Friday, July 07, 2006

Suffering For Her Art

So what’s the proper moral stance to take in regard to deliberately tormenting children so you can photograph their torment? Not child pornography, but deliberately making children cry to take close-up shots of their tear-streaked little faces.

There are some who consider it acceptable so long as the children aren’t actually being hurt. Besides, it’s in the name of Art. This piece in Slate talks about Jill Greenberg, an LA-based photographer who currently has a show:

The show is titled End Times, and it consists of a few dozen large photographs of infants and toddlers throwing tantrums: sobbing, red-faced, staring furiously. Fair enough. But they're not meant to be read as mere baby pictures; they're meant to be a statement. As Greenberg herself explains in the gallery's press release, "The first little boy I shot, Liam, suddenly became hysterically upset. It reminded me of helplessness and anger I feel about our current political and social situation." "As a parent," she continues, "I have to reckon with the knowledge that our children will suffer for the mistakes our government is making. Their pain is a precursor of what is to come."

Oh, bleah. And here’s what she does in her quest to be a politically relevant Anne Geddes:

It turns out that Greenberg doesn't just hang around her studio waiting for one of her toddler subjects to melt down: She induces the tantrum, by, say, giving the child a lollipop, and then suddenly taking it away. . . . On the other hand, Greenberg isn't Leni Riefenstahl, either. Small children, as she points out in the PopPhoto interview, often have tantrums, and they usually blow over quickly, and are just as quickly forgotten.

Certainly what Greenberg did wasn’t as bad as beating a child. But consider the various underlying assumptions of Greenberg’s justification: suffering doesn’t really count if it’s only fleeting and minor. Since children will have tantrums anyway, provoking them isn’t so bad.

I say it doesn’t matter how minor it is. You have no right to inflict distress on someone for a situation which is entirely to your gain, and none at all to theirs.


Anonymous Sandy said...

Reminds me of this picture from The Onion, with the title "Anne Geddes Starting to Lose It".

9:24 PM  
Blogger Robert said...

I love art, but I often find artists irritating. I understand full well that usually the more creative a person is, the more odd they are (read into that what you will), but I don't have to like all of that person's habits - PARTICULARLY if they are going to cause suffering to their subjects. What this woman is saying is, "My art is more important than your well-being."

And that's just selfish and rude - not enlightening.

6:26 AM  
Anonymous Jay P. said...

Good point, FG. But we could explore it further. Assume the parents of the tantrum-throwers are being paid for allowing their kids to be misused in this way. Is that significantly different from parents who use their babies to make money as models or actors? Those babies also have to suffer discomfort and wasted opportunities in pursuit of an end that does not benefit them (or benefits them only in that their family has more money).

6:56 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Good point, FG. But we could explore it further. Assume the parents of the tantrum-throwers are being paid for allowing their kids to be misused in this way. Is that significantly different from parents who use their babies to make money as models or actors?

You know, I seriously meant to cover that in my post, and even wrote a preliminary bit about it, but I deleted it because I was in a hurry. Serves me right for doing a half-assed job.

With child actors, I don't know exactly where to draw the line. I think Jodie Foster had a stage mother, but do you think Miss Foster would be better off today if her mother had given little Jodie a normal suburban childhood?

But I unequivocally abhor things like the Lil' Hooker JonBenet-style beauty pageants, and this bullshit "it's okay for me to hurt you because my artistic vision is so important."

Besides, if you're a real artist you can make your own damned works of art without tormenting toddlers to do it. To hell with Jill Greenberg for literally taking candy from a baby.

11:49 AM  
Anonymous ed said...

It's the difference between "reality" and "documentary." Francois Truffaut called documentaries "the most dishonest form of filmmaking" (quoted from memory, not necessarily precise).

Tormenting a child for personal gain is odious. Shame on all who resort to it.

1:34 PM  
Anonymous Warren said...

Sorry, I just can't get worked up over this one. I guess I could give a couple of finger wags and a "shame shame".

However, this doesn't come anywhere near the level of abuse that would warrant interfering with parental custody. And every day I see parents doing stuff to their kids that upsets me a great deal more. Let's talk about parents that habitually call their kids "dumb" or "ugly".

6:38 AM  
Anonymous Stevo Darkly said...

I know that in life little kids often suffer incidental distress and that it quickly blows over. And often this cannot be avoided. Nevertheless, to the kid (who has no perspective) whatever causes him or her to cry might be just as painful as anything that would cause you or me to cry.

To DELIBERATELY inflict this pain when it could easily be avoided is wrong. Anne Geddes is a big douchette.

3:09 PM  
Anonymous stevo darkly said...

Oops! Correction: I got the wrong name. It's Jill Greenberg who is the big douchette. A big self-important douchette.

3:11 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

FREE hit counter and Internet traffic statistics from