When The Atlantic called Jill Greenberg, a committed Democrat, to shoot a portrait of John McCain for its October cover, she rubbed her hands with glee.
She delivered the image the magazine asked for—a shot that makes the Republican presidential nominee look heroic. Greenberg is well known for her highly retouched images of bears and crying babies. But she didn’t bother to do much retouching on her McCain images. “I left his eyes red and his skin looking bad,” she says.
After getting that shot, Greenberg asked McCain to “please come over here” for one more set-up before the 15-minute shoot was over. There, she had a beauty dish with a modeling light set up. “That’s what he thought he was being lit by,” Greenberg says. “But that wasn’t firing.”
What was firing was a strobe positioned below him, which cast the horror movie shadows across his face and on the wall right behind him. “He had no idea he was being lit from below,” Greenberg says. And his handlers didn’t seem to notice it either. “I guess they’re not very sophisticated,” she adds.
The Atlantic didn’t select the diabolical looking McCain for its cover. Greenberg is hoping to license that image to some other magazine (she negotiated a two-week embargo with The Atlantic so she could re-license images from the shoot before the election).
Warned that the image is just the kind of thing that will stir up the anti-media vitriol in the conservative blogosphere, Greenberg said, “Good. I want to stir stuff up, but not to the point where I get audited if he becomes president.”
That said, she goes on to explain that she’s thought about replacing McCain’s mouth with bloody shark teeth and displaying the image on a billboard with the message that the candidate is a bloodthirsty war monger.
Given her strong feelings about John McCain, we asked whether she had any reservations about taking the assignment in the first place.
“I didn’t,” she says. “It’s definitely exciting to shoot someone who is in the limelight like that. I am a pretty hard core Democrat. Some of my artwork has been pretty anti-Bush, so maybe it was somewhat irresponsible for them [The Atlantic] to hire me.”