Jill Greenberg

By Published on .

Jill Greenberg has dubbed herself The Manipulator. She considers her approach to photography to be the antithesis of documentary-style shooters who like to capture the moment. "I'm sort of the opposite of that," she says. "I like to rearrange the moment. I just like to make it more perfect than it could actually be."

The 34-year-old Greenberg's work has appeared in ads for Target, Mystic and Estee Lauder, and the list of celebrities she's shot for magazines like Entertainment Weekly and Time includes Britney Spears, Shakira and Busta Rhymes. Infused with rich, vibrant color, her images seem treated with a futuristic, otherworldly sheen, as if her subjects have been coated with a glowing space-age resin. Greenberg's trademark style is achieved through a fastidious attention to what happens in-camera as well as in post, where she's also downright deft in using PhotoShop to retouch and recompose her images.

"I call it the shiny people," notes Megan Sheehan, a BBDO/Chicago art director who worked with Greenberg on the agency's latest executions for the Beefeater "Bold Spirit" campaign, which for two years has injected the brand with more youthful energy. "We wanted to establish this campaign as having a look," Sheehan notes. In recent ads Greenberg recast the Beefeater yeoman icon in the form of a female boxer and a lion tamer, done up in dazzling red and gold hues. Gordon Robertson, BBDO/Chicago group CD, says that the campaign made a sizable evolution with the signing of Greenberg. "She has such a wonderful eye for composition and bringing people to life. They're standing still, but they feel so much alive."

"Maybe I'm a control freak or a perfectionist," Greenberg explains of her MO, which calls for refined retouching as well as very controlled lighting. Her skillful manipulation had practical purposes with "Lion," which conceivably could have been a dangerous undertaking, considering the ad shows the huge beast lapping its tongue across the model's bald head. Greenberg safely shot the model and animal separately in the studio. The tongue action was caught in-camera when Greenberg had the lion lick a blood-covered bowling ball. Her assistant then comped the images together and Greenberg did the final retouching. In "Boxer," which shows a sculpted woman whose piercing stare is framed by her gloved hands, Greenberg used PhotoShop to alter the model's facial features. "I wanted her gaze to just stop you," she explains. "I thought if she had a really beautiful face it would work. I sort of work with models afterward to make them more the way I want them to be. I just sort of rearrange people's faces sometimes." Isn't it a bit taboo to admit fiddling with somebody's countenance? No offense to her subjects, but for Greenberg it's all just fodder for her final vision. "I don't want to pick on this model. I just think of things as raw material. I've always been interested in faces and bodies, but not necessarily as a portrait of the subject; more as a form with a mood or attitude. I like really clean, graphic images, so I put them together myself. The way I photograph now is like the way I used to paint."

Greenberg attended the Rhode Island School of Design first as an illustration major, but she graduated with a BFA in photography in 1989. "It's sort of a more instant-gratification way of making a picture," she says. Still, similarities abound despite the change in medium. "A lot of my drawings and paintings when I was younger were of faces, closeup shots of people, interesting characters doing weird things. I even used to paint things that looked like they were lit with color gels."

After RISD, Greenberg moved to New York, where she assisted various photographers and learned PhotoShop at the School of Visual Arts. She got her first big break, appropriately enough, with a cover for the now defunct techno-culture mag Mondo 2000, for which she shot Lady Miss Kier, lead singer of Dee-Lite.

Greenberg, represented by Judy Casey Inc., moved to Los Angeles from New York at the beginning of 2001. "With the move, I feel more drawn to the natural landscape and showing more real space and real locations," she says. "That's the direction I'm exploring now." In the end, however, The Manipulator wins out. "Then again, even if I did shoot the model on location, I may be tempted to composite anyway. I love to pick the best shot, with the best blowing hair or the best-lit tree and landscape and put them all together to make the most striking and beautiful image. Once you have the option to rearrange and perfect the elements, it's hard to resist."

In this article:
Most Popular