Thursday, August 03, 2006


What is all the uproar over the photographs in the exhibit End Times by Jill Greenberg? Is it really child abuse like some loud-mouthed bloggers, and right-wing pundits, are claiming? Is it art?

Jill Greenberg photographed toddlers in the presence of their parents. In each shoot, she gave the toddler a lollipop, had their parent(s) take it away, took a few photographs while they cried, and then the parent(s) gave the lollipop back. Some people are claiming emotional abuse of the children. If having a lollipop taken away from you and then given back after someone takes a few snapshots is classified as child abuse, then we live in a world with a very skewed set of priorities.

But, then again, this is the nation that (1) elected George W. Bush to two terms in office, while he lines the pockets of his cronies, rapes our world of its natural resources, and rattles his saber at anyone willing to speak against him; (2) is mired in combat in Iraq, the new Vietnam; (3) has made sure that the poor remain that way in the gutting of social security, health care, and fair wages; and (4) now watches in silence as "our ally" Israel runs rampant over Lebanon (a sovereign nation), The West Bank, and The Gaza Strip. All the while, the ultraconservative "Christians" of this nation have hijacked my faith and the public square. And, why does all of this happen? Because we are more interested in who gets voted off of Supernova, Survivor, or American Idol. Because we have confused knee-jerk moral reactions with actual thought. Because we are so overmedicated that our senses are constantly dulled. We have forgotten how to actually think.

The above picture of the child is of her crying. I was trying to take a picture of her with her new purse, but she has been teething the past few days and is very uncomfortable and quickly irritable. So, once she started to cry, I took some pictures anyway. She was comforted within thirty seconds from the time she began crying. Is this child abuse? Will she be so emotionally traumatized by this minor incident as to become a dysfunctional adult? Furthermore, is it art? I digitally blurred the photograph so as to make the child less recognizable. I also changed a color picture to gray scale, as well as resized it. The photograph is as stylized, in its own way, as Jill Greenberg's crisp, "bronzed," haunting photography.

My "work" is neither child abuse nor is it art. Jill Greenberg's work is the latter but not the former. Just as my child suffered no long-term or permanent damage, neither did the subjects of Greenberg. Whereas my photograph is just a crappy, altered, low-resolution image taken on a $15 dollar keychain camera (even though I like my photograph, but then I am extremely biased on multiple counts: it is my child, I took the picture, I invested time in the process), Greenberg's photographs reflect her years of study and practice in the art of photography. She also has the advantage of being displayed in a well-known gallery, and supported by well-connected patrons and clients.

To dislike the photographs because of the emotions that the images evoke in the viewer is valid. However, you need to explain why you react the way you do. The blogger that started the whole controversy, "Thomas Hawk," keeps stating in his blog that something should be done about Greenberg (in the legal sense), and that the photography is wrong, but never gives me, the reader, a rational explanation for what makes it wrong. Instead, the word "evil" is bandied about; he refers to the photography as "child pornography of the worst kind," even though the pictures are not "sexualized;" compares the photo sessions to parents allowing their children to spend the night with Michael Jackson; and other such absurdities.

In other words, he sets up a duality where you are either in or out, black or white, good or evil, us or them, using language similar to that of our current president: a language saturated with morality and smug righteousness, of being on the side ordained by God. Remember the simpler times when we could just worry about the world being obliterated in nuclear annihilation in the race to see whether the United States or the Soviet Union could dominate the planet? Now that was child abuse! And, the logic is just as irrational, but it's mine! Then again, I'm just some loud-mouthed blogger...

No comments: