Empire State Building Says Photographer of Topless Ladies Is Making a Mockery of Its Very Serious Lawsuit

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Photo by guy being sued Allen Henson, obviously
The offending photograph
Back in January, as you may recall, we told you about Allen Henson, the fine art photographer who was slapped with a million-dollar lawsuit after he took photographs of a model, Shelby Carter, topless atop the Empire State Building's observatory deck. Not to be outdone, Henson roundly mocked the lawsuit in the press and then countersued the company behind the iconic building for $5 million.

Representatives for the Empire State Building have never publicly commented on the lawsuit. As it turns out, though, lawyers for very tall buildings have feelings, too, and those feelings are, at the moment, deeply bruised. In new court filings, the building's representatives accuse Henson of "relishing" the publicity around the lawsuit, and planning an in-court demonstration consisting of dozens of topless women.

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Allen Henson, Photographer of Topless Ladies, Countersues Empire State Building for $5 Million

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Photo by Allen Henson
In January, photographer Allen Henson was awoken one morning by a tabloid reporter bearing the news that the Empire State Building was suing him for a million dollars. Henson's sueable offense, according to the company, was taking a topless photo of Shelby Carter, who you see above, thus harming the building's reputation as family-friendly entertainment.

At the time, the amount of money, as well as Empire State's insistence that the photos were a "commercial venture," though Henson hadn't made any money from them, he said, struck him as a little weird.

"I would really like to take this seriously, but it just feels like somebody got drunk last night and said, 'Fuck it, let's sue him for a million dollars,'" he told us.

Henson must be in a "fuck it" mood of his own, because today he sent a group of reporters his answer to the suit, which countersues the company for $5 million.

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Allen Henson, Photographer of Topless Ladies, Not Sure What's Up with the Empire State Building's $1 Million Lawsuit

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Photo by Allen Henson
One of the $1.1 million photos
On Monday morning, Allen Henson was greeted by a phone call from the New York Post, asking if he'd like to make a statement.

"In regards to...?" Henson replied. The Post informed the photographer that he's being sued by the Empire State Building for $1.1 million. He took a series of photos of a topless model on their observation deck back in August, which the suit alleges tarnished the image of the building and the observatory as "safe, secure and appropriate places for families and their children."

"Wow," Henson responded, when learning of the suit. Several hours later, he was struggling to handle the situation with appropriate gravity.

"I don't know," he told the Voice, thoughtfully. "I would really like to take this seriously, but it just feels like somebody got drunk last night and said, 'Fuck it, let's sue him for a million dollars.'"

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A Chilly, Educational Field Trip with the Outdoor Co-Ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society

Categories: Books, Breasts

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Image via The Topless Outdoor Co-ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society
The book club at Lincoln Center, shortly before they were asked to re-clothe
In this week's cover story, we profile Holly Van Voast, an artist who for a time was also one of New York's most frequently topless women.

In 2011 Van Voast created a character named "Harvey Van Toast," who ventured out with a camera, a curly mustache painted on with liquid eyeliner -- and no shirt. She photographed hundreds of people in that persona, both her friends in the underground "punk drag" scene and a series of befuddled celebrities. (Filmmaker Chris Stearns made an excellent documentary, Topless Shock Syndrome, about Van Voast, with lots of photos of the performers she captured. It's available here.)

Although toplessness has been legal in New York state for 25 years, Van Voast was arrested or detained at least a dozen times, and involuntarily committed for psychiatric evaluation on four different occasions. Even when she wasn't being hassled by the police, she told me, public toplessness could be terrifying: "It's really nerve-wracking. It was like Jackass on speed." Before she went out, she says, "I'd sit there sweating for an hour."

After a few weeks of working on the story, it seemed to me that the only way to properly understand being topless in public was to do it (my editor would probably appreciate if I mentioned at this point that this wasn't his idea). I emailed the Outdoor Co-Ed Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society, asking if could come along on the club's next outing.

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"Topless Papparazzo" Holly Van Voast Wins $40,000 Settlement Against New York City and the NYPD

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Image via LensJockey, Van Voast's Flickr portfolio
Holly Van Voast, in character.
In 2011 and 2012, Holly Van Voast and her bare breasts saw a lot of the city together. Van Voast, an artist and photographer, took on the persona of "Harvey Van Toast," a "topless paparazzo" who wore a pencil-thin mustache, sometimes a newsy sort of fedora, and not much in the way of shirt. She appeared in character on the D train up to the Bronx, in Grand Central, outside a tony Upper East Side elementary school (where, she says, an enraged helicopter mom grabbed her camera and smashed it), and once in criminal court, answering a citation she got during her walk through Grand Central. In the courtroom, she promptly took her shirt off, to the shock, displeasure, and probably near-heart-failure of her almost 90-year-old court-appointed attorney.

And of course, Harvey showed up frequently to snap paparazzi-style photos of movie stars, catching a nonplussed-looking Johnny Depp peering at her over the top of a car, a baffled Bill Cosby, and a delighted-seeming Robert Downey Jr. Van Voast meant it as pure art, she says, a sort of gonzo performance that would draw attention to both her and an underground group of "punk drag" performers she frequently photographed. Instead, over and over, she got arrested.

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