Sexual harassment scandal

Models accuse photographers of abuse of power

Conde Nast’s Anna Wintour has suspended any future work with iconic fashion photographer Mario Testino as well as Bruce Weber after scores of male models accused them of sexual harrassment.
Model Robyn Sinclair (far left) has accused photographer Bruce Webber (top) of sexually exploiting him during photo shoots, while Ryan Locke (centre column, above) and Jason Fedele (left) have said the same of photographer Mario Testino (above)
Model Robyn Sinclair (above) has accused photographer Bruce Webber of sexually exploiting him during photo shoots, while Ryan Locke and Jason Fedele have said the same of photographer Mario Testino.PHOTO: NYTIMES
Model Robyn Sinclair (far left) has accused photographer Bruce Webber (top) of sexually exploiting him during photo shoots, while Ryan Locke (centre column, above) and Jason Fedele (left) have said the same of photographer Mario Testino (above)
Model Robyn Sinclair has accused photographer Bruce Webber of sexually exploiting him during photo shoots, while Ryan Locke (above) and Jason Fedele have said the same of photographer Mario Testino.PHOTO: NYTIMES
Model Robyn Sinclair (far left) has accused photographer Bruce Webber (top) of sexually exploiting him during photo shoots, while Ryan Locke (centre column, above) and Jason Fedele (left) have said the same of photographer Mario Testino (above)
Model Robyn Sinclair has accused photographer Bruce Webber of sexually exploiting him during photo shoots, while Ryan Locke and Jason Fedele (above) have said the same of photographer Mario Testino.PHOTO: NYTIMES
Model Robyn Sinclair (far left) has accused photographer Bruce Webber (top) of sexually exploiting him during photo shoots, while Ryan Locke (centre column, above) and Jason Fedele (left) have said the same of photographer Mario Testino (above)
Model Robyn Sinclair has accused photographer Bruce Webber (above) of sexually exploiting him during photo shoots, while Ryan Locke and Jason Fedele have said the same of photographer Mario Testino.PHOTO: NYTIMES
Model Robyn Sinclair (far left) has accused photographer Bruce Webber (top) of sexually exploiting him during photo shoots, while Ryan Locke (centre column, above) and Jason Fedele (left) have said the same of photographer Mario Testino (above)
Model Robyn Sinclair has accused photographer Bruce Webber of sexually exploiting him during photo shoots, while Ryan Locke and Jason Fedele have said the same of photographer Mario Testino (above).PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK • For a fashion model, 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 grey, allowing prominent photographers to cross the line with impunity for decades.

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.

In interviews with The New York Times, male models have said photographers Mario Testino and Bruce Weber sexually exploited them.

Fifteen current and former male models who worked with Weber, whose racy advertisements for companies such as fashion labels Calvin Klein and Abercrombie & Fitch helped turn him into one of the foremost commercial and fine art photographers, described a consistent pattern of what they said was unnecessary nudity and coercive sexual behaviour, often during photo shoots.

The men recalled 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 themselves and with Weber moving their hands wherever they felt their "energy".

"I remember him putting his fingers in my mouth and him grabbing my privates," said 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 Testino, a favourite 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," Weber, 71, said in a statement from his lawyer.

Lavely & Singer, a law firm representing Testino, 63, challenged the character and credibility of people who complained of harassment. It 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".

Conde Nast, publisher of Vogue and other magazines, said in a statement last Friday that it would stop working with the two photographers, at least for now.

Prompted by the sexual harassment outcry that has enveloped fashion and other industries, the company also said it began working in late October on a code of conduct that will go into effect this month.

In the statement, Anna Wintour, artistic director of Conde Nast and editor of Vogue, and Mr Robert A. Sauerberg Jr, chief executive of Conde Nast, said: "We are deeply disturbed by these accusations and take this very seriously. In light of these allegations, we will not be commissioning any new work with Bruce Weber and Mario Testino for the foreseeable future."

Weber and Testino have been deeply embedded in the history of image-making at Vogue and its peer publications, such as GQ and Vanity Fair.

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 1990s. "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.

Testino "was a sexual predator", said Ryan Locke, who succeeded Fedele at Gucci.

Hugo Tillman was not long out of Occidental College when he started freelancing as a photo assistant for Testino in 1996.

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

Lawyers for Testino said the photographer's brother "is adamant that no such incident ever took place".

Tillman submitted testimony regarding the experience to the New York City Commission on Human Rights last month.

He quit after the hotel room experience and is now a fine art photographer.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 15, 2018, with the headline 'Models accuse photographers of abuse of power'. Print Edition | Subscribe