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Monday, September 15, 2008

The McCain and the Manipulator

posted by on September 15 at 16:49 PM

Jill Greenberg is the LA-based photographer who made news in 2006 for her series End Times, large portraits of violently bawling childrenshe’d given them candy, and then abruptly taken it away—meant to represent her response to the Bush administration.

Anyone who knows Greenberg’s work knows she likes to cause a stir.

And here’s a new one! The Atlantic hired her to shoot McCain for its October cover, and in the studio she pulled the photographic rug out from under him: She shot him in lighting conditions that made him look even creepier, older, and scarier than normal. She refused to do touchups.

Then, after the magazine selected the image it wanted to use—which is fairly normal-looking,if stark, except for the red irises—Greenberg had some wild fun with the rest of the images on her own web site.

The furious editor’s note from the Atlantic is here. It calls her work “manipulated and dishonest.”

Well, her web site isn’t called “Manipulator,” and located at, for nothing. And might I provide a visual reminder of End Times for those at the Atlantic who (is there any other possible motivation here?) deliberately chose a photographer who A. despises everything related to George Bush and the contemporary Republican machine, and B. does the same thing with her images that John Heartfield did during the rise of Nazi Germany?


The Rapture Index by Greenberg, part of End Times

My feelings are mixed about Greenberg’s actual images. I like the one on the Atlantic cover. It’s only lightly cold, but undoubtedly so.

Politically speaking, the crude satire on her web site (McCain with blood dripping from his fangs, etc) is good, right? Isn’t this what diehard leftists haven’t done? We haven’t fought. We haven’t taken shots. We’ve been reasonable. Lot of good that’s done us.

But in artistic terms, the satire is shocking and then immediately dull and a little embarrassing. I like having the mental picture of a horrible, bloody, violent, hateful John McCain in my head—too often he’s been depicted as a softie and a sweetie, but anybody who will choose Sarah Palin for a running mate would clearly eat his own child alive to get ahead—and I also like the image that’s on the site’s home page (caption: “I’ll have my girl kill Roe v. Wade”).

But Greenberg could have done any of it in Photoshop. What did she gain by being in the room with him? Oh, right: publicity.

At least it’s publicity for a cause I support: Defeat that McCain character. He really is shady.

I guess she’s just saying that from one woman who’s afraid to another. I can understand that.

RSS icon Comments


This is what came to mind when I saw the McSame portrait.

Posted by yucca flower | September 15, 2008 4:56 PM

Two can play at that game...

Here's Obama as I photographed him coming out of the Washington State Convention Center....obviously no make-up on this time:

Posted by John Bailo | September 15, 2008 5:04 PM

I don't get it; the magazine hired a left-wing artist to do a photo shoot for their cover, she provided an image they objected to and then used the leftover images from the cover shoot for her own "art" but then the magazine still went ahead and used her art on the cover anyway, apologizing after the fact?

Posted by Just Sayin' | September 15, 2008 5:08 PM

God, the McCain people are such whiners.

Posted by David | September 15, 2008 5:09 PM

@3 The magazine used an unoffensive image from the shoot for their cover, and apologized for the images on her site because they were part of the shoot that they hired her to do. They hired her because she has done plenty of professional covers and portraits of celebrities (see the ones in her site) that weren't offensive.

Posted by N | September 15, 2008 5:13 PM

@5, got it - I thought they were apologizing for the image they'd used on their own cover, like they'd somehow been tricked into running it.

I'd be curious to see how that issue of the use of the remaining images worked out, legally...

Posted by Just Sayin' | September 15, 2008 5:15 PM

"What did she gain by being in the room with him?"

She got photographs of him looking real and in actual garish underlighting along with the rights to use her negatives in whatever way she wants. That's a lot more powerful than the publicity that might have come from a Fark-type photoshop job.

I agree that the shark-toothed photoshoppery is childish, but I laugh more and more upon repeated viewings.

Posted by josh | September 15, 2008 5:26 PM

I wish more artists would realize that Flash websites are a horrible idea. This one is annoying to navigate, and it seems to be hanging on full-size image loads half the time.

Any pointers to where to find the McCain images on the site? All I see is the Atlantic cover.

Posted by Q*bert Humphrey | September 15, 2008 6:00 PM

Eh... she bit the hand that fed her. That's not unethical just stupid...unless she's got more hands lined up.

The real consequence will be that photographers won't be allowed to keep the rights to anything from their shoots. If the only reason McCain is there is because of the Atlantic then who's really going to write her a blank check?

Posted by daniel | September 15, 2008 6:10 PM


That's the whole point: makes it harder to link to and copy the images. A lot of artists' web sites are done like that.

Anyway, click on Names and then page right to the find John McCain in the J's.

Posted by elenchos | September 15, 2008 6:18 PM

Making children cry for art.
How artsy. And what does she do to animals?
For art, that is.

Posted by Gregory | September 15, 2008 6:18 PM

The more subtle ones are the best. The monkey? Not so much.

And... she's just stoked the persecution complex of white Republicans. Laughable as that notion is, I'm not sure if that's a wise political move.

Posted by demo kid | September 15, 2008 6:22 PM

@10, harder, yes, but still not that hard. And really, I think a Flash site is still just preventing good publicity, as in this case. For people like me who bother to go to the work, they can still link directly to the images, e.g:

McCain with shark teeth and blood

McCain with yellow teeth and choice quote

Posted by Q*bert Humphrey | September 15, 2008 6:32 PM

The Photo-shopped images aside, it is curious that the un-captioned, unaltered lit-from-below shot is somehow considered less "honest" than the standard soft-focus, Photoshopped-to-de-emphasize-his-neck-wattle shot that we are used to seeing. Why is flattering lighting and re-touching "honest" and unflattering lighting and re-touching not?

Posted by flamingbanjo | September 15, 2008 6:44 PM

I love this woman. Deeply. Brilliant work.

To get to the shots of him, you click on "names" on the first page (right under "covers") and then go to the j's until you get to John McCain.

Posted by Melissa | September 15, 2008 6:55 PM

Mc Cain with yellow teeth and Cunt Caption is nominated for a Stranger cover, great, doing poster size for the office cork board.

Posted by Art | September 15, 2008 7:22 PM


It's worth noting that teh Internets have been telling creative people to give their work away and enjoy the publicity for years, and it hasn't paid off for those that did. I think everyone understands that no copy protection is perfect. It is there to be a speed bump, making it not worth the trouble.

But I don't care; I'm not an artist. By all means, join the chorus of Net voices telling artists their work wants to be free. I don't think they'll listen any more.

Posted by elenchos | September 15, 2008 8:14 PM

air = free
old Chinese saying

Posted by Alicia | September 15, 2008 8:17 PM

Obama doesn't look like his usual fine self on the cover either, it was equally unflattering.

Posted by dc | September 15, 2008 9:30 PM

@17, you're missing the point entirely. There are plenty of ways to frustrate downloading images, if that's really what one's after, without using Flash (Flickr does this at the user's request, without Flash). More importantly, though, flash sites tend to be annoying to navigate, harder to make accessible, and un-permalinkable. And as seen above, images can be as easily direct-linked as a non-Flash site.

Posted by Q*bert Humphrey | September 15, 2008 11:44 PM

Flash vs. non-flash? Really? Yawn.

Posted by blank12357 | September 16, 2008 9:56 AM

I am so glad she did this. Now McCain should understand how we feel as American's when we are lied to about issues and politics. Republicans are nothing but whinners, 'They can dish it out but they sure as hell can't take it."

Posted by Raul | September 19, 2008 2:50 AM

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