A Photography Blog

/rachel hulin


PDN on Jill Greenberg, The Atlantic, and John McCain

David Walker often has something interesting to say over at PDN, and yesterday was no different. He posted an illuminating interview with Jill Greenberg about her recent (fairly unflattering) shoot of John McCain for The Atlantic.

Greenberg used her trademark glossy lighting, but left the cover image un-retouched. She didn’t however, make him cry like she has historically done:


Still, the man has looked better.

More from the Walker piece:

“After getting that shot, Greenberg asked McCain to ‘please come overhere’ for one more set-up before the 15-minute shoot was over. There,she had a beauty dish with a modeling light set up. ‘That’s what hethought he was being lit by,’ Greenberg says. ‘But that wasn’t firing.’

What was firing was a strobe positioned below him, which cast thehorror movie shadows across his face and on the wall right behind him. ‘He had no idea he was being lit from below,’ Greenberg says. And hishandlers didn’t seem to notice it either. ‘I guess they’re not verysophisticated,’ she adds.

The Atlantic didn’t select the diabolical looking McCain forits cover. Greenberg is hoping to license that image to some othermagazine (she negotiated a two-week embargo with The Atlantic so she could re-license images from the shoot before the election).”


“Given her strong feelings about John McCain, we asked whether shehad any reservations about taking the assignment in the first place.

‘I didn’t,’ she says. ‘It’s definitely exciting to shoot someone whois in the limelight like that. I am a pretty hard core Democrat. Someof my artwork has been pretty anti-Bush, so maybe it was somewhatirresponsible for them [The Atlantic] to hire me.’”

Is this change we can believe in? Read the whole piece, here. And read Mark Tucker’s thoughts. He’s rather thorough.

UPDATE: Some things have come to light. This really is shocking. And this.

Read what the writer of the story has to say, here. This thing gets weirder and weirder.

I miss your floaters, Jill.


  1. MarcW - September 13, 2008 6:30 pm

    While I dread a McCain presidency even more than I dread an Obama presidency (and I dread a potential Palin presidency far more than either) that was a low-down, dirty trick to do to a subject she was being PAID to shoot by a client, who she then publicly called irresponsible and implied weren’t very smart. Not to mention that now the client has to deal with the consequences of sending McCain to Greenberg and having her pull this crap.
    Yes, let’s all insult our clients, belittle and trick our subjects, and leave the steaming heap behind for other people to have to deal with. THAT’S a good way to encourage people to pay professional photographers rather than just send a point-and-shoot camera along with the interview journalist.
    Brilliant, Jill, brilliant.

  2. thaddy.myopenid.com - September 13, 2008 7:01 pm

    I think the cover image does a good job of communicating more about the personality behind the man, revealing aspects of McCain that most people otherwise wouldn’t see. I hadn’t noticed the once broken nose before.
    His pundits will of course interpret the softly presented tones of his age as caring and grandfatherly; his nose as an enduring sacrifice for his country. The detractors now have an image to parade which accurately displays the calculatingly cold and severe nature of his personality.
    I’ve always thought editorial images are most successful when they portray no apparent bias and I think this picture meets that test well. Personally, I would have taken the side strobes down maybe 2/3 stop, but hey, I’ve only ever used available light so I can’t really talk :)

  3. thaddy.myopenid.com - September 13, 2008 7:30 pm

    Also… it’s worth a look at Jill Greenberg’s site, http://www.manipulator.com/, to see her treatment of the ‘other’ images, particularly if one drills down past the splash page to NAMES:john mccain. Laugh or get angry.

  4. ishootistguy - September 13, 2008 7:44 pm

    Photo News & Business Forum has a somewhat different take (than PDN’s) on the Greenberg/McCain shoot.

  5. john - September 14, 2008 9:36 am

    I never knew my grandfather. He died in France in 1918. When I was growing up through the teen years my father was away – busy in France and Holland and Germany. They both rest peacefully now in military graves.
    So I’m very grateful for leaders like Pres Bush and John McCain who know evil when they see it and have the gumption to face it before it becomes completely unmanageable.
    Thus I look only with distain on people like Greenberg who cheat and manipulate our honourable craft to their own questionable ends.

  6. Russ Hickman - September 14, 2008 11:13 am

    Lady Balls of Steel. I love Jill Greenberg.

  7. Erich Morton - September 14, 2008 12:57 pm

    Another way you could say that is ‘you look only with disdain on people like Greenberg who use their freedom of expression to voice their own opinions.’
    or at least that’s what it sounded like you were saying to me.

  8. Erich - September 14, 2008 2:13 pm

    Okay, maybe that came off too preachy.
    I can understand the disdain at Greenberg’s deception and how proud she was of herself, but it’s not like photographers have some code of conduct they need to follow that precludes them from being biased towards their subjects. They’re not UN peacekeepers. Greenberg created a hero shot of McCain for the cover and an antihero shot for herself. Doing so isn’t an insult to our fallen soldiers as john the commenter might have been implying.

  9. just me - September 14, 2008 6:19 pm

    People are commenting without knowing the full story. The outrage isn’t about the unflattering cover photo, it’s what she did with the outtakes, how she flaunted them on the front page of her website (no longer on the front but still accessible on her site under Names:) and how she bragged about it. If you are going to comment, you need to see these images first. If you don’t feel like searching on her site, this article has the images:
    Rachel, I love your blog but you owe it to us to tell the whole story.

  10. mtbrooks - September 15, 2008 9:51 am

    Okay, I initially laughed at the shark teeth photo on Clayton Cubit’s tumblr, but Mark Tuckers questions pulled the whole thing into focus for me.
    This will make it that much harder for other photographers. More contracts, more oversight, more headaches.

  11. Janus - September 15, 2008 10:43 am

    I support Obama through and through, however it is obvious that she has no sense of ethics.

  12. mike wood - September 15, 2008 10:59 am

    As soon as I saw your image of the child and McCain I knew it was Jill Greenberg even before reading the text. Part of me was hoping the other one was McCain as a child. :) I think I first encountered Jill Greenberg’s work on the cover of the current Focus Magazine. Now that one would have also been good to juxtapose under her image of McCain. The youth of tomorrow looking up and McCain and shedding a last tear after a long tantrum.

  13. kickstand - September 15, 2008 3:05 pm

    I’m no fan of McCain, but I think the cover shot is gorgeous. He looks like a pugnacious fighter with a broken nose, coming back to finish the job. He’s square-jawed and masculine. What’s not to like?
    The outtakes are maybe a different story, but they are outtakes. Who cares about outtakes?

  14. Bradford Fuller - September 16, 2008 9:37 am

    A direct descendent of Edward Steichen’s photograph of J P Morgan

  15. brad Nelson - September 16, 2008 11:16 am

    With all due respect to creativity and the right to free speech, i think Jill has made an already tough business tougher. Die hard democrat that i am,i surely don’t need four more years of the same crap that has taken place, but i think it was totally irresponsible for her to alienate her peers. Great job. Sounds like a president this country has had recently…

  16. JonF - September 18, 2008 1:46 am

    This will all blow over very quickly I am sure and Jill Greenberg will continue her very successful career.
    Now imagine for a minute, if you will, a photographer trying this same stunt with Obama.
    Instant career death I assure you and headline news for weeks.

  17. anonymouse - September 19, 2008 9:10 pm

    Jill Greenberg, a name that will go down in photo history as…..
    Who knows. I know that I hope to never hear her name again, or to see her photographs published.
    She betrayed her client and the subject. Now our industry is taking on the chin with heavy duty oversight, longer embargoes and most likely, more approval hoops to jump through.
    Thanks a bunch Jill!

  18. Tickler - September 21, 2008 6:35 pm

    I’m just kindof tired of her style, way before this. In 30+ years as a pro shooter, I’ve taken many unintentionally unflattering shots of notable people, but they’re staying in the archive. It’s too easy to shoot ugly pictures and put funny captions on them. One needs empathy, and a sense of one’s future prospects if one goes around mocking one’s subjects.
    Ms. Greenberg apparently is a little short in both departments. Consider the possibility that she may have been a slightly autistic, and that our dumping on her might be equally unkind. I’m just saying, understanding and forgiveness is important.

  19. Peter Hoffas - September 25, 2008 12:09 pm

    John Mccain’s advisors are making sure Mccain will not win the election. They did no have to use any of these photos for the cover of Atlantic. They could have done a reshoot with any number of photographers.
    You see in the oligarchy of the US government it is 8 years republicrat than 8 years demoncrat. This whole system of the election is being controlled by the multi-national corporations whithin the govenment media complex.
    Neither presidential candidate is qualified for the office. They are simply puppets of government media complex, and will do the bidding of the multinational corporations (they fund both candidates heavily).
    Jill Greenberg can shoot however she wants, but don’t you think Mccain’s advisors would have gone in with a certain request of style for the photographer. Or used a photographer that would portray Mccain in a presidential light?

  20. Gato - October 14, 2010 1:56 pm


  21. Ruben Rehberger - July 16, 2011 9:10 pm

    I’m curious to find out what blog system you are using? I’m having some minor security problems with my latest website and I’d like to find something more safe. Do you have any solutions?

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