Friday, July 28, 2006

Jill Greenberg and the Short, Fat Tail

The mainstream media inexplicably clued into Jill Greenberg's "End Times" series a few days ago (ABC News actually called the show, which opened in April and closed in early July, a "new exhibit" in their ABC World News article yesterday). It reminds me of the time about a month ago when I was watching CNN in a hotel room and saw them do their take on the "Cable Guy" video (repair guy videotaped sleeping on couch after waiting on Cox repair-guy hold for over an hour) when the video had already been downloaded by every 18-to-24-year-old in the English-speaking world and the "story" was a month old. Mainstream news outlets generally hold bloggers in disrepute yet rely heavily on them for their pop-culture news, which might sound contradictory but I guess is just savvy strategy. The fewer regular blog readers there are, the longer they have to prepare their institutional take on a story. By rolling it up in the "blog controversy" wrapper they have the opportunity to regurgitate the issue, throw in a little Mrs. Dash and call it fresh-baked.

For those who complained in the past that the blogosphere lacked a coherent "pro" side to the debate, after pointing out the obvious reasons - we're an opinionated bunch, the "pro" argument is the technical quality of the work itself, and hey, the work is morally bankrupt, what do you want us to do? - the best well-rounded article I have seen on the topic came from the L.A. Times. They do their best to be unfair to all sides, clipping the art world for their tin ear to the ethical concerns and not treating the millions of people who do read blogs as a bunch of losers. (Most other articles take great pride in positing their own sophistication by helping interviewees explain how a good photographer can fool a "naive" viewer.) In their article I came across a tidbit that may surprise some, but not me.

The day Boing Boing ran its post, the Kopeikin Gallery website rocketed from its usual 1,000 hits to 14,000. Kopeikin was receiving enough angry e-mail to consider hiring extra security. At one point, Kopeikin posted a comment on Peterson's blog: "I sincerely thank you for the attention you have brought to the exhibition and my gallery," he wrote. "I have made several sales to people who you have introduced to the work and who understand and appreciate it."

In fact, that assertion was false, Kopeikin admits, but then Kopeikin views Peterson as a fount of untruth, from his pseudonym onward. "I was just sending him information to see if he'd print it," Kopeikin said. "Jill and I were like, 'Let's tell him we're thanking him, because we're selling tons of prints.' ... Which wasn't true.... He totally took it."

This is what I love so much about Paul Kopeikin: His ego undermines his interests at every opportunity. These are the kind of enemies you hope to have in life. He lies to Thomas Hawk (anonymity has its place, folks) and to Hawk's thousands of regular readers, then admits it to the L.A. Times because he thinks it makes him sound clever. See, he "fooled" Hawk by tricking him into publishing his official response, which was really a lie!

Then he wants to rebut my assessment of the work, and writes in to tell me that he "hasn't bothered" reading my comments before launching into a statement of his own position. Roll over, Rasputin! And classy, too. Of course, Paul would never lie to a newspaper... right?

Stick around awhile and he may spring another leak.

Another source of some good commentary was, of all places, MSNBC, which interviewed Jill Greenberg and then refereed an argument between dangerously tanned former prosecutor Bill Fallon and starstuck celebrity defense attorney Debra Opri. Fallon speaks out regularly on issues affecting child welfare and abuse, and I was getting to the point where I was surprised to hear anyone agree with me on this issue. Here is a bit of what he said:
The parents are to blame, [but] the photographer is mentally ill. To say this is the same as a kid acting in a movie is ridiculous. I'm not saying you can take these people up on charges, but it's abusive of children, it's exploitative of children - look at the horror on those kids' [faces]. I know it's just a lollipop [being taken] away - I think one quote I heard was, "Well, they cry when you give them shots." That's for the good of the kid. This is for some political, social, artistic message that's using kids as pawns.
No one was unkind enough to mention that Debra Opri represented Michael Jackson's parents through the ordeal of having their son tried for child molestation. She did take several opportunities to stare deeply into the television audience and declare Jill a great artist, and her argument was whittled away by Fallon until she was left to close with the bizarre mantra of "It's not illegal. It's not illegal." If anyone missed the subtext, Debra Opri is drawing a bead on a potentially lucrative client who could open the door up to many other potentially lucrative clients. I'm not asking you to disregard her argument (such as it is) but to strip her of her expert credentials when you evaluate it. Of course, there is also the possibility (stranger things have happened) that a lawyer could go on the air to defend a celebrity who was already employing them - but that would be a lie.

If you want to watch more, watch the video yourself - courtesy of Robert Green, Jill's husband.


Robert Green said...


no mention here of the fact that on thomas hawk's site he runs an ad featuring a crying child? no mention of the fact that the LA TImes article did something no one else--not you, not thomas hawk, has done--actually interview people who were at the shoot? and that none of them back up a claim of abuse?

the moral bankruptcy is right here on this website. you have no desire to correct the record at all. just further obfuscation.

i'm sorry if my posts about andrew peterson were over-the-top in their anger--of course, he had directed a jihad against my family, so i'm only a little sorry, but nonetheless i used intemperate language. it was only later that i found several examples (or, to be fair, several claims) around the net of cyber-stalking on the part of mr. peterson (anonymity has no place if one is making vicious accusations against relatively powerless people--we aren't canal street photo, just a couple of parents of two small children).

funny story about paul kopeikin--he's been selling a bunch of the photos in the past week (after his statement, but it's all good). controversy, even utterly fake and stupid controversy, is apparently what it took to get some people on the fence to buy.

come on by my website for a screencapture of hawk's crying child ad--it's awesome, it's hilarious, and maybe, just maybe, you will see things differently. you've certainly made statements about me and my wife that are personal and ugly--are you sure you know us well enough to do so?

Robert Green said...

you know what? forget it. if you don't mind, just yank my comment. there's no point. the people you think we are just bear no resemblance to the people we actually happen to be. jill and i are going to get back to playing with our 3 year old and our one year old here on a nice cloudy saturday in LA. i don't think either of us need to deal with such insanity.


Jeremiah McNichols said...


1) A parent's consent to an act does not ensure that a child has not been abused. If it did, there would be very little child abuse in the world today.

2) Declaring an act abusive does not mean that one cannot distinguish between differing levels of abusive behavior. I think what Jill did was wrong, period, for a variety of reasons I have clearly stated. I'm not sure where the "obfuscation" lies.

3) Your accusations regarding Andrew Peterson are transparently vague. This is ironic considering that you claim to regret (and at least did take down) your previous diatribes against him.

4) Being a parent does not qualify you as a humanitarian. Parents of "a couple of small children" are never "just" that - they are also people who write inflammatory blog posts, people who take pictures of crying babies for money, and people who profit from manipulation and then cry wolf when they experience public censure for their actions. Buck up.

5) Right, the work's selling, blah blah blah. Open your books and I'll believe you. But I still wouldn't care. Bad taste is its own reward.

6) I don't believe I have criticized you or Jill as parents per se. I have criticized Jill as an artist. I have criticized you as a blogger who should try thinking before he speaks. Those criticisms were not made intemperately. I stand by them.

Robert Green said...

still no comment about peterson's website having ads with crying children?

you are utterly hopelessly humorless.

MaryED said...

Just writing to support your view.

I agree wholeheartedly that this artist exploited these children, even if it was just for a moment.

Think about it: If you saw a person give a child something that would please that child, then take it away for the express purpose of making that child cry--you would think that person was sadistic at best, even if they then gave the child something better aftwards (from what I've heard, this artist gave the children more lollipops afterward to comfort/reward them).

The only difference between the above scenario and what this artist has done was that this artist believes that she is speaking for those children with her art. Her desire to speak for them is well and good--but abusing their trust in order to speak for them makes no sense.

Since I cannot think of ANY analogous situation--where it would be acceptable to purposely act with a very pointed intention of causing a child to feel betrayed, confused, distressed, and mistreated (so that they would cry) for any "greater good" I don't think art can claim to be the one and only instance where this kind of mistreatment is acceptable.

A psychoanalyst's comment was included in one of the stories about this event. She said, "When you induce a child to cry, you are exploiting the child for your own purposes, and that's never a good idea." I think that sums it up very well.

I also think that this artist should just realize that she made a terrible choice and that she should apologize for misjudging what is appropriate. I'm actually quite surprised she is standing so firm in her position that she did nothing wrong.

Additionally, I'm very sorry and disturbed that these children have parents who would allow this to be done to their child. That fact is actually a larger concern to me than the issues that this artist had hoped to address with her work (as valid as they are). I hope she finds ways of addressing the issues she is hoping to bring to light without resorting to this kind of manipulation of others.

As for the posts from Robert Green here, I did attempt to follow up on the sites he was suggesting you view, and did not find them. I did not see the crying child photo he was referring to, but I don't think anyone is saying there is something wrong with photographing a crying child--we are saying that it is wrong to purposefully induce a child to cry. (And, that idea makes me an "idiot" according to another blog. Again, quite surprising...when did this opinion become outmoded? Boy, Ms. Green is right, this world IS going in a bad direction!)

(By the way, I support an organization that works to free child sex slaves and house and heal and train train them for a better future: . Would love to see Ms. Green donate her earnings from this project to them!)