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The Jill Greenberg-Thomas Hawk Controversy

Most of us photography enthusiasts prefer to take photos rather than partake in gossip, but this just one I just had to write about. This is about Jill Greenberg’s work featuring children in a state of distress, emotionally provoked to tears.

Thomas Hawk took offense, criticizing her work and method to achieve such photos, no matter what the true objective is. Going through his weblog entry entitled ” Jill Greenberg is a Sick Woman Who Should Be Arrested and Charged With Child Abuse”, I can feel that Thomas was very disturbed by Jill’s work. In many ways, he had every right to. Any person wouldn’t be comfortable knowing how the photos were staged and captured — they handed lollipops to the children then took them away, intentionally provoking them to cry or be angry. All in the name of art, or is this a sick mind using art as an excuse?

Emotions were very high for those involved and even Jill’s husband stepped in. An online fight like this wouldn’t be uncommon, but Jill took matters to a different level when she responded through the magazine “American Photo” without much regard for Thomas’s statements, twisting them to her benefit and not addressing the issues in question. To make matters worse, the popular national publication did not bother to give fair coverage, much less ask for Thomas’s side.

What makes this even more intriguing is Jill Greenberg’s recent actions, as told by Thomas Hawk. According to the entry, Jill pressured Thomas’s employer and even called his boss to get them to intervene in these matters. Threats of legal action were also made by the controversial photographer.

Scrutinizing these events, I feel that Thomas Hawk may have offended Jill Greenberg for writing about his opinions and strong objection regarding the work mentioned above. However, being upset does not give her the right to skirt the issues and attack the other party personally. Threats of legal action shouldn’t have been made. Thomas’s opinion were protected by his constitutionally guaranteed rights, no matter how different it may be as Jill would’ve preferred. In fact, other people have also written on their disapproval of Ms. Greenberg’s work. Personally, I take strong offense as well.

Now what would happen to the parties involved in the coming days? I sure will be following this one. And I just hope Jill Greenberg learns to respect the opinion of other people, especially considering her stature and position, being a well–known artist at that. Before it’s too late to make amends.

8 replies on “The Jill Greenberg-Thomas Hawk Controversy”

Thomas, that is indeed sick. Funny thing, they accuse you of “purposely confusing art and child abuse” yet they haven’t thought of the actual confusion they themselves have brought by proclaiming their act as legitimate art. Ultimately, everything is subject to interpretation but that doesn’t stop us from having a contrary opinion especially for such questionable activities.

Personally, I think every one is making a bigger deal out of this issue, than what it really is. Yes, it may be a bit over the line, but I think people are just too sensitive these days. No one was hurt, so I don’t see a problem. Art is sacrifice. On the legal issue, every one is entiteled to their opinion, so there shouldt be an issue. I read the magazine a long time ago-didnt think too much about it, untill the story started showing up in my rss reader and on photo websites such as this. The bottom line to me is that a bigger deal was made out of nothing. As a photographer (I am one), you gotta do what you gotta do (unless someone is getting hurt or something like that, then I am a human being first). It’s harsh, but it’s the reality of the profession. Some people just gotta deal with it. Last word: people stop being to sensitive. It’s messing up our society.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts Serge. In hindsight, I think you’re right that this issue has been blown out of proportion, to a certain degree.

Jill Greenberg’s methods may be questionable, but as long as she executes everything well, any assumed “psychological damage” may be avoided, possibly. In a way, the effect may just be equal to a situation where you discipline children for doing wrong, like taking away TV privileges for a day.

However, this shouldn’t have made it to a prominent national magazine, nor involve Thomas’s employer. It should’ve stayed as an online argument between rational individuals with differing life principles.

Now let’s go back to shooting. :)

I think that the photographs taken by Ms. Greenberg are wrong for several reasons. The most obvious being that she is using emotionally distraught children to express her political views. That is something that can just not be justified.

A person here replied “you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do” to get a good photo. I ask, where is the line? Do we possess the right to do anything we want for the sake of art. To answer that question, no. We also do not have the right to make the assumption that these children are not emotionally affected. Ms. Greenbeerg states that each child was only being photographed for about 10 minutes, but what about the lifetime of immortalization that comes with being in such a widely publicized collection of photographs?

I am not against photos of crying children, when they are spontaneous and unprovoked. What Ms. Greenberg is doing by photographing children being forced into emotional distress is the equivalent of pointing a gun at someone to photograph fear.

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