Above: an illustration from the New York Post.
The Atlantic Monthly magazine, after hiring controversial photographer Jill Greenberg to shoot a cover portrait of presidential candidate John McCain, has stood by its choice of cover shots but disavowed the photographer, after it transpired that Greenberg used the access to McCain the magazine granted her to create various egregiously sensational political statements on her website. Apparently she "deliberately took a sinister photo...of John McCain, then Photoshopped it on the web," according to the New York Post, which ran both photos and played up the various grotesqueries perpetrated by the photographer.
The New York Post article quotes Atlantic Editor James Bennet as saying, "We feel totally blind-sided. Her behavior is outrageous. Incredibly unprofessional." The magazine ran an official disavowal on its website, saying, "we expected her, like the other photographers we work with, to behave professionally," adding, "obviously...we will not work with her again."
Perhaps she feels that she is primarily an artist and free to express herself regardless of the situation, but James Bennett is correct. Jill Greenberg's actions in this instance give all professional portrait and editorial photographers a black eye. (I'd be interested to hear editorial, newspaper, and assignment photographers in our audience give their opinions of the ethics involved.)
Featured Comment by JM Colberg [responding in part to comments left by others]: "Folks, Alfried Krupp was a convicted war criminal. You can say whatever you want about John McCain, but that he is not. So let's all be adults, shall we? That aside, Greenberg's actions are irresponsible, juvenile, and idiotic. For a good explanation why (in the form of 14 questions) see Mark Tucker's blog."
Mike adds: Jörg's own piece about it is good too.
Featured Comment by Damon Schreiber: "I view this controversy with bemusement. Some of the discussion here seems to veer off on the wrong track (referring to her work as journalism for example when it's anything but), but there are certainly many interesting questions raised. Like most others, I don't find her political commentary clever or illuminating, but in general I don't feel any moral outrage over what she did. In essence, she did what she did—it was her choice, and her career to enhance or ruin.
"If it does result in further scrutiny of other portrait photographers, or more explicit contracts, I suppose that's unfortunate, but portraits will still be commissioned as often as ever. If there's a benefit, it's opening people's eyes to the fact that a photographer owns her own work whether or not it was commissioned for a magazine cover.
"I'm most curious to see the effect on her career. My guess is that it won't suffer in the long term. She's good and reasonably unique at what she does (I think that's true whether or not you enjoy her work), and she's obviously not afraid of stirring things up and dealing with the fallout. My main regret is that her political commentary was so embarrassingly ham-handed that it will do nothing to help her case."
Featured Comment by Mick Ryan: "I think JM Colberg's featured comment—a reaction to others' comments about the Arnold Newman portrait—is both partisan and a fallacy. The comparison is between one photographer and another—not one subject and another. Just because one subject is a Nazi and the other a conservative politician doesn't make it okay in one circumstance and not the other. It's either a photographer's right to shoot the subject as they see fit or it's not. Demonizing McCain is no more wrong than shooting him from a low angle to make him look heroic."