On Friday night, celebrity photographer Tyler Shields opened up his inbox to something he’d never seen before: 25,000 unread e-mails.
A little more than 24 hours earlier, photos Shields took of Glee star Heather Morris had hit the Internet. In the series, available for view on his site, Morris is depicted, as Tyler explains to EW, “crazy Barbie,” destroying ironing boards and “in power” as she fights her constraints. But that’s not how at least 25,000 people saw it. “I’ve had crazy responses to stuff, but this is the most chaos I’ve seen from people,” says Shields, who has captured some of entertainment’s most well-known young faces in envelope-pushing (and often bloody) photoshoots.
Rita Smith, executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, tells EW that the photos “give the impression that she was enjoying the process.” She continues: “It leaves the impression that somehow violence is glamorous and sexy. And that’s not how women who I have ever talked to feel, especially right after an assault.” And the young audience who follow the actress, she says, could misinterpret whatever message was intended. “That was one of the thoughts that went through my mind. It’s not just young women; young men are also getting a fairly conflicting message about violence.”
As more death threats pour in (ranging from “I hope you die” to “I’m going to hunt you down,” by his account), Shields stands by his work. “I completely have no regrets about the photoshoot,” he says. “Not one percent. But I regret that feelings were hurt. That was never my intention…I think a lot of people think it’s fashion photography, and it’s not. I’m an artist. This isn’t a clothing ad campaign. It’s an art piece we did together.” Shields, whose mother was a victim of domestic abuse, says he can’t control interpretation (though his mom gave her approval). But “while the world’s listening,” he figured he’d do some good by auctioning off three of the photographs for $100,000 a piece. Proceeds will go to domestic abuse awareness.
For her part, Morris has not spoken publicly about the matter. “She’s fine,” Shields says. “She’s working on Glee right now, but she’s fine. It’s not like she called me in tears. She’s a smart girl. She gets it.”
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