Atlantic Monthly Involved in McCain Cover Controversy

Photographer Uses Photos From Shoot for Own Political Commentary

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Atlantic Monthly's current cover features a stark shot of John McCain, GOP nominee and registered senior citizen. The decidedly uncompromising close-up was taken by Jill Greenberg, whom some might recall as the auteur behind an anti-Bush exhibit featuring pictures of infants she reportedly goaded into hysterics. (According to her, the baby-slapping was meant to represent the "helplessness and anger ... about our current political and social situation.")

While Greenberg's work is usually apolitical portraiture or advertisement, all her work is highly retouched -- almost to a point where it seems she's carved her subjects from wax. With the McCain shoot, Greenberg's results are noticeably unadulterated.

"I left his eyes red and his skin looking bad," she said.

Indeed, the Greenberg cover makes McCain look like every one of his 72 years, though no one could really argue the cover shot was disingenuous -- the senator is, in fact, as old as he appears on The Atlantic.

Courtesy of American Digest
Courtesy of American Digest Credit: Jill Greenberg
But the controversy swirling around the blogs had less to do with the published portrait than it does with Greenberg's unpublished outtakes, which she had promptly posted to her own website (the aptly named, along with some more colorful editing and familiar Greenberg-esque commentary.

You'll find the photos after entering the site, clicking on "names" then clicking on "John McCain." If her site isn't working, there's a collection of shots here -- along with a taste of the reaction this is causing in the rightward reaches of the blogosphere.

An editor's note on The Atlantic's homepage dated today reads:
"We stand by the respectful image of John McCain that we used on our cover, and we expect to be judged by it. We were not aware of the manipulated and dishonest images Jill Greenberg had taken until this past Friday.

Jill Greenberg ... has, in fact, disgraced herself, and we are appalled by the manipulated images she has created for her Web site of John McCain."
Furthermore, Atlantic Editor James Bennet said Greenberg will not be paid for the session, and that the magazine is considering a lawsuit against the photographer.

For her part, Greenberg was not as apologetic.

"I am a pretty hardcore Democrat. Some of my artwork has been pretty anti-Bush," she said. "So maybe it was somewhat irresponsible for them [The Atlantic] to hire me."

Hindsight is, as they say, 20/20.