Supporters are rallying around a fashion photographer who is being sued by the Empire State Building management over a guerrilla photo shoot he staged atop the landmark structure this summer.
As was widely reported on Tuesday, the owners of New York City’s most famous building are losing their shirts over photos of a topless model taken from the building’s observation deck on the 86th floor. The photos of Shelby Carter, a model from Texas, received a fair amount of media coverage in August, spurring a litigious response from the newly public Empire State Realty Trust Inc. (NYSE:ESRT), which is suing the photographer, 30-year-old Allen Henson, for a baffling $1.1 million, claiming the racy photos damaged the building's reputation.
Henson posted updates on Facebook and Twitter Monday afternoon acknowledging the suit, saying “this should be interesting” and telling people to "stay tuned.” Fellow photographers immediately came to his defense. Others voiced their support on Tuesday following reports that ESB management deemed the photos as damaging to the building’s “reputation as a safe and secure family-friendly tourist attraction.” The consensus on Twitter seems to be that the iconic New York landmark is a 1,250-foot bully.
@AllenHenson This is some impressively stupid litigation. Hope it turns out well for you.
â€” Gullwing Photography (@GullwingPhoto) January 14, 2014
â€” Sean_Peden (@Sean_Peden) January 14, 2014
â€” Rem Hicke (@grammid) January 14, 2014
To many critics, the lawsuit seems to sum up the decidedly puritanical roots of American culture, a lingering prudishness toward nudity on which Henson was ostensibly commenting when he arranged the impromptu shoot. His ESB photos are part of a series featuring topless models in urban settings. He’s done similar shoots in Central Park and at New York City restaurants, as Gothamist reported last year. He calls it a “social experiment” and told the Daily News that it was inspired by press reports of police being told not to arrest women who appear topless in public. (In May 2013, NYPD officers were reminded that women “simply exposing their breasts in public” are guilty of no crime,” as the New York Times reported.)
Henson said he was merely looking to test the limits of that civil right. He told Reuters that he took the photos with his cellphone and has made no money from them.
The Empire State Building, of course, is not a public space but private property, a fact noted in the lawsuit. In the suit, the building owners maintain that Henson “intentionally violated rules of the Observatory, intentionally engaged in unauthorized, objectionable, and inappropriate conduct in full view of ESB's customers, tenants, visitors, including families with children, and employees, and caused ESB to suffer economic losses and damage to its reputation.”
The ESB press office did not return a request for comment. In the meantime, the real damage to its reputation is unfolding on Twitter, where critics of the overprotective management are responding with an emphatic “Get over it.”
â€” Brad Skidmore (@BradSkid) January 14, 2014
For his part, Henson is not taking the lawsuit lying down. On Tuesday afternoon, he posted a call on Facebook asking for “about 50 topless girls” to accompany him to the New York Supreme Court.