bling, or de­stroy­ing, a ca­reer. Many said they still would not speak pub­licly.

“If you wanted to work with Mario, you needed to do a nude shoot at the Chateau Mar­mont,” said Ja­son Fedele, who ap­peared in Gucci cam­paigns in the ’90s. “All the agents knew that this was the thing to ex­cel or ad­vance your ca­reer.”

The nude work both­ered him less than what he be­lieved were sex­ual come-ons, Fedele said. “He was a sex­ual preda­tor,” said Ryan Locke, who suc­ceeded Fedele with Gucci.

Hugo Till­man was not long out of Oc­ci­den­tal Col­lege when he started free­lanc­ing as a photo as­sis­tant for Testino in 1996. Testino took him and his mother to lunch and told them he wanted to men­tor him. “I really liked him — I really looked up to him,” Till­man said.

He moved to Paris and be­gan work­ing full time as Testino’s fourth as­sis­tant and was soon pro­moted to third. “It seemed like what Robert Alt­man would show, a fan­tasy of fash­ion.” But, he said, “I was of­ten made to feel un­com­fort­able on shoots, asked to mas­sage Mario in front of other as­sis­tants, mod­els and fash­ion edi­tors.”

One night af­ter a din­ner, Till­man said the pho­tog­ra­pher grabbed him on the street and tried to kiss him. A few weeks later, while on a busi­ness trip, Till­man met Testino in his ho­tel room. Testino de­manded that the as­sis­tant roll him a joint, then threw him down on a bed, climbed on top of him and pinned down his arms, Till­man said. Testino’s brother came into the room and made the pho­tog­ra­pher get off Till­man.

Lawyers for Testino said Testino’s brother “is adamant that no such in­ci­dent ever took place.” Till­man’s former girl­friend con­firmed in an in­ter­view that he re­layed this story to her at the time. He also sub­mit­ted tes­ti­mony re­gard­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence to the New York City Com­mis­sion on Hu­man Rights in De­cem­ber.

“I was scared,” he said of the ho­tel room ex­pe­ri­ence. “I didn’t know what was go­ing to hap­pen.” Till­man quit the next week­end and is now a fine art pho­tog­ra­pher.

Even those who worked for Testino without ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the most di­rect ha­rass­ment were af­fected. “I saw him with his hands down peo­ple’s pants at least 10 times,” said Thomas Har­g­reave, a shoot pro­ducer who worked fre­quently with Testino be­tween 2008 and 2016. “Mario be­haved of­ten as if it was all a big joke. But it wasn’t funny. And the guys be­ing placed in th­ese sit­u­a­tions wouldn’t know how to re­act. They would look at me, like, ‘What’s go­ing on? How do I deal with this?’ It was ter­ri­ble.”

Lavely & Singer, the law firm that rep­re­sents Testino, said in a let­ter in re­sponse to th­ese ac­counts that the in­di­vid­u­als who spoke with

“can­not be con­sid­ered re­li­able sources.”

As Calvin Klein, who cre­ated a hy­per­sex­ual im­age for his brand with the help of We­ber, re­cently told “I picked the im­ages the same way I al­ways did: what got my heart rac­ing.” What­ever it takes to get that shot has been ac­cept­able.

Mod­els say We­ber was given to pri­vate au­di­ences with young men, on long walks dur­ing lunch breaks and pri­vate vis­its in his room.

“It’s pre­sented as an op­tion, but it isn’t really,” Erin Wil­liams, a fe­male model on two of We­ber’s cam­paigns for Aber­crom­bie & Fitch, said of work­ing nude. In tes­ti­mony to the New York City Com­mis­sion on Hu­man Rights, she wrote: “The mod­els that didn’t go nude were al­ways cut on Day 2, and those who did would stay for ad­di­tional shoot days. The boys who would so­cial­ize with Bruce af­ter the shoots, alone in his ho­tel room, would get booked for longer with the car­rot of a ma­jor cam­paign be­ing dan­gled in front of them.”

BRUCE WE­BER

MARIO TESTINO

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