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.
Henson points out in his suit, as he has in an interview with us, that he and Carter bought tickets to go to the Empire State Building’s observatory, went up there, took a few pictures, and left voluntarily. They were never asked to leave and no other visitors, that he noticed, clutched their offspring to their bosoms and shouted, “YOU’RE RUINING THIS PLACE AS A SOURCE OF SAFE, FAMILY-FRIENDLY ENTERTAINMENT FOR ME AND MY FAMILY.”
Henson says in his filing that he and Carter were engaged in “peaceful, lawful activities. He adds that the attraction has suffered more harm from the “30-plus suicide attempts from the Observatory Deck, most recently in 2011.”
If accusing the building of being a suicide magnet wasn’t quite a sharp enough poke in the eye, Henson also accuses the company of trampling his free speech rights: “The law protects defendant’s and other artist’s rights to photograph public buildings.” The allegations that he was creating a dangerous environment, he adds, are “false and defamatory,” and thus, worth $5 million. Plus attorney fees.
Henson’s statement on his lawsuit, delivered via Twitter, is pretty to-the-point:
Countering for $5 million dollars. Suck it ESRT.
— Allen Henson (@AllenHenson) March 19, 2014
Click through to read Henson’s full counter-suit.
Henson Answer and Counterclaim