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Friday, 21 December 2007

Jill Greenberg

The BJP has a kid's issue out this week and a great interview by Diane Smyth on Jill Greenberg.

Greenberg talks about reactions to her End Time series - "A small but vocal group sprang up, denouncing her images as 'sick' and Greenberg herself as 'a child abuser' and 'morally bankrupt'. 'It's upsetting because I have two small children... At the moment they're too young too understand but one day they will and I'll have to try to explain what happened."

There's not too much to explain really, but still - it's hard to ignore Greenberg's images - they hit a primal spot where children feel and show the injustice of it all in the most direct way possible. Greenberg got the children to cry by giving them lollipops and then taking them away - a tad mean, perhaps, but not sick or abusive. As Greenberg says, "They're not like adults, who are repressed and have to be really in pain to cry. Children cry when they're just a bit upset, but adults project their emotions onto them and say, 'Someone must have died for them to be so upset.' "

The main problem I have with the series is the glassification (why bother!) and Greenberg's insistence that the kids' distress is to do with George Bush and the war in Iraq. And it's not.


Joerg said...

Alright, that got me: "At the moment they're too young too understand but one day they will and I'll have to try to explain what happened." That's such bogus (to phrase it mildly) We've heard that too often when people tried to justify, for example, spanking kids.

But seriously, I see very little - if any - artistic merit in this work (and I'm not even talking about the crap aesthetic that makes me wonder what product is being sold here).

colin pantall said...

Joerg - I think there could have been something good in here - they are memorable and there is something about crying children that is so elemental and referential of the emotional extremes of childhood - it's not, as it says in the interview, the idealized cakewalk that so many people remember.

Perhaps they are memorable for the wrong reasons - the crap aesthetic and the reason Greenberg gives for them crying are contrived. It's an example of adult perspectives being projected onto the child - the images are more about the photographer and her world (and aesthetic) than the children themselves.

Joerg said...

I just came across the UNICEF photos of the year - see the link on my blog - and the comparison with Greenberg's images is instructive: Both are memorable, but you can clearly see that while the UNICEF photos all are incredibly moving, Greenberg's photography is just superficial crap.

And of course, you're right, it's not about the children, it's about her ridiculous idea of trying to express anger about an election - so then her best idea was to make a bunch of crying children look just like the monkeys or bears she had shot before (or in fact any other of her commercial work). Wow, that's deep!

colin pantall said...

I think what Greenberg is trying to say about babies is relevant to childhood as a whole and very different to the Unicef pictures which relate to human rights/children's rights issues.

Moving stories there for sure, but different to Greenberg's pictures. Joerg, I have this special sixth sense which tells me you really don't like them.

Joerg said...

I think the comparison of the photos from the UNICEF photos with Greenberg's is very instructive - sure, it's photojournalism against ... what?

I'd be happy to argue that making little kids cry just so you can produce tacky photos that are sold in art galleries is abuse of those little children - because even though we adults don't think getting a lollipop taken away from us is such a big deal, for the kids it's quite a real drama.

But your sensors are quite perceptive - I think everything about these photos is crap.

colin pantall said...

It's not abuse - it's slightly mean, that's all. Abuse is more akin to what the Unicef stories are about - don't confuse the two. They're completely different.

For kids having a lollipop taken away is a drama, sure - but everything is a drama. Childhood is dramatic which is a point where Greenberg is right on the money.

Joerg said...

I don't want to have a discussion about what constitutes child abuse and what not - that takes away from the simple fact that this work is crap. ;-)

Timothy Archibald said...

Omg, Joerg is not holding back, huh?
I did see one of her prints at Photo LA, massive, alone, of one of the crying kids and really thought it was great. the commercial polish the images had i just kind of accepted. after seeing the series she did, a number of them seemed to be...oh, a bit like the painting of big eyed children that were popular in the 70's, but really that is me being super critical. Standing in front of one of them, massive and beautiful and full of all of the polish and splendor and then the rage, I just thought it was great.

And again...I got kids, so I maybe have a different view on a kid crying than i had before i had kids. The political titles seemed to lower the iq of the photographs, but there was a strength and splendor to the images that spoke to me. But again, I'm a guy most likely more in the commercial world than Colin and Joerg...correct? It just might explain my leanings, as well as my own current project about my kid...so consider the messenger.

colin pantall said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
colin pantall said...

Tim, you're definitely more in the commericial world than me or Joerg - and I think it is a valid point you make. And Joerg, why should a series being shown in a gallery be invalid or dubious as opposed to something shown in a newspaper or magazine - there are plenty of people who would slag off Jonathan Torgovnik, for example, for showing his work in both a journalistic and a gallery setting ( I saw his work again at the NPG yesterday). Relax, show it wherever you like - it's a good thing, both for Greenberg and Torgovnik.

I think appreciating the drama of kids crying after you have had kids is a real key to understanding what she is trying to say - even if it is crass (both the appreciating and the way she is trying to say what she is trying to say) in some ways.

I do consider the messenger which is why I think there 'could' be something great in these, but isn't yet. It is so interesting why and how I am so antagonised by the supposed message of the pictures. Is there any other message that has such an effect on how I see the accompanying pictures - from the bottom of my head, I don't think so.

Anonymous said...

I saw JG speak once and she truly came off as a moron. I agree with Archibald that her attempt to link the series to a protest of the war comes off poorly. I still think Nina Berman's portrait of the disfigured Marine is the strongest picture from the war to date and belongs in the same class as Eddie Adams and Nick Ut's images.

Perséfone said...

today in one of my classes we we're introduced to some people who have done controversial work, among them there was Jill Greenberg and this series of portraits. well although i ain't an expert i believe everyone has the right to contribute with their opinion if it has been given some thought. so i've been reading all this people's opinions, here and in other places around the web, and i must say when i saw some of the images in the classroom i didn't think at all of them as abusing, if you have lived or worked with children, you will see they cry about almost everything unless they get their way all the time (which is a very unpedagogic way of raising a child), it is for them that don't master language or thought that well a very good way of conveying displeasement, which does not compare even at the least bit to unicef photos which are extremely humanistic depicting children born in misery and deeply abused since birth.
i am not deeply into politics and not being american even more so. from what i've been reading she had the inspiration to do this series derived from a political feeling which made her feel so helpless like the children looks in the pictures. photography isn't that objective, the children cried because someone (the parents who were there) took from them a lollipop, is that abuse? Abuse in this sort of line, involving lollipops, could perhaps be a child that has never had the pleasure of eating something just for the sake of its appealing taste.

but then again, we all have different views, so i understand when people say this was mean. i just don't understand how someone could say she deserved going to court and prison. please, everyone that is a parent has made their child cry, it's just plain, normal, child behaviour.

to me the photographs are beautiful, they made her personal feelings show through the helplessness of a child, and the amazing editing of the photos just enhance their tears making it all look more dramatic and intense.

if any would say this is abusive cause money is being made of art, then every artist, specially photographers, that depict whatever exists, are abusive people, you can say this "pain" was created instead of just documented, but every staged photography is created. besides the cildren probably had their lollipops right back, the exposure must have been really quick and the kids would probably only stop again with the lollipop in hands :P

i'll just proceed looking through the rest of your blog, thank you :) *

Perséfone said...

oh god, i'm sorry for the long comment :S *

colin pantall said...

Hi Persefone - I agree with you absolutely, though I'm not a fan of her work. Have you seen the fuss over her McCain picture?

Chus said...

This is what I think: Jill Greenberg

colin pantall said...

Oh Chus, you're a bad man!