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September 14, 2008

The Picture of Deception

Greenberg Mccain

I’m not going to defend the fact freelance photographer Jill Greenberg deceived John McCain, embarrassed her client, The Atlantic, and potentially damaged her burgeoning freelance career.  Beyond the drama — BAGnewsNotes being primarily about the picture –I find her subversive, up-lit portrait of Steve Schmidt’s client brimming with characterological truth.

(click for full size)

Atlantic Mccain(For a more detailed background on how Greenberg, after taking the cover shot, tricked McCain as to which way the light was coming from, and went on to do even more bad things, check out Rachel Hulin or PDN.)

In fact, I find a certain poetic justice to the episode.

The hiring of Greenberg, compelled not just on the basis of her background and experience but also her sometimes maverick artistry, offers parallels to the GOP’s hiring of candidate McCain as its nominee.  McCain promised one thing — a different kind of campaign, one with integrity, one with candor, one with access — and then delivered something else.  Greenberg actually trumps him, because she did deliver a cover shot that The Atlantic was perfectly happy with.  The thing is, she used deception to get the goods on McCain, as well.

In that regard, the Dr. Evil portrait — beyond its blatantly unintimidated look at a not-so-friendly or nice McCain –  is also poetically perfect in the way the shooter and the subject, two otherwise widely accomplished and popular performers, are both revealed as characters of subterfuge.

Jill Greenberg website.

(images: Jill Greenberg.  2008)

  • Karen

    I’ll go out on a limb here….I don’t find the cover photo that unflattering. It’s got sort of a bronzed, war statue aura to it…hasn’t he said he has the scars? He looks like a tough fighter.
    The other photographs, however, led me to believe Greenberg’s ego may out pace her intelligence. I kept thinking that her behavior was destructively indiscreet.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/bad2bone/ tb2tb

    I say we need to find out what other work she does and boycott their products. Since she is trying to help someone not get a job, maybe we should help her not get a job.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/bad2bone/ tb2tb

    I say we need to find out what other work she does and boycott their products. Since she is trying to help someone not get a job, maybe we should help her not get a job.

  • delfinajones

    I applaud her.She gave them some of their own. Seeing the monkey crapping on McCain’s head made my day. Thank you!

  • http://profile.typekey.com/bacaangel/ bacaangel

    The Grand Wizard, McCain, who is 72 years old has allegedly put his Country First and nominated for V.P. someone totally lacking in national and foreign policy experience, who would be a heart beat away. Woodward in his recent book “The War Within” states that the two sleeping giants when someone takes the oval office come January 2009 will be Iraq and Afghanistan, something Woodward says Bush was disconnected from. There will also be another Giant to face — that of the economy. Brokaw said to Sen. Shumer on Meet the Press Sunday past — I thought when one picks a V.P. pick that they pick the most qualified candidate, referring to Obama not picking Clinton and chosing Biden instead. This goes both ways and McCain did not pick the most qualified person. A president will have the Weight of the World on his or her shoulders. Unfortunately for this Country McCain has made a very bad judgment call. May be he did not use his good judgment in this pick but something less honorable. Barack and Biden are ready to lead and to take up that weight. I do not think McCain and Palin are ready for such a daunting task. We need true leadership and not a false and deceptive wizard giving lip service to lies and deceipt instead of truth and light.

  • http://www.jbrides.com J Sandifer

    delfinajones I ditto that!

  • bystander

    Wow. I honestly don’t know what to think, although I’ll admit to feeling a certain schadenfreude. I genuinely distrust John McCain, and both photographs (the cover of The Atlantic, and the one unsolicited) either capture or reflect my reluctance to view John McCain as honorable, or possessing integrity. Clearly, Ms. Greenberg views him similarly, based on her representation.
    The cover tells me he is old, battered, and dismissive of any pity I might feel for him. The unsolicited photo reinforces my reluctance to offer empathy in spite of the “I see right through you” (bravado?) visage on the cover.
    As for the re-touched (?) photos I found tracing out the links you provided… Ugh! Got nothing to say about those other than they really reflect someone’s antipathy for John McCain. I found the discussion and comments at the links you provided interesting. I can’t do more with a camera than depress the right button – and, sometimes not even that. So, the reactions of real photographers was eye-opening.

  • http://www.jaxxattaxx.com/ black dog barking

    In plain language, at that moment in time using that particular lighting rig and light capture equipment (mechanical, optical, and chemical) we see how the photographer’s system describes John McCain. Our innate perception systems supply calculations and estimates (built up from experience reading information from photographs) that produce a mental 3-D image from the 2-D information provided. The image itself is an objective fact. Not especially flattering for Senator McCain. Makes him look like a 72 year old man.
    “Deception” overstates the photographer’s actions. Ironically, her setup is textbook Politics 101 — give the mark (the subject for the photographer, the electorate for the politician) a set of facts from which they are likely to draw the wrong conclusion, step back, and let nature take its course. Would you be more likely or less likely to vote for John McCain if you knew he fathered a black child? Etc.

  • http://roschellenelson.blogspot.com Roschelle

    This race has become more about race than any I’ve ever witnessed. It will continue to polarize our country until election day and far beyond. I visit lots of sites. But I’m most astonished at African American sites that support McCain/Palin. Black Republicans? Isn’t that an oxymoron?

  • Nina Berman
  • http://reciprocity-failure.blogspot.com Stan B.

    I sure as hell aint no fan of Insane McCain- but for all her lighting expertise, ya think she could’ve come up with something a bit more original than this low light cheap shot that any high school student with a hand held strobe could’ve managed. Think of the recent Time cover of Putin, or the more classic Alfred Krupp by Arnold Newman (below) which is the same basic lighting technique- except a thousand times more memorable and revealing…
    http://www.wac.ucla.edu/bishop/People/Arnold%20Newman/Adams.pdf

  • d

    Stan B.: Thanks for sharing that Krupp shot (and story). Pretty amazing.
    The Time cover photo of McCain strikes me as oddly accurate.
    His advanced age is there for all to see; and his jaw looks set–not in forceful determination, but in a that sort of resigned endurance that I associate (fondly) with my grandmother, just getting along as best she could, before she died.
    But most of all:
    The light/sheen DOES make him look sort of bronzed (like an old statue), as Karen wrote,
    while his eyes are unfocused and a bit vacant/empty.
    This juxtaposition is uncanny.
    Even as a lefty progressive, I had respect for McCain years ago. The problem with him now is not that he’s evil–the Lon Chaney pose above would’ve much more apt with Cheney–but that he’s really just not “there.” (Frank Rich’s editorial this sunday hit it on the head.)
    McCain’s lost too much spark to be anything more than a figurehead… an old warhorse trotted out to win the election–proud, but no longer sharp enough to figure out that he’s not in charge.
    The amateurish fangs/bloody mouth photoshopped by that silly photographer belong much more on the Roves and the Palins of the world, it seems to me.

  • wagonjak

    I doubt whether this controvesy will hurt Jill’s career at all, and I don’t think she deserves even the mild scolding she receives in your blog above. Atlantic editors should have known her political leanings and gotten someone else if they wanted to avoid this…
    I went to Jill’s site to view her incredible portfolio s as I suspect thousands of others have just this morning…and I also suspect this issue of The Atlantic will be a huge seller!
    And I think the pic the Atlantic did use on it’s cover is JUST AS DAMNING as the rejected pics…it shows a wrinkled, pink steel head of McKrusty without even a hint of humanity!

  • http://home.comcast.net/~sfs73/index.html MonsieurGonzo

    imho, Greenburg’s betrayal (as well as the vicious caricature of Mrs. Palin that BAGman put up yesterday ~ only to reconsider and scrub it from this site before too many people saw it) damages whatever credibility remains in the now “victimized, now justified to become self-righteous avengers, ourselves” so-called progressive Left.
    It has been written that the greatest mistake that George W. Bush made after 9/11 : was to give Bin Laden the “Global War” narrative that Osama so clearly wanted.
    Mr. McCain wanted to reduce the whole thing, the election of the President of the United States to farce.
    By abandoning your own moral compass, (prescribing to your opponents’ morality, apparent that THE END JUSTIFIES THE MEANS), by mocking the Republican presidential candidate and his running-mate, Mrs. Palin, in such base, adolescent ways: You have not only sacrifieced your own scruples, Ms. Greenburg & BAGman et al; You have allowed the Republicans to become your teachers.

  • clf

    Since when must photographers only take pretty/flattering pictures? How ridiculous is that? Jill Greenberg will be just fine.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/john_bannion/ harrier

    “…brimming with characterological truth.”
    “Characterological truth”!?! A photographer’s trick which she could have done to anyone? Sorry, I can’t find much to praise in it, except for a touch of “Trick or Treat” at the door humor.

  • g

    Gonzo – so Bag shouldn’t put up a cover photo of a major policy magazine, because it makes someone look bad? Isn’t discussing such a controversial cover photo EXACTLY what this blog is about?
    Re the caricature – vicious? Pretty commonplace, actually, that artist has depicted scores of politicians. Is Palin to be sheltered from being treated like a politician?

  • The BAG

    Nina, To answer your question regarding the poster-like or photo-illustrated stuff on Greenberg’s website (taken down and now up again), I think it’s more for Greenberg’s own benefit than ours, my sense being that Greenberg is having something of a public mental breakdown as a result of her antipathy for the GOP ticket. Straddling harrier and Stan B., my own frustration (perhaps accentuated by covering the Dem convention and seeing, that much closer, how managed these candidates are) makes me see in the McCain outtake what I believe McCain is hiding (just barely, most of the time) from the photographers on the trail. On the other hand, just like your work so often, I think the mark and craft of a good portrait-maker, like Stan said, is to access those darker elements of character in the session. (That’s what I admired, in particular, in that palin TIME cover.) Back to harrier again, I think the “stolen” McCain shot has validity, but less as portraiture than as an act (and I respect Code Pink for their brand too) of, pardon the pun, guerilla activism.

  • Nina Berman

    Bag, I agree. If her pictures had been more interesting, they would have shown the dark side of McCain on their own. I personally like the Atlantic cover the best, the softer focus in the foreground giving way to a sharpness and slickness at the back of his face. All of this accentuated by the cranked up strobe lights, which suggest to me artifice, spin doctor, packaged goods,
    The problem I have with Greenberg’s antics – not the low side light shot which is simply bad, but the doctored up images with the gorilla, etc. – is that this will impact photographers everywhere. Already we have a huge fight for access. This will get worse with subjects demanding the entire take from a portrait session leaving photographers financially and creatively in a hole.
    Her turning McCain into a photo shopped cartoon will also make it very difficult to challenge similarly tasteless gestures by the Republican side. The problem is that many of these show an underlying racism or sexism, I’m thinking most recently of the pancake Aunt Jemimah Obama, which should be called out for what they are, but will now be defended as art or freedom of expression.

  • blue guitar

    Well, he’s obviously the Bad Guy. Which means that the handsome hero trounces him in the end and saves the village…the city…the country…the free world. Whatever.
    I am so relieved I could just….

  • wha?

    nina…
    just was trolling your site there. your photos are ok, but i guess you still have to teach, huh? that’s too bad.
    i notice greenberg doesn’t have to teach. that’s odd. she seems to have all the art accolades you have as far as i can tell and lots of ad and celebrity clients to boot.
    but i’m sure you are right when you say her “low side shot” is bad, it’s just a reasoned professional opinion that you can back up based on your knowledge of the shoot and so on. not just…jealousy.
    enjoy your class in the morning.

  • BushisLiar

    Is there a flattering way to photograph a lying sack of sh*t??

  • Nina Berman

    wha? …..
    I love teaching. I don’t do it because I have to. And I don’t list my clients. As for the low side lit shot, I didn’t like it. I thought it was a cheap trick. Greenberg’s a better photographer than that. Why the hateful sarcasm?

  • kathleen

    Never mind the artistry or lack thereof–McCain’s sagging (left) face half asks: has he had a stroke? It would explain the mental gaps and gaffes. I want to see his medical records.

  • Piper K

    I am in no way a McCain supporter but the lack of integrity Greenberg has displayed is truly disgusting and only self-serving. She is no better than the politics she claims to abhor. If this is “Art” then the MOMA is in my bar’s bathroom stall.

  • jean

    Kathleen, I agree, McPOW seems very different, stumbling for words, tentative, weak voice in the clips I’ve seen of him. The picture seems to show a very slight sagging, but is it just asymmetry? (Most of us are very asymmetrical). I’d have to look at other shots.
    I don’t care for the pictures, but the ‘bronzing effect’ seems to be Greenberg’s trademark. The cover, I don’t know, seems very much at odds with my perception of the man. It tries to project command, assurance, *aggressiveness*. See my first sentence.
    The other pictures are just…someone who’s just lost it. I, and others, have living on tenterhooks these days with all the handwringing and frustration over the perceived ineptness of the Obama campaign. Many of us really wanted Obama to hit back hard; be more offensive, less defensive. I agree with Bag, I think she is having a “public mental breakdown…[over her] antipathy for the GOP ticket.”
    But, I do find them (the pics)truly creepy, from the point of view of the subject and the photographer. The underlit one especially is finding it’s way to all sorts of websites.

  • jean

    “Why the hateful sarcasm?”-Nina.
    ‘Cuz, s/he’s a TROLL!
    Please, don’t feed the trolls.

  • http://www.jaxxattaxx.com/ black dog barking

    If this is “Art” then the MOMA is in my bar’s bathroom stall.
    Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain “came out top in a survey of 500 artists, curators, critics and dealers commissioned by the sponsor of the Turner prize, Gordon’s” looking for “the world’s most influential piece of modern art”. Your bar’s bathroom stall may contain the world’s next masterwork.

  • tired & disgusted

    Forget sinister characteristics. Age and wear exhibited in this photograph are cause for pause for every voter to consider what four years in the presidency will do to shorten this man’s life and bring a female Bush prototype to office. Please think carefully before you vote! The world is watching. There are many Europeans who don’t believe a man his age can endure the stresses of the presidency for 4 years.

  • smartalek

    “You have allowed the Republicans to become your teachers.”
    Let’s hope so.
    It’d be nice to actually win an election once in a while.

  • zzyzx

    While the backstage drama seems to be a case of he-said/she-said, it appears both parties are being disingenuous. She apparently held back image(s) but I don’t know what her contract with The Atlantic stipulated. The Atlantic has refused to pay her, even while using one of her images for their cover, which in my book is stealing. In so doing, the editors have displayed some faux outrage at their ‘victimization.’ BTW, I’ve always thought it a left of center magazine, so perhaps they well knew Greenberg’s leanings. Mea culpa, anyone? Greenberg’s cavalier attitude about her deception does her no credit.
    That said, I find the images stunning. The cover for the relatively uncomplicated (and unretouched) depiction of an old man who would govern the former leader of the free world. It shows the man as you would be looking at him up close, with all the wrinkles and bloodshot eyes and cancer scars. BTW, just why should this photo BE retouched? Is he running for Mr. USA? No, he’s running to represent us and we deserve to see a true picture of the man. Especially since the state of his health is a nagging question for us all. It may show all his flaws but it’s real and not all that unflattering. It looks like the image he is presenting to the public with flaws that he cannot hide.
    kathleen’s point about the sag of his face indicating a previous (and potential) stroke, recalls the comments when his medical records were “made public” that he had suffered several “siezures.” Again, isn’t that something we, his potential bosses, should know?
    The ’stealth’ shot is the other McCain. The one behind the public mask. I am reminded of the movie “Eyes Wide Shut,” wherein, once the masks are removed, some very aberrant and dark behavior is revealed. Here we see the bushy brow and downward turn of the mouth that reveals the man of quick temper and rages; a man feared by the Pentagon and Senate colleagues alike. A man with a shadow past as yet unrevealed to the public (at least those under 40) of Keating Five cohorts, the shadow ‘cabinet’ of advisors like Gramm who are responsible for our current fiscal meltdown. It’s the ominous shadow of the backroom McCain which the media will not report. That shadow asks if we will ever know all his dark dealings and associations with those who straddle the edges of the law.
    StanB. mentioned Arnold Newman, but the images brought to my mind Richard Avedon. Especially his later work where he was fascinated with the ravages of age on the face. MonsieurGonzo: a step too far. Nina Berman and The Bag, while I can’t speak to the current photographer work ethic, is it not the job of an artist to depict what s/he sees, believes, no matter what the ‘commercial’ repercussions might be? IF that is what Greenberg is doing, is she not being true to the art, in spite of whatever personality meltdown she may be exhibiting? IOW, is not the core of artistic reference coming to the fore, through the miasma of political language and obfuscation of the truth? Are we so jaded in this 21st century that we cannot distinguish between blatant political jingoism (Obama-waffle) and images that penetrate to the heart of expression?
    Well, I just passed the point at which I’m not making sense even to myself.

  • tina

    Whenever I see any picture of McCain, I see the bulge on one side of his face. I keep asking myself what it is–it looks like he has a tumour growing in there or something. For that matter his neck does not look normal either. I think it’s possible that he’s much sicker than anyone lets on. If so, then….
    Oh, well. The team that keeps Dick Cheney alive will undoubtedly be called in to inject McCain with the blood of virgins or whatever it is that keeps these human wrecks going well past their time.

  • jean

    I always see the bulge as a huge masseter muscle from years of grinding his teeth: that just pops into my head everytime I see his picture. But googling his ’smiling’ images, no dice. Maybe he wears a mouthguard, religiously.

  • http://blog.badtux.net Badtux

    The sagging left side of his face is a side-effect of the surgery for his melanoma in 2000. It is a common side-effect of lymphectomy (removal of the lymph nodes). Which also gives rise to health questions…

  • http://authenticthreads.org/blog B.

    I actually like the cover. I think he looks decent and real with his broken nose.
    That’s in contrast to how Jill Greenberg comes across. I thought it was a dishonest and mean trick she played on him. Then I checked out one of the articles you linked to and saw the other pictures she posted on her website. I don’t know what she looks like, but I see her in the photos more than I see John McCain.
    Now, in addition to dishonest and mean, (mean also in the sense of small), I think her actions were disgusting and vile. That’s no way to treat another person.

  • http://authenticthreads.org/blog B.

    I actually like the cover. I think he looks decent and real with his broken nose.
    That’s in contrast to how Jill Greenberg comes across. I thought it was a dishonest and mean trick she played on him. Then I checked out one of the articles you linked to and saw the other pictures she posted on her website. I don’t know what she looks like, but I see her in the photos more than I see John McCain.
    Now, in addition to dishonest and mean, (mean also in the sense of small), I think her actions were disgusting and vile. That’s no way to treat another person.

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