Dissent for Consent

Written by Megan Evans

Illustration by Amelia Field

The model and actor Emily Ratajkowski has accused photographer Jonathan Leder of sexually assaulting her during a photoshoot at his home in 2012, a claim he strongly denies. Leder published a book of the photos in 2016. Ratajkowski claims this was without her consent, but Leder disputes this.

– This article should analyze Ratajkowski’s fight to financially and spiritually reclaim artwork and pictures that exploited her body and face, as well as mention her recent essay on the subject of consent ‘Buying Myself Back’. This article should explore the struggle many celebrities and models have with the consent of their images, and how photographers and media corporations take advantage of many young females/models in the industry.

The modelling industry is one of which is hard to ‘reclaim your own image’, as imposed by fellow model and actor Emily Ratajkowski, who recently came to light with her thought-provoking and deeply touching personal essay written for NYMag, which straps the headline ‘Buying Myself Back’ in bold titles. This piece was written to pull on the heart strings of not just the general public, where some have struggled to accept this beautiful model as someone who has genuine concerns for her own wellbeing for taking ownership of her body and the images taken for various sources, but to those who have experienced similar degrading responses.

I thought about my younger self and the healing that writing about something you once couldn’t even talk about provides’, Emily writes in her latest Instagram post. This fight for reclaiming her artwork financially and spiritually, was a difficult road to go on, as she explains within her words.

These words; “You thought you were a mind, but you’re a body, you thought you could have a public life, but your private life is here to sabotage you, you thought you had power so let us destroy you”, really portray this harsh line between ownership of your physicality and then the abusive nature that external sources can have. A summary of the most powerful message behind the piece was during a photoshoot with photographer Jonathan Leder, who is said to have ‘sexually assaulted; her and then published a book, with the images of her at her most vulnerable, and without her genuine consent. The exchange had only stated that she would be used for a magazine article- not for someone to use in the future, as ‘revenge porn’, a term that has really become more popular during the influx of social media use.

Since then, according to Ratajkowski, Leder has apparently been publishing unauthorized books of photography and hosting exhibitions of the explicit photographs he took of her back in 2012. This battle between Ratajkowski and Leder of who takes control of these images, is one that can be related to across years, by various other celebrities and young models within the industry.

Fellow model Michelle Vawer, has also debated the use of images within another Instagram post, which unpicks the work of Emily. She asks her followers the same questions that many are keen to have answered within this complex: how are photographers in a position to take pictures and sell them off as ‘art’ without a portion given to the model, or an acknowledgement for the model themself to know that they are being sold off for a extortionate price?

What is the price for the model to pay for the rights of their own face?

In an anecdote within the essay, Emily recounts a time with an ex-boyfriend who bought a picture of herself via Richard Prince for $80,000. The flattery of having an artwork of yourself be sold for such a high price, have so little value towards the model within the photo?

There is a constant debate within this whole argument about dissent and consent, which are two extremely juxtaposing ideas.  Dissent disagrees with the statement and consent is through expressing a form of willingness and giving permission.

Emily gave no consent for these explicit images to be published via a third party, and Leder holds the dissent towards her consent, as he took these photographs and had her permission beforehand to publish these within a magazine and thereby, these images are already online for anybody to see and use.

This ongoing battle is one that still needs a lot of questions answering, and thus sparking this revolt in Ratajkowski to forcefully impose.

A model is not taken as seriously within popular culture as they should be compared to a professional photographer. Emily’s following is so large and inspirational, that something unprofessional can destroy and taint her image forever, by one simple click of upload. This event happened in 2012, and has come into light in 2020. It has taken 8 years for an event to be so largely consumed by the public eye, as it is an extremely important message that will more likely than not, be taken seriously.