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.'”
As we’ve mentioned once or twice before on this blog, public toplessness is legal in New York City, although, of course, when you’re on private property, the business owner is certainly allowed to tell you to scram. But when Henson and his model, Shelby Carter, who’s 22 and lives in Houston, visited the Empire State Building’s famed observation deck this summer, the visit proceeded uneventfully. He insists that when Carter disrobed, the reaction from the other visitors was minimal.
“I don’t think anybody felt threatened by Ms. Carter’s breasts, no,” he said. “Laws generally protect us from harm and protect us from harming others. I understand if they said, ‘Mr. Henson, please don’t come back here anymore.’ But they didn’t even notice. Nothing really happened. I don’t think anybody cared, really.” (A few weeks later, at the Peninsula Hotel’s Salon de Ning, they got a rather different reaction when Carter undressed. The restaurant’s management called the cops, although, as a delightful video on Gothamist shows, the officers seemed more confused than inclined to arrest anyone.)
Carter is not being sued in the Empire State Building incident, although it was apparently her breasts that threatened the building’s family-friendly reputation. The lawsuit also calls the photos a “commercial” venture, although Henson says he hasn’t made any money off them. The suit also claims that the duo’s topless exploits forced them to increase the building’s security.
“Their main argument is that this is a commercial production,” Hensons says. “But I was up there with about 100 other people taking photos with my cell phone. Are they going to round up the other 99 people?”
In any case, he adds, “I don’t have a million dollars to give them. They’re barking up the wrong tree.”
Neither the Empire State Building’s press office nor their attorney, Jessica Eyland, immediately responded to a request for comment.
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