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Jill Greenberg

Works 2001–2011

Hero Image for Jill Greenberg

The American artist and photographer Jill Greenberg developed her artistic practice during the infancy of the digital revolution. In 1990, her life as an artist and photographer was radically changed when Photoshop 1.0 was released. The software has given her work and her way of expressing herself with her distinctive hand drawn gesture.

”The Manipulator”

Greenberg has been photographing since she was 9 years old, and since the mid 80s experimented constantly with such disparate techniques as rephotographing slide projections, reflections in mylar, cyanotypes. But ultimately she fell in love with the computer as a tool to create worlds that mirrored the drawing and painting techniques she saw in the Surrealists. This love of pushing the mediums coupled with the rigorous training she received as a young student at Cranbrook, the Detroit Institute of Arts, plus coursework in semiotics and feminist critical theory at Brown University, all inform her work which pokes fun at high and low simultaneously, slyly questioning both art and commerce from both sides of the aisle.

In 1995 she branded her first website the moniker “The Manipulator” after the 80’s German photography magazine as a playful reference to the post-production work was an important part of her creative process. “I like to manipulate my images and retouch them. I don’t usually like straight photography,” she says in an interview. Yet, she has always insisted the source image must be perfectly lit, composed and the expression and mood be present in the original. For her, the post-production adds depth and a painterly look but the image you see is actually quite close to the way it was captured on film.

Born in 1967 in Montreal, Canada, she grew up in a suburb of Detroit and studied at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence. After graduating in 1989, Greenberg moved to New York. She was soon commissioned to photograph the all sorts of personalities from intellectuals to musicians for such magazines as Raygun, Spin, Newsweek. Record companies such as Atlantic, Electra and Sony Music used her images for record covers. A decisive moment occurred in 1993, when she did not pass the verbal admissions into the Whitney Program for Independent Study and instead began to get better editorial assignments. She realized that to be an independent professional woman she would first establish herself as a commercial photographer so that she could afford all the equipment to work on her personal work.

Today she splits her time between fine art projects and the commissioned assignments. The studio lighting technique that she pioneered over years of experimentation, beginning in the late 90s developed into what she refers to as her “Monkey Lighting” setup and was ultimately employed to render the monkeys and apes as well as massive grizzly bears and crying toddlers. And it is these portraits that have elicited most attention and recognized her as a leader in the world of image-making.

The exhibition presents portraits of monkeys, apes, grizzly bears and a polar bear all of which are animal actors. So like the portraits Jill Greenberg has been assigned, she captured them with the same human connection. And the similarities between them and us are striking. We can’t help but identify with their personalities or be reminded of people we know, have seen and expressions that we recognise. The images display happiness, sorrow, anxiety, fear, anger and other familiar emotions.

One of her most controversial works is the series of crying children

One of her most controversial and much-discussed works is the series of crying children. Jill Greenberg used the series to express her anger with the Bush administration and fundamentalist Christian groups that have gained more influence in American society. These are technically perfect studio images and one wonders how she got the children to cry. Simple. In many cases the children cried on their own, but for some-their mothers offered them candy, then asked for it back. “Of course I don’t like making children cry,” Jill Greenberg explains, “but as a mother, I am quite aware of how easily toddlers can cry; a joyful smile can dissolve into a grimace of despair – it’s the way children communicate when they can’t use words.”

Take a look at the crying children and the monkeys. Maybe you’ll recognise yourself?