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Controversy over Jill Greenberg's Photographs of John McCain

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The Photographs:

During the 2008 U.S. Presidential Campaign, The Atlantic hired Jill Greenberg to photograph John McCain for its October cover. Greenberg is an outspoken liberal and had already been involved in controversy such as the "Crying Babies" issue. During the photo shoot Greenberg took additional shots of McCain lit from below so that a horror film effect was achieved. While The Atlantic chose a very "normal" photograph without the lower lighting for its cover, Greenberg negotiated a 2 week embargo so she could license the other photos elsewhere.

The Controversial Photos:

Part of the controversy was that McCain believed this was just another photo shoot and had no idea what would be done with the non-cover photos. Greenberg told PDNPulse, “He had no idea he was being lit from below. I guess they’re not very sophisticated.” In addition to the unedited shot of McCain with the horror-style lighting, Greenberg manipulated the photo to replace McCain's mouth with shark's teeth and add blood dripping down his collar.

The Controversy:

When the horror lighting image and the shark's teeth image began circulating the McCain camp and conservative bloggers were very upset. Greenberg told PDN "I want to stir stuff up, but not to the point where I get audited if he becomes president...It’s definitely exciting to shoot someone who is in the limelight like that. I am a pretty hard core Democrat.” The shark's teeth image was posted on a billboard with the words, "I'm a bloodthirsty warmonger." The controversy quickly spread to professional photographers and others who said that Greenberg had behaved unprofessionally and reflected badly on her employer.

The Outcome:

The Atlantic distanced itself from Greenberg and apologized to the McCain campaign. Jeffrey Goldberg, who wrote the McCain article the photos were supposed to illustrate, stated that "Suffice it to say that her "art" is juvenile, and on occasion repulsive. This is not the issue, of course; the issue is that she betrayed this magazine, and disgraced her profession."The Atlantic also refused to pay Greenberg for the photos she took.

References:

PDNPulse Article (original article no longer online - originally published Sept. 2008)
Michelle Malkin Website
Jeffrey Goldberg Response in "The Atlantic"

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