Models and assistants described how Mr. Testino and Mr. Weber, two of the most prominent photographers in fashion, used their authority to engage in unwanted sexual behavior.
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 The New York Times a 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 Mr. 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 Mr. Weber, moving their hands wherever they felt their “energy.” Often, Mr. Weber guided their hands with his own.
“I remember him putting his fingers in my mouth, and him grabbing my privates,” said the model Robyn Sinclair. “We never had sex or anything, but a lot of things happened. A lot of touching. A lot of molestation.”
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 Vogue, told The Times 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,” Mr. Weber said in a statement from his lawyer.
Lavely & Singer, a law firm that represents Mr. Testino, challenged the characters and credibility of people who complained of harassment, and also 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.
In fashion, young men are particularly vulnerable to exploitation. Male models are “the least respected and most disposable,” said the former model Trish Goff.
“It was general practice to give a model a heads-up about a specific photographer who we knew had a certain reputation,” said Gene Kogan of his time working as an agent at Next Management between 1996 and 2002.
But, he said, “If you said you were not going to work with someone like Bruce Weber or Mario Testino, you might as well just pack it in and go work in another industry.”
As in Hollywood, allegations of harassment and assault have been aired periodically over the decades with little lasting effect. From agents to stylists to fashion brands, the system has traditionally seemed more invested in preserving its image of perfection and glamour than in recognizing its bad actors.
Regular revelations of abuse of female models — as far back as a “60 Minutes” investigation of modeling agencies in Paris in 1988 — faded away. Agents accused of raping young models in their charge continued to work. The photographer Terry Richardson, after being accused in one documentary of sexual assault of female models, continued to work for major fashion brands until reporting on the producer Harvey Weinstein changed the landscape.
When Madonna had her first daughter, the person who photographed her baby pictures for Vanity Fair was Mr. Testino, 63. He was also the man who immortalized the engagement of Prince William and Kate Middleton. In 2014 he received an OBE. He recently photographed the February cover of Vogue, featuring Serena Williams and her daughter. Known for his ebullience and charm, he is adored by celebrities, and has worked with such brands as Michael Kors, Burberry and Dolce & Gabbana.
Two models have also complained about his behavior in the course of photographing Gucci campaigns in the ’90s.
“If you wanted to work with Mario, you needed to do a nude shoot at the Chateau Marmont,” said Jason Fedele, who appeared in those campaigns. “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. It was as if Mr. Testino were gauging which “moves” might work, Mr. Fedele said — “whether it was a comment or a reach for the towel, and he definitely reached.”
“He was a sexual predator,” said Ryan Locke, who succeeded Mr. Fedele with Gucci.
Mr. Locke said that when he told other models that he was going to meet Mr. Testino, “everyone started making these jokes — they said he was notorious, and ‘tighten your belt.’”
The casting took place at Mr. Testino’s hotel. Instead of greeting Mr. Locke in the lobby, Mr. Testino was in his room, where he opened the door in a loose robe, Mr. Locke said. Then they got into a stalemate about whether the model needed to go fully nude for test pictures.
After Gucci hired Mr. Locke for an ad campaign, Mr. Testino was aggressive and flirtatious throughout, Mr. Locke said. On the last day of the shoot, as they were taking photographs on a bed, Mr. Testino said, “I don’t think he’s feeling it. Everybody out,” Mr. Locke recalled.
“He shuts the door and locks it. Then he crawls on the bed, climbs on top of me and says, ‘I’m the girl, you’re the boy.’ I went at him, like, you better get away. I threw the towel on him, put my clothes on and walked out,” Mr. Locke said.
Tom Ford, then the designer for Gucci, said he had not been present and could not know what happened. He said he was sympathetic to anyone who had been harassed, but also cautioned that if a photographer needs a shot of a model’s face on a bed, there are very few angles to get it from.
Former assistants said that Mr. Testino had a pattern of hiring young, usually heterosexual men and subjecting them to increasingly aggressive advances.
Hugo Tillman was not long out of Occidental College when he started freelancing as a photo assistant for Mr. Testino in 1996. Mr. 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,” Mr. Tillman said.
He moved to Paris and began working full time as Mr. 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, Mr. Tillman said the photographer grabbed him on the street and tried to kiss him. A few weeks later, while on a business trip, Mr. Tillman met Mr. Testino in his hotel room. Mr. 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, Mr. Tillman said. Mr. Testino’s brother came into the room and made the photographer get off Mr. Tillman.
Lawyers for Mr. Testino said Mr. Testino’s brother “is adamant that no such incident ever took place.” Mr. 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 last December.
“I was scared,” he said of the hotel room experience. “I didn’t know what was going to happen.” Mr. Tillman quit the next weekend, and is now a fine art photographer, who has been exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery in London and the Shanghai Biennale.
Taber, a model who worked with Mr. Testino for much of the late ’90s and early 2000s (he used only his first name professionally), described Mr. Testino as a friend until he stuck his hand down the back of Taber’s pants, and showed up at his hotel room asking for sex. “He was a mentor who took it a step too far,” he said.
“Sexual harassment was a constant reality,” said Roman Barrett, an assistant to Mr. Testino in the late ’90s who said the photographer rubbed up against his leg with an erection and masturbated in front of him.
“He misbehaved in hotel rooms, the backs of cars and on first-class flights,” he said. “Then things would go back to normal, and that made you feel gaslighted.”
Another assistant to Mr. Testino, a decade later, said he had his pants pulled down and buttocks fondled while on the job. Yet another said that Mr. Testino masturbated on him during a business trip. Both were granted anonymity because they feared career repercussions.
Even those who worked for Mr. 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 Mr. 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 Mr. Testino, said in a letter in response to these accounts that the individuals who spoke with The Times “cannot be considered reliable sources.” They wrote that Mr. Tillman had spoken well of Mr. Testino before, and called his mental health into question, so it “would be extremely reckless” to rely on him as a source. Regarding Mr. Fedele, who complained about private nude shoots, Mr. Testino’s lawyers said that the model had been photographed nude by others and had posted a nude picture of himself, taken by Herb Ritts, to Instagram in 2015. They also wrote that Mr. Hargreave and Mr. Barrett were disgruntled former employees.
“I was pushed around, overworked, underpaid and sexually harassed daily,” Mr. Barrett said. “That’s why I was disgruntled.”
“I’m telling the truth because this needs to stop now,” Mr. Hargreave said.
As Calvin Klein, who created a hypersexual image for his brand with the help of Mr. Weber, recently told The Times, “I picked the images the same way I always did: what got my heart racing.” (Mr. Weber has not worked with the brand that bears Mr. Klein’s name since 2008.) Whatever it takes to get that shot has been acceptable.
“We sell sex,” Mr. Ford said.
Jessie English, a female photographer who spent three years as an assistant primarily to male photographers before going out on her own, described the attitude she saw on fashion shoots this way: “If I need to touch you between your legs or grab your breasts so you get the right look on your face, that’s just the way it is.”
Fashion and media brands say it is up to agencies to protect models, while the agencies say it is up to the brands not to hire photographers with bad reputations. For their part, the photographers say they do what they do to get the best picture — which is what the clients want.
And no union exists for models, whose youth and eagerness for a measure of stardom make them disinclined to complain.
“Models are not educated about what is or is not acceptable behavior, and often don’t even have the vocabulary to express their experiences,” said Edward Siddons, a model turned journalist.
“Male models are paid much less and they do not become icons, because the culture is about objectifying women to sell things, and people are deeply uncomfortable with that happening to men,” Mr. Ford said.
“I knew that if people didn’t want to have sex with you and people didn’t find you beautiful, you weren’t much inspiration,” Taber said. “The models that got jobs are the ones stylists and photographers are into. I also wanted people to like me, especially the most powerful people in the business. I would almost get offended if they didn’t want to have sex with me. That’s how I got groomed. That’s how it worked in my mind.”
Advances often take place in casting sessions and private photo shoots, Mr. Fedele said, reflecting partly on his experience with Mr. Testino. “Those are the pivot points for photographers to test the waters on whether or not it’s going to be a challenge for them to get to you,” he said. “Because if you do get the job, the majority of the time you’re not naked and you’re not in a swimsuit. So what’s really happening is that these guys are gauging whether you’re open or shy or close-minded or, quite frankly, whether you’re gay or hetero and willing either to flirt with them or to submit to an advance.”
Since the 1970s, Mr. Weber, 71, has been one of the most important commercial and fine art photographers. His name has become “synonymous with erotically charged depictions of good-looking young men,” The Times wrote in 1999.
In 2005, he photographed the model Robyn Sinclair for Ralph Lauren. They worked together on numerous other jobs. According to Mr. Sinclair, “breathing exercises” — both in person and over the phone — were a repeated feature of their relationship.
“It’s like I was willing and unwilling at the same time,” he said. “I wanted to work.”
Models say that Mr. Weber was given to private audiences with young men, on long walks during lunch breaks and private visits in his room.
“They even have a term for it: ‘He’s going to get Brucified,’” said Rudi Dollmayer, a Swedish model who shot with Mr. Weber three times.
“It’s presented as an option, but it isn’t really,” Erin Williams, a female model on two of Mr. 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 two, 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.”
In 2011, during a shoot for Vogue Hommes International in Miami, Mr. Weber summoned the model Josh Ardolf, then 20, to a private room. Mr. Weber photographed him in the nude and then, when Mr. Ardolf seemed uncomfortable, led him through an exercise.
“I was guiding his hand,” Mr. Ardolf said. “We did the chest, the shoulders, the head. Then I finally put his hand on my abs. Did the breathing. Right after that, he forced his hand right on my genitals. I was first in shock. I didn’t know what to think. I backed up. I felt very, very uncomfortable and very sick.”
“I felt helpless,” Mr. Ardolf said. “Like my agency said, he has a lot of power. He’s done a lot of large campaigns. That was in the back of my mind. ‘I can’t screw this up. I already made it this far.’”
Mr. Weber mentioned future campaigns when he followed up with Mr. Ardolf in a series of phone calls in subsequent months. He repeated the exercises over the phone and asked Mr. Ardolf to touch his genitals and stimulate himself, Mr. Ardolf said.
“The first thing I was told about Bruce was that he puts people in really precarious situations,” said Terron Wood, a model who shot several ad campaigns with Mr. Weber between 2007 and 2010.
His first job was for Ruehl, a now defunct Abercrombie brand, when he was summoned alone to Mr. Weber’s hotel room.
Mr. Weber put his hand on Mr. Wood’s forehead and told him to close his eyes and breathe in deeply. Then Mr. Weber moved back and began taking pictures, telling Mr. Wood to grab his shirt, which he was to pull up or down. From there, Mr. Weber instructed him to do the same thing with his shorts.
“After going as high as Steve Urkel, the only option was down,” Mr. Wood said.
Eventually, Mr. Wood’s genitals were displayed, with Mr. Weber continuing to photograph him.
“It unfolded slowly,” Mr. Wood said. “He’s directing you, and the peak moment is when you’re fully exposed and being told to hold it. ‘Hold that pose.’ And you’re wondering what the pictures are even for. Because you’re not on set. You’re thinking, ‘This isn’t what I’m getting paid for.’”
He also felt guilty, he said, knowing that he’d agreed to show Mr. Weber his penis only because “he was the photographer for Ralph Lauren.” Mr. Weber did end up booking him for a Ralph Lauren campaign.
Bobby Roaché, a model who went for a casting with Mr. Weber in 2007 and left after he said the photographer tried to “stick his hands down my pants,” described the reaction from one of his agents: “That’s all he did? You should have gone further.”
The model Monty Hooper said Mr. Weber told him he had “to learn to be more vulnerable” at a test shoot at the photographer’s TriBeCa studio in 2014. At the shoot, Mr. Hooper stopped undressing before revealing his genitals, so Mr. Weber led him through a breathing exercise. “If I’m more vulnerable,” Mr. Hooper said he was told, “I’ll go a lot farther in my career modeling.”
“He was hugging me really closely,” Mr. Hooper said. Disturbed, he thanked Mr. Weber and left. After that, he said, the amount of work he was sent for dried up immediately.
Mr. Hooper was roommates with a number of models in an apartment maintained by Soul Artist Management, many of whom worked with Mr. Weber. “This is big for you. You have to nail this,” the agency’s founder, Jason Kanner, told one of them, Jason Boyce, before a test shoot, according to a lawsuit Mr. Boyce filed in December in New York State Supreme Court against Mr. Weber, Mr. Kanner and Little Bear Inc., the production company run by the photographer’s companion and agent, Nan Bush.
In his complaint, Mr. Boyce said that Mr. Weber groped him and kissed him. In a response filed in late December, lawyers for Mr. Weber described the entire complaint as “false.” (Mr. Kanner indicated he would respond as well this month.) Mr. Boyce’s lawyer is Lisa Bloom, who represented Harvey Weinstein at the time he was first accused of sexual misconduct but who more often represents harassment claimants.
At the lawsuit’s announcement — which Mr. Weber’s lawyers described as a “defamatory press conference” in their filing — Ms. Bloom produced another roommate, Mark Ricketson, who said that Mr. Weber also led him through an inappropriate exercise in 2005, when he was 18.
“I have used common breathing exercises and professionally photographed thousands of nude models over my career, but never touched anyone inappropriately. Given my life’s work, these twisted and untrue allegations are truly disheartening. I’ve been taking pictures for over 40 years and have the utmost respect for everyone I’ve ever photographed. I would never, ever, try to hurt anyone or prevent someone from succeeding — it’s just not in my character,” Mr. Weber said in his statement to The Times.
Jeff Aquilon, a longtime muse whom Mr. Weber discovered in 1978, said in December that he had never had a bad experience with the photographer.
“What I’ve heard over the last couple of days is so uncharacteristic of what I would expect out of him that it kind of blew my mind,” Mr. Aquilon said. “I did speak to him a day or two ago. I said: ‘Bruce, I can’t believe what is out there. Sorry to hear what you’re going to have to go through here.’ He just said, ‘Will you pray for us?’ I said I definitely would.”
Source:© Male Models Say Mario Testino and Bruce Weber Sexually Exploited Them
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