22 September 2008

Their Manipulation and Ours

John McCain, 2008. Photograph © Jill Greenberg.

The last time I posted about Jill Greenberg was several years ago. Then I suggested that, however unseemly her attempts to make herself the center of controversy, the real problem was that her work is pedestrian. Greenberg has gotten herself in trouble for trying to manipulate a photo shoot of John McCain she did on commission for The Atlantic. You can find a story about this most recent political/ethical car crash here. And you can find smart critical comments here and here and here and here. Greenberg persists in trying to make things all about herself. Her work remains pedestrian.

Now, you might compare the Greenberg fiasco with the a couple of other episodes from the past couple of months. First, compare her portrait of McCain (above) with this one of Rush Limbaugh that accompanied the puff piece the NY Times Magazine ran on him last summer.

Rush Limbaugh. Photograph © Nigel Parry for The New York Times.

I posted on the dubious journalistic quality of that piece at the time. But notice that from a photographic point of view this portrait is a perfect accompaniment to the piece which was intended to depict the windbag as ominously powerful. That it inadvertently made him look like a jackass is beside the point. Greenberg was, by her own account, trying to make McCain look bad. So, in addition to displaying the derivative quality of Greenberg's depiction of McCain, this comparison also underscores her extremely poor judgment and motivations.

Remember too when, a few months back, the goons at Fox News presented these photo shopped images of a couple of reporters from The New York Times who'd displayed the temerity of discussing declines in Fox ratings?

Do you think that Greenberg found this episode outrageous? Given her moralistic and self-absorbed disposition, I suspect she did. How does her recent effort to portray John McCain in a bad light (pun intended) differ from the shenanigans at Fox? Not at all, except that, unlike Fox News, The Atlantic (the folks who'd commissioned her photos of McCain) is a respectable publication. Hence her actions are even more dangerous than those of the Fox crowd insofar as she imports tabloid tactics into legitimate news and comment. The Atlantic is not a gallery. The editors did not commission Greenberg to produce a parody or a satire.

The problem, of course, is that Greenberg somehow thinks her trickery in the McCain shoot (and subsequent alterations she made to the images) constitutes "art"; I'd like to have an argument from her that defends that view. (An argument would require more than saying 'look at me, aren't I clever'.) What she has done is taken advantage of what was billed as a journalistic exercise and tried to manipulate both the subject and her audience. There is no excuse for that.

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Blogger Tom White said...

I was no fan of her work before, and I am even less so now. Aside from the fallout for photographers - many of whom I have noted have reacted unfavourably - who will probably find themselves under even more pressure from PR to make the subject 'look good' this paint McCain as a victim. This can only be a bad thing.

I wish this self styled 'Manipulator' would stop manipulating. She is doing more harm than good.

27 September, 2008 00:06  
Blogger Stina H. said...

Perfectly right.
What that woman does is shameful.
The worst things is that she has do doubt about her position.

27 September, 2008 02:09  

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