On assignment for Atlantic Monthly Magazine, photographer Jill Greenberg took a series of pictures of John McCain. In the course of the photo shoot she asked McCain to pose for a set that she had deliberately designed to light him in manner that produced a more sinister, some might say more realistic, appearance. She later delivered the commissioned pictures to the Atlantic and took the others back to her studio for some Photoshop fun. Here are a few of the results: (and here are the rest):
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Needless to say, this caused an uproar in conservative circles amongst a bunch of hypersensitive hypocrites who oppose freedom of expression.
First of all, Greenberg is a superlative artist with a unique and evocative voice. She has a long record of quality work and a portfolio brimming with inspired imagery. She is also an avowed liberal and has produced work in the past that has attacked Republicans, particularly George W. Bush. That's not a crime. That's a civic duty. I myself have quite a collection of political graphics that are sure to offend somebody. The photographs presented in this series are akin to the political cartoons and editorial graphics that have long been a part of our political culture.
However, she is now coming under assault by elements of the right wing media who fault her for "deceiving" the hapless Republican nominee for president of the United States. The fact that he can be so easily duped is perhaps another argument that he is unfit to serve in the White House. Fortunately, he does have the media machine of Rupert Murdoch to run interference for him.
Murdoch's New York Post published an article on the photos with a headline that declared Greenberg a "Mac Hater" and criticized her for not airbrushing McCain's weathered skin and reddened eyes enough. Since when is it a photographer's responsibility to sweeten a subject's image, particularly when used as photo-journalism? Ironically, the Post is complaining that Greenberg failed to manipulate the photo in a column where they are chastising her for manipulating photos.
The Atlantic's editor, James Bennet, appeared on Murdoch's Fox News to disassociate himself from Greenberg, to threaten that he may sue her, and to announce that he has drafted a letter of apology to McCain. The FoxNews.com article on Bennet's TV segment took a similar approach to the Post's, but with an even more tortured spin on what constitutes photo manipulation:
"Greenberg said that the cover shot for The Atlantic article was manipulated to leave McCain's eyes red and skin looking bad."
It seems to me that "...manipulated to leave..." alone is another way of saying "not manipulated." It's a little like saying, "The appendectomy was performed to leave the appendix where it was." In other words, there was no appendectomy.
This rhetorical device is a staple of conservative thinking. The notion that something can be altered in order to keep it the same can be observed by anyone following the 2008 presidential election. You hear it every time McCain says "Vote for me if you want change." Translation: Vote for me if you want another four years of Bush - if you want more of the same.
The hypocrisy of the Murdochites is glaringly present in their selective outrage. Just two months ago Fox News was itself embroiled in a Photoshop controversy. During a segment of Fox & Friends, co-hosts Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade mocked Jacques Steinberg and Steven Reddicliffe of the New York Times, and featured photos of them that had been digitally altered to create humiliating caricatures. What makes this far worse than the Atlantic incident is that Fox News broadcast their mockery on national television, while Greenberg reserved her pieces for her personal website. None of the Murdoch items, in print or on air, mentioned their own history of photo manipulation.
The big, unmanipulated picture here is that Greenberg is a courageously outspoken artist who is yet another victim of the Dark Agists who seek to stifle free speech. For her trouble she has been dropped by her agency (she says she quit), and is facing litigation. In my view she should be admired for her talent and applauded for her efforts on behalf of creative freedom for all artists and those who love art and, of course, freedom. Remember freedom?