I returned home from Tokyo this morning to find my latest issue of American Photo waiting on me. On pages 15 and 18 is the work and interview of Jill Greenberg featured as the most controversial photo exhibition of the year. I agree with Thomas on this one (see Jill Greenberg is a Sick Woman Who Should Be Arrested and Charged With Child Abuse and More Thoughts on the Jill Greenberg Controversy). I remained silent on this topic UNTIL I read the article in American Photo -- the quotes attributed to Mrs. Greenberg were saddening to me, at the very least.
Here are the quotes by Mrs. Greenberg in the article I found to be disturbing, and why...
"Maybe getting kids to cry isn't the nicest thing to do, but I'm not causing anyone permanent psychological damage."
My wife is a child psychologist with a specialization in child development, and I have learned from her some of the most formative years of a childs life are between the ages of 1-6. Does Mrs. Greenberg have the expertise to know whether or not she is crossing a boundary with these children? Nothing in her official website bio indicates she does.
"Kid models aren't very expensive -- not as expensive as monkeys, for example."
It seems to me it boils down to maximizing profit for Mrs. Greenberg, regardless of the consequences or moral obligations she has to her subjects. I don't believe it's right to provoke animals in this manner, much less children, for the sake of making a buck. This dehumanizing of the children -- making them merely a commodity -- is sickening.
"Some would just cry for no reason -- my daughter did that; she didn't like standing on the apple box I used for a platform because it was a little wobbly."
Mrs. Greenberg, your child was not crying for no reason. She was crying because you put her in a position where she felt unsafe. This hit a particular nerve for me. We have professional pictures (by Karen Goforth) of our two children at six months old sitting on a turtle stool built by my grandfather. The stool is not wobbly -- it sits about three inches high, has a very wide base and therefore a low center of gravity.
Both children had learned to sit up unaided for 1-2 weeks before the pics were taken, so were naturally still a bit wobbly themselves at the time the pictures were taken. Because of this, I was mere inches away during the session, just out of camera range or within the periphery of the frame edges. The minute my children became the least bit distressed or started to sway a little bit I scooped them up and ended the session. Granted, my goals were very different from Mrs. Greenberg -- we wanted happy, smiling pictures.
I can't imagine intentionally making my child uncomfortable or unsafe to provoke them to tears. I'm baffled as to why Mrs. Greenberg as a mother would do so to her own children, much less those of friends or complete strangers.
"At the end of the day I was not in a good mood. I don't like making little kids cry."
Earlier in the article Mrs. Greenberg states she photographed 'around 35' children in groups of '12 or so for one day'. If she dislikes provoking children in this manner, why did she do it for approximately 3 days (35 children divided by 12 per day)...? The actions in this case seem to speak much louder than the words.
"The emotion you see is just so compelling, yet they're beautiful at the same time. That was one of the things that interested me about the project -- the strength and beauty of the images as images."
These images are not beautiful, nor do they depict any sort of beauty. To attribute any sort of beauty to these images is shameful in the least, and speaks volumes about the distorted perspective of the viewer.
"I also thought they made a kind of political statement about the current state of anxiety a lot of people are in about the future of the country. Sometimes I just feel like crying about the way things are going."
The pictures by Mrs. Greenberg might be indicative of psychological projection. I'm not a psychologist, but I remember enough from my undergraduate studies in psychology to recognize the behavior. There are many, many ways to constructively deal with a negative personal outlook of our culture, political or socioeconomic environment without involving children, or causing a negative impact to their lives. Talking with a friend or spouse is a good start, and much more healthier than imposing our unhappiness upon the precious little ones in our lives.
As a result of their feature of Mrs. Greenberg I'm canceling my subscription to American Photo. I hope in the future they will decline to feature children in their magazine in this manner. There are many, many other controversial photo exhibitions they could choose to highlight which do not resort to exploiting minors.