Total exposure

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 December, 2007, 12:00am

Every artist has his or her oeuvre: for Degas it was ballerinas while Diane Arbus loved social outcasts. A quick glance at American photographer Terry Richardson's work suggests that shock and awe are his genres.

Known for his uncanny ability to capture the raw essence of his subjects, Richardson's work is humorous, unsettling and thought provoking.

'It's hard to compare Terry to other artists because almost everyone working in the same genre is copying him,' Dian Hanson, Richardson's editor at art-book publisher Taschen, has said. 'The guy excels in his fashion career and through sheer balls builds an equally admired side career casting himself in every man's porn fantasies. Most people would edit out these urges; Terry just bulls ahead.'

Richardson, 43, first came into the public eye in 1998, when he held a show in a New York gallery featuring a portrait of himself with semen splashed all over his face. Since then, the photographer has been pushing boundaries with risque editorials for Vogue and W and campaigns such as the one he did for Sisley, in which model Josie Maran ended up with milk from a cow's udder over her face.

Then there was the exhibition that consisted of pictures of him receiving oral sex and performing sexual acts with several women. It's no wonder the press has dubbed him the King of Pornography. 'I let the work speak for itself but I want to elicit humour and a sense of reaction from people. I want you to love [my photographs],' he says.

Not everybody is a committed fan of Richardson's approach. In fact, he makes some critics feel the queasy nausea of the reluctant voyeur.

'We suddenly have a few prominent photographers who are dealing with their sexual neuroses, and for some reason we're all expected to watch,' Stephen Male, an art director who worked with Richardson on an early Levi's campaign, told Britain's Guardian newspaper. 'Even stranger is that many of us do just that.'

The son of 1960s photographer Bob Richardson, Terry was born in New York and raised in Hollywood. He began experimenting with photography while attending Hollywood High School and made a name for himself with unedited pictures taken on a snapshot camera.

Today, his list of credits includes campaigns for Levi's, Diesel, Gucci, Miu Miu, Chloe and Nike, and he has several books to his name.

'Terry always did his own thing,' says Male. 'I remember when the contact sheets came in for the Levi's shoot we did, every single one featured a photograph of the model with her top off. I remember thinking, 'How did he do that?' I mean, it wasn't really what was required for the shoot. Then it became Terry's thing. It seems almost quaint and old-fashioned now that we'd find it questionable. But that's fashion for you. Once somebody pushes the envelope, it doesn't take long for taboo images to become acceptable. Plus, fashion needs people like Terry; it needs to feel it has an edge all the time.'

Richardson has also captured famous actors and musicians, ranging from Daniel Day Lewis and Leonardo DiCaprio to Maggie Gyllenhaal, Chloe Sevigny and Johnny Knoxville and his Jackass crew, which, the photographer says, was 'my most memorable shoot in a long time'.

'My images are sexual,' Richardson says. 'That's how people see me, that's why they hire me. But it's not only that; I also try different things.' His new book, Cidade Maravilhosa (Portuguese for 'marvellous city'), is unquestionably something different.

'I shot the Diesel SS07 Global Warming Ready campaign in Rio and one of the images had the Christ statue [atop the Corcovado Mountain] in it. We started speaking about [the city], and the project just came from that,' says Richardson.

Compiled from pictures taken over the course of four months, the tome features photographs of Rio de Janeiro's rich and famous along with other colourful characters, plus some landscapes, which constitute a departure for Richardson. A selection of the images are on show in Hong Kong until the end of the month.

As for the future, Richardson has picked our city as the topic for his next book, which is scheduled for release next summer.

'I chose Hong Kong because it seemed like an interesting place, where there is a mix of old and new, so I wanted to explore that,' he says. 'Also, I have always been a huge Bruce Lee fan. I used to study martial arts with [teacher and actor] Tak Kubota and Bruce Lee was a big inspiration to me.'

Can we expect to see shots of half-naked people walking around Central?

'It'll be a surprise. You'll have to get the book to see.'

From Rio to Hong Kong by Terry Richardson will be on show until December 23, from 11am to 8pm daily, at Brave, G/F, Pacific House, 20 Queen's Road Central, tel: 2525 0559. Cidade Maravilhosa is available for pre-order at the exhibition.