Atlantic Monthly Outraged at Altered Greenberg Images

03 October 2008

For Los Angeles photographer Jill Greenberg, the fallout continues from her controversial photo session with Sen. John McCain for an Atlantic Monthly magazine cover story.

After posting several unflattering and digitally doctored outtakes from the session on her website ( that lampooned McCain as a monster and a sexist, Greenberg has endured a firestorm of criticism from many colleagues in the photo industry for being misleading and unprofessional.

On Sept. 16, soon after the altered photos were made public, PDNPulse, a blog managed by Photo District News, reported that Greenberg had parted company with two of her agencies, Vaughan Hannigan and Montage Agency, and had joined ArtMix Photography for exclusive representation. According to her website, Greenberg says the decision to switch from Vaughan Hannigan was voluntary, citing "creative differences."

Hired to shoot images of the Republican presidential nominee for Atlantic Monthly, Greenberg shot several photos that pleased the publishers; one of them eventually made the October 2008 cover. However, Greenberg also admitted to taking several photos of McCain that were deliberately set up to be unflattering, using low-angle strobes that produced dramatic, horror-movie shadows.

Even more upsetting to some critics in the industry, Greenberg digitally altered some images on her site to make McCain look cartoonishly evil. For one photo, she added fake blood and fangs and added the caption, "I am a bloodthirsty warmongerer." Another sinister-looking image reads, "I'll have my girl kill Roe v. Wade." Greenberg has since removed the McCain images from her site.

In a statement released by the Atlantic Monthly, editor James Bennet apologized to the McCain campaign and said that Greenberg "disgraced herself, and we are appalled by the manipulated images she has created for her website of John McCain." Bennet also told reporters for Fox News that the magazine has decided not to compensate Greenberg for the cover images and is considering taking legal action.

Jeffrey Goldberg, the author of the magazine's cover story on McCain, also sharply criticized Greenberg in an Atlantic blog post, writing that "her 'art' is juvenile and, on occasion, repulsive. This is not the issue, of course; the issue is that she betrayed this magazine and disgraced her profession."

According to PDNPulse, Greenberg admitted that McCain "had no idea he was being lit from below" and said that his handlers were "not very sophisticated" for not noticing. She also said that she wanted to "stir up some stuff" in the conservative blogosphere with the images and partly blamed the Atlantic for hiring her, as she is a well-known "hard-core Democrat" and very "anti-Bush."