By Janet Alexander
For as long as she can remember, Jill Greenberg has been a photographer. Growing up in Michigan, Jill recalls staging photos as a ten year old – in particular, setting up tableaus of her dog – and tells Resource, “I was always making visual art.” By the third grade, Jill was producing images at her school’s dark room and says that her affinity for photography is inherited through her parents, who are both hobbyists, and further, explains how her interest seems to have descended from her mother’s science background, in the form off dark room chemical processing, and her father’s ophthalmology practice, i.e. optics.
After graduating in 1989 from the Rhode Island School of Design with a BFA in Photography, Jill gave herself the nickname “The Manipulator” in 1995 with the launch of her first website, adapting Photoshop for post-production as soon as it was released in 1990. Using color gels, wide angles and cross-processing, she crafted a visual aesthetic that became iconic of the ‘90s, and in 2006, Jill engineered an iconic look of her own design, with her highly politicized series, “End Times.” Her portraits of toddlers crying–to reflect Greenberg’s frustration with both the Bush administration and Christian Fundamentalism in the United States–ushered in the so-called, “Jill Greenberg look,” that in and of itself has proven to be frustrating for Jill. “Becoming so identified with a particular look has been a double edge sword,” she says. The “pop-y ethereal backlighting,” accomplished through firing a white spotlight at a seamless grey background, then dodging and burning the highlights and shadows of a complementary-colored subject, has been emulated within the commercial photography industry to the point of overexposure. “Apparently I’m supposed to be flattered by the copies,” Jill remarks in a rhetorical tone. Ultimately, she’s thankful for the commercial success, but says she has the most fun being able to do a wide variety and constantly trying new things. Using a combination of cameras, namely, Hasselblad, Canon, and Nikon, Jill admits to hating tripods, preferring to move around during her shoots, and being, “a bit all over the place,” when it comes to her artistic direction.
“If I have a chip on my shoulder,” Jill begins, “it’s because I worked really hard to be a commercially successfully photographer, thinking about art.” In this way, most essential to any of Jill’s work is the how she frames the” personal is political” dynamic to define her work more so than any post-production tweaking or artful lighting does. Jill’s most recent series, “Horses,” is a case in point, informed by feminist values that she says came out from RISD–culminating with her senior thesis, “The Female Object”– and citing a “Discourses in Pornography” class she took at Brown University, the portraits are as much a commentary on female submission as they are an autobiographical reference. “I always felt like I needed to shoot horses before I died; they were my original muse, and I drew them obsessively as a child,” Jill explains. At first, she summarizes her fascination as just “one of those things with little girls being obsessed with horses,” before revealing it’s true intentions as a kind of think piece. “I’m calling attention to how the bridle and bit bind the horse, control and dominate, and how the masculine physicality undergoes a feminine kind of bondage.” Compared to her previous animal photographs– “Monkey Portraits” (2004) and “Ursine” (2009)–taking five and three years to produce, respectively, “Horses” is Jill’s most grueling project to date, consisting of twice as many images produced in a single year, and shooting in Los Angeles (where up until this past year Jill had been living for twelve years before moving to New York) and Vancouver. Horses also features Jill’s trademark manipulation, adding color with digital painting. Originally debuting for a three-month run last year at ClampArt, a contemporary art gallery located in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood, The equine series’ next premiere public exhibition will be at this year’s Snap! Orlando. ClampArt owner Brian Clamp recommended Jill to Snap! creator Patrick Kahn. As she constantly juggles between tending to her family, commercial jobs, and personal projects, Jill says that she is excited to be able to make an appearance at Snap! for the first time.