“Oh My God, What’s Happening?” Up Close and Personal With a Terry Richardson Model
READER DISCRETION STRONGLY ADVISED: 19-year-old art student Charlotte Waters was thrilled by the prospect of working with the notorious provocateur—until he groped her and defiled her face. She goes public in an exclusive interview
UPDATE: After this story went live, yet another model came forward. Read her story here.
Last week, we published a timeline detailing the perviest antics of Terry Richardson, the fashion photographer known for his smutty aesthetic and, most recently, persuading Miley Cryus to straddle a wrecking ball in the buff. Fresh allegations regarding his predatory professional behavior had surfaced a few days before, reigniting a standing controversy that’s been following the 48-year-old and his uninhibited penis for years. In the past, numerous subjects have come forward to detail the lensman’s degrading requests, and the revelations keep on coming.
Charlotte Waters was a 19-year-old art student the first and last time she modeled for Richardson, an experience she’s spent the past five years trying to forget. Last week, she posted an anonymous confession about the experience on Reddit, and after seeing our story, Waters decided to come forward for the first time—both to the public and the police.
“It’s hard not to look back at this stuff and see that I was a rapist’s dream, completely naive and trusting, but passive and shy on top of that,” she says. Waters had experience nude modeling for well-known artists like Richard Kern and Ron English, but nothing prepared her for what went down at Richardson’s Soho studio in March of 2009. An hour after she arrived, Richardson had run his tongue up and down her bare ass, demanded she squeeze his balls, and even jacked off into her eye.
Waters is now 24 and working as a nurse’s assistant in L.A. Rehashing this episode has not been easy (“It’s disgusting and it makes me cringe,” she says), but for the sake of all the girls who may fall prey to Richardson in the future, she reached out to Vocativ to tell the whole story.
So why did you decide to come out about this now?
A few weeks ago, I started seeing a lot of articles about Richardson and his behavior that my friends were posting on Facebook. And I was like: “I know exactly what these people are talking about!” But the articles were all very vague and about rumors, so I wanted to say, “Hey, I’ve experienced this first hand. These aren’t just rumors.” But I wasn’t sure I wanted to come out about this very embarrassing thing I did, so I was just sitting on it for a while. And then I realized that what happened to me is something that has happened to other people and will likely continue to happen until his dick falls off, so I have to say something. I did it through Reddit because I could do it anonymously, and that seemed like a safe way to start.
How did you wind up nude modeling for Terry Richardson?
I was 19 and in art school when I decided that I wanted to start nude modeling on the side for money because I was in college and poor. I first started through Model Mayhem, and then I began working through various connections that I met through that. I was having a great time with it. I’ve always liked provocative art, so I think I was definitely an easy target in this situation because I went into it knowing that I was going to be nude. But I didn’t at all anticipate how far he was going to go.
I had seen some of his photographs online and in magazines and stuff, and I really liked his aesthetic. So one day I came across his website, and saw that you could submit a photo to model for him. I did and got an email back pretty quickly, which said, “Hey we would like to shoot you. Can you come in some time?” So we set up a time, and I went in, and that’s how I ended up there.
What was your experience with these kinds of shoots prior to meeting Richardson?
There was one amateur photographer that I worked with pretty regularly, and it was always really fun. He never touched me, not even to reposition me or anything. It actually felt really empowering. I also did “Shot By Kern” with Richard Kern. It was part of this ViceTV series, and that was totally cool. I was nude, and Richard Kern is known for provocative photos, but he didn’t even say anything creepy to me. I mean he’d tell me to do stuff like wiggle your ass for the camera, but he was always across the room. The power was balanced. I didn’t feel like he had control over me. And then I also modeled for Ron English, the painter, and that was also totally cool and fun, and I felt good doing it. All of my experiences with other photographers were perfectly professional.
Did you have any concerns going into the shoot?
No, I didn’t. I honestly expected it to be just like any of the other times I had modeled nude. I put him on the same level as Richard Kern because they both do what could be considered pornographic photography. I didn’t know Terry Richardson’s reputation for being so directly involved in the photos and crossing all these boundaries.
OK, so walk us through it. What happened when you first arrived?
Around 4 o’clock, I went to his studio. He had his assistant there who was this older woman, probably 40 or 45ish. She had dark hair and a little bit of work done on her face. I think she may have had fake boobs. At first we all sat down at the kitchen table, and she said they were ordering food and asked if I wanted any, and I said no. And then she offered to make me tea. So I was sitting there drinking tea and talking to his assistant, and he was on his computer. After the food came, she had me sign the model release forms, which looked just like any other model release forms. They didn’t say anything about what he was going to do. (Update: See our story on Terry’s assistant and partner in perv, Leslie Lessin.)
The first thing he did was take a photo of me with my ID to prove I was over 18. And then we started shooting, and he reached out and put his hand on my face.
Did that throw up any red flags?
In the moment I didn’t feel like he was crossing a line. I mean at this point I still had my clothes on. I thought it was a little odd, but I didn’t think it was that crazy. I mean I was an open-minded 19-year-old, so I just thought, OK, whatever. I also had some trust in his aesthetic, so I thought he was just doing his thing. I felt like I should just go with his creative direction.
At what point did he cross the line?
Well, he put his thumb in my mouth, which I also thought was weird, but I just let it go. And then he backed off and asked me to start undressing. I went in knowing I was going to have to do that, so at this point I’m still totally comfortable. He was having me take stuff off in stages and taking photos all along the way. He and his assistant were both complimenting a lot, which was a little different from what I had experienced before. During the other shoots people would say nice things now and then, but looking back it was obviously Richardson’s effort to make this little 19-year-old girl feel like she is this amazing, special person. So eventually all my clothes were off, and he’s still taking pictures. Then he comes over and asks me to hold the top of his jeans while he takes pictures pointing down. At this moment, things were starting to go in a direction that wasn’t good, but for some reason, I still had a lot of trust in whatever he told me to do, so I just did it. But then he had me unbutton his pants, and he took his penis out, and it was all completely downhill from there.
Why didn’t you just leave?
I felt like I was already in it to the point that I couldn’t get out, which sounds kind of crazy, but I had the mentality of 19-year-old. Even just talking about it makes me start to feel the way I felt then, which was just completely paralyzed and freaked out.
And then things got worse…
Right. Well his penis is out, and he starts taking pictures of me holding it. And then we moved over to a couch, and he had me pose on it with my back to him, and I literally felt him come over and start licking my ass. In my head I was like, Oh my God, what’s happening? He was just licking away, and his assistant came over and started taking pictures with this little point-and-shoot camera. After that he got on the couch with me, and it was just a bunch of back and forth between him directing me to do things to him and him doing stuff to me. At one point he even told me to squeeze his balls as hard as I possibly could, and I was like, Oh my God. But I still did it! Why did I do it?!
What was his demeanor like throughout the shoot?
I don’t know how to describe his personality. He wasn’t super personal or trying to get to know me or anything. He was just very upbeat and kind of goofy.
Besides squeezing his balls, what other things did he ask you to do to him?
He told me to perform oral sex on him. He started aggressively kissing me. I don’t even really remember what specific things were happening at that point, but he was directing everything. Like, “OK squeeze my balls,” “OK, put my dick in your mouth,” “OK, now kiss me.” It wasn’t intimate. He also straddled me and started jerking off on my face.
He told me to keep my eyes open super wide. His assistant was standing right there too, and his cum got in my eyes. This was actually his favorite moment. He got so excited. He kept telling me to keep my eyes open, and he grabbed his camera, and his assistant had her little point-and-shoot, and they were just taking all these pictures of it. Then they finally backed off and one of them got me a towel and told me to wipe myself off.
What was going through your head at this point?
I was just sitting on the couch, and I was very quiet. I was in shock and utter disbelief.
What were they doing?
I think they could tell that I was in shock. It seemed like they had done this a million times. Terry Richardson was standing across from the couch, and he asked, “So do you have a boyfriend?” This was the first personal question he asked me. I told him yes because I did have a boyfriend at the time, and he was like, “Oh wow, I’m so sorry! I always mean to ask that first.” He was smiling while he was saying this, too, and he looked over to his assistant and said, “Oh damn, I always mean to ask that first.” And then she was like, “Oh, we should have asked that!” It was a complete slap in the face. That’s the only way I can describe how that felt.
Did you just get up and leave at that point?
I just wanted to get out of there. I don’t really remember much after the shoot, but his assistant wanted to leave with me. We went down and got a cab, and she said she had to go somewhere in the same direction I was going and that she would pay for it. When we got in, she started trying to comfort me. She kept telling me that I was a really strong girl, and that I’m really cool, and that it’s so good that I can handle that sort of thing. Looking back it was obviously her attempt to make me feel like what I did was a good thing and what happened wasn’t bad. I was just sitting there quietly letting her talk to me, and then she got out about halfway on my way to Brooklyn.
How did the experience affect you?
That night I went home and told my roommate about it. I was completely shaken by it, but I was definitely taking responsibility for what happened. I blamed myself. I kept thinking, Uh, why did I get myself into that situation? And I also had a stomach infection that had been going on for a few days, so I felt pretty sick and kind of weak. Later that night I started dry heaving, and then I really started falling apart. I started freaking out and called my mom and my older sister. At the time I just thought it was just because I had been sick, but looking back, I realized that I was having a full-blown panic attack. I was sitting on the bathroom floor feeling like I was losing control of my body. My arms went numb, and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. So then my roommate called an ambulance, and I ended up in the emergency room, and my mom drove down from upstate to take me back home.
Did you ever hear from Richardson after that?
A week or two afterward I got missed call and voicemail, and it was from the assistant. She said something like “Hey, I hope you’re well. Terry really wants you to grow out your pubic hair, and we wanted to know if you can come on a trip with us up to this cabin. Three other girls your age will be there, and it will be a fun. We’ll take lots of pictures.” I did not call back. And after that voicemail, I just tried to block everything out.
Did this experience with Richardson have a long-term impact on you?
Well, I stopped nude modeling and left New York. And then I ended up moving out to L.A. It’s actually crazy to realize, at this point, how much that experience affected the path that my life took from then forward. In some ways it was good. I am happy where I am now. But then I felt guilty. I felt like an idiot. I chalked it up to all of the stupid choices I had made, and I decided to leave that part of my life in the past.
Did you ever tell your boyfriend about what happened?
I told him the next day when I was back home in upstate New York. I was really upset because I was feeling kind of guilty. I had never cheated on him. It was weird because it was like I was telling him that I kind of cheated on him, but it wasn’t my doing. I told him pretty much everything. All the details. His response was, “I want to find that guy and kill him.” Fortunately, we didn’t break up or anything.
Did you ever tell your parents?
I did. I called my mom a couple of days ago when I decided that I wanted to come out with the story publicly. I had told her that Richardson was really creepy, but I never confessed all the details, so this time I just divulged everything. She was disgusted like any mother would be. She called me the next day, and said, “I want to throw acid in his eyes so he can’t take pictures anymore!” And I was like, “Well, he’d still have his penis, so I’m sure he’d get plenty of action out of that.”
Did you ever think about reporting the incident or pressing charges?
No, but when I did start talking about this in the past two weeks, my current boyfriend’s mother told me that she thought I should report it. I was always very hesitant about that because I know nothing can really be done. I never resisted. I never said no. But she convinced me that it would be good for me, for my own sense of empowerment, just to get it out there. So two days ago I did. I called the NYPD, and they connected me with a detective, and I prefaced everything by saying that I was just calling because I wanted the information to be out there so that more people will come forward, and that I don’t want to press charges or anything. Then I told him the story, and all he said was that is wasn’t a crime situation because I never said no. So Richardson’s off the hook. It kind of sucks.
What were you initially hoping to get out of doing a shoot with him? Did he pay you?
I did not get paid, which makes me feel even more disgusted. I feel dumb and embarrassed about that, but my thought at the time was that he was such a well-known photographer and his photos have been in magazines and he’s shot famous people, so he’s got to be good, and that will only be good for me to say that I had been photographed by someone like him. And I liked his style. I liked provocative art going into it, but there’s such a fine line. I mean, I like John Waters movies, and those are raunchy and provocative, but you never hear stories about him raping his actors.
What ever happened to the photos?
I’ve never seen them. And I don’t think he’s used them in anything. I’ve had a little bit of anxiety that they would come out because my boyfriend would definitely be upset, but I’m at a point now where I would just own it. I would tell people exactly what happened.
It is frustrating to see that he gets away with what he does, and is still working and getting paid a ton of money. But if you haven’t experienced him first hand and all the negative things about him are just rumors from unknown, random people, then why wouldn’t you work with him? So I don’t put any blame on the celebrities that have been photographed by him because they have no way of knowing the truth. The one thing that does boggle my mind, though, is his shoot with Obama. I mean, he’s the president. I was a young naïve girl, so I think it’s pretty understandable that I didn’t do my research and know what I was getting into, but you’d think the president would have some sort of team that would tell him that Richardson is a photographer with a very bad reputation, and that it wouldn’t be a good idea. That really confuses me. But until people expose what’s he’s really like, how are his clients going to know?
Vocativ contacted Terry Richardson’s representatives to offer him an opportunity to comment. They did not respond to repeated emails and phone calls.