April 4, 2006

Jill Greenberg: "End Times" Indeed

jill_greenberg_end_times.jpg

I am totally down with the title, but I can't decide if "End Times," Jill Greenberg's exhibition of hyper-glossed up photographs of wailing children is actually commenting on the apocalypse or hastening it. I know which one the artist herself thinks it is: "I love the raw emotion of children," she says, "because it comes close to the anger and helplessness I feel about our current political and social situation.

There are SO many ways to go with this, and as a fan of artists and art who long ago decided I was working to support my art habit, my reflex is to give the artist the benefit of the doubt. Never mind that on several political issues at least, I'm sure I have at least some outrage and disagreement in line with Ms Greenberg's.

THAT SAID...Is she totally blind to the subtext here? How it looks to equate her political/cultural worldview with that of a powerless, out-of-control, unmodulated, screaming baby? And her gallery's assertion that she's "break[ing] through to the pop mainstream and participat[ing] in a growing national dialogue"? I bet Karl Rove is clearing a place for her at the kiddie table right now.

There's no denying the compelling, uncomfortable power of her images, which only complicates things further. I an not one to reject the idea of images of wailing babies outright. In fact, I applaud it in principle as an antidote to the relentless, saccharine, twinkle-eyed baby cutesiness used to sell everything from breast pumps to tires to politicians.

But seeing these pictures as a parent, I'd rather put my kid on Wonder Showzen than let Greenberg get anywhere near her. To make her pictures, "all" Greenberg does is take a lollipop away, hardly a life-destroying experience for a 1-yo. But conceptually, I'd be more impressed with patiently observed, naturally occurring meltdowns rather than contrived ones. But then, Greenberg's nickname and website aren't The Documenter.

Jill Greenberg | Manipulator [manipulator.com via coolhunting]
"End Times" opens at Paul Kopeikin Gallery in LA on Apr. 22nd [paulkopeikingallery.com]

10 Comments

These photos are disturbing to me on so many other levels. Why do the children have to be naked and crying? As a naturally protective mother in this time of child predators, I find these photos extremely uncomfortable to look at.

[naked and predators? Hm. I would guess that addressing/harnessing that discomfort is part of her objective in the first place. But remember, all she did to get the pics was to take away a lollipop; everything else that gets conjured up comes from the viewer. -ed.]

There is a real juxtaposition between the raw emotion and the way the children are lighted that almost makes them look, I don't know, plastic? Their skintones and model-perfect sheen are such a contrast to the emotion. I suppose most of the photos we see of crying babies in mass media are from war torn or impoverished areas, which would strike a closer chord with being upset about our current political situation - so I am trying to wrap my brain around the contrasts here.

Wow--definitely disturbing. Don't even know where to start on how disturbing these look to me as a parent.

Disturbing? Only looks like the Gangrene Hour around my house (5 p.m. - 7 p.m.)

Wish I could get mine as clean and shiny during Gangrene.

To view these one needs to approach them with a sense of humor (albeit dark humor) and a willingness to recognize these as photographs rather than real crying babies in distress. Take another look at "Four More Years" and tell me it ain't funny in a darkly comic kind of way. These are cleverly manipulated photographs in which the photographer implies misery, anxiety, and fear via skilled use of lighting, composition, titling and framing (surely they are wearing diapers, but the cropping implies nakedness and naked frustration). And as Greg pointed out, all this manipulation makes something as inocuous as a missing lollipop seem utterly tragic and traumatic.

I'm with Erin. I don't get the naked part - it seems kinda' creepy.
Naked frustration . .. . eh. I was an English major, I've stretched the symbolism a ways, in my day. I'm just not buying the naked concept.

Also, I find it hard to believe that kids would get that bent about having their lollipop taken away.
She must be really mean about it. Manipulator indeed.

[they're not naked; they're just not wearing shirts. Unless they come into your pizza restaurant dressed like that, I don't see what the big deal is. -ed.]

I'm certainly not willing to go on record that these are the world's most sophisticated works of art, but it is interesting how easily viewers conflate the real (baby) with its photographic representation. But then again, images of children do tend to engender this response (maybe even more so than most other images). Just consider how casually we whip out a photograph of our child and tell someone "this is my baby" when in reality it's not a baby, it's a photograph of a baby. The semiotic slip-up reveals our willingness to misidentify the representation with the real, especially as it pertains to loved ones like our children. This partially explains the response to other photographs of children that have been deemed controversial (for example by Loretta Lux, Sally Mann, and Lewis Carroll).

Each of these photographers has been variously accused of manipulating, harming, or abusing their child subjects when in fact these allegations have largely been put to rest by diligent scholars (I'm tempted to say put to bed, but that seems too snarky).

The accusations appear to stem from the public's close association of photographs of children with the children themselves and childhood with innocence (and only innocence...which is itself an idealized vision of childhood).

Does all of this make Greenberg a great artist. Certainly not. If anything she's savvily exploiting a longstanding tradition whereby the public misinterprets severe, unforgiving or otherwise un-innocent photographs of children as evidence of abuse, thereby drawing attention to her new body of work. And since I've just wasted more time writing a second post about her I got suckered as good as anyone. But I still think they're funny, if not profound. Did you look at "Grand Old Party" and "Faith?" LOL.

ps -- hope the links work. I'm terrible at html. OK. time to stop writing.

[thanks GFR, interesting stuff and pretty right on. Like Wonder Showzen and at least a couple of the photogs you mentioned, there's the sense of anxiety about how a photo was made, too, though, and the perceived transgression of adult/parental responsibility to protect a child from harm or exploitation. Lux's work is pretty obviously only creeped out AFTER the photo is taken, and so it should raise fewer eyebrows about the kid, even if it conflicts harshly with what we want/expect children to look like. The issues surrounding the other two, Mann and Carroll, seem to me to be more about projecting adult POV of sexuality and awareness onto kids. As such, it's less about the kid or even the photographer--except maybe in Carroll's case, I don't know, but HE kind of creeps me out, not just his pics--but about the viewer. As for Greenberg, I'm still not yet sure how/why/if the works warrant so much mental bandwidth. -ed.]

MAKING toddlers cry..just so she can take pictures of it. Sounds like something a Nazi would dream up. I have three toddler nieces and two toddler nephews and they cry quite often. It breaks my heart to see them cry, and I would absolutely never make them cry so that I could take advantage of it. They cry quite often anyway, so why force it?

In my opinion, it's not really art, but publicity. Bad publicity is better than no publicity. I would like to take a picture of her crying so that I could represent someone who has traded in thier morals for a chance at some added attention. Shame on the parents as well. Did they feel bad when thier children cried? Maybe. But now they have famous pictures of thier kids they can rub thier friends noses in. My bet is that thier friends are not impressed. I'm fairly certain thier children won't be impressed either when they grow up.

There is plenty of authentic pain and suffering that can be photographed. I guess she didn't want to pay for the plane ticket to catch these images naturally. Beyond being cheap with her art, the concept is not even origional. This was done with the Iron Eyes Cody ad of the 70's. (crying indian) All we have here is a cheap and shameless trick to get attention for her work. It seems the real message the "Manipulator" wants to get across is instead of working for a better future, we can manipulate it to look the way we want it to.

I love it, the work of Jill Greenberg is with out a dout bloody fantastic, I am a man of God, a pacifist and a person against suffering.
It saddens me though that people can brand Jill a sick wowen and state what she is doing is 'torture', what a crock of nonscense, she's having the balls to do something real and original. How many of these children will remember her? None, that's your answer. So really can we say they have suffered child abuse? No, we cannot. A person cannot be victim of child abuse unless they remember it in the future.
Also I like the way she's gone about the work, the lollypop idea is truely triffic and hillarious, it really appeals to my scense of humour. It's actually something I think i'm going to try.
I've always believed in something my grandfather told me as a young boy, quote; "Emotion comes only from the heart, to capture it, to understand it, one has to take an exra mile in making it last". This relates to Jill's photo's as she has travelled that extra mile by upsetting the children and their emotion as one can clearly see comes directly from their little hearts.

I say carry on doing good, your a bloody legend darling and should be merited the 'Turner Prize'for true courage and ordacity.

Sounds like exactly the kind of superficial response the work deserves. My biggest complaint about Greenberg is that she's a trite, manipulative, cliche'd hack, and the lollipop thing fits that perfectly.

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