October 17, 2018

Torture? Nah, Just a Tantrum

A new billboard depicting Jill Greenberg’s photographs of sobbing toddlers might raise the profile (and debate over) her controversial exhibition at the Paul Kopeikin Gallery.

The ad, hovering above the intersection at Highland and Melrose avenues, presents images from her “End Times” series. The portraits, the Jewish artist says, reflect her fears of the Bush administration’s Christian, apocalyptic views.

“They’re about the hysteria these toddlers might feel if they could understand the world we’re leaving to them,” Kopeikin said.

Seeking greater exposure for the show, Kopeikin accepted the billboard owners’ offer to trade two to three Greenberg prints for space June 10 through early July. He also extended the show six weeks, until July 8.

While the few published reviews have been positive (Blogcritics.org called the luminous portraits “striking” and “powerful”), debates raged on at least three Web sites. Thomas Hawk’s Digital Connection accused Greenberg of “child abuse”; a man on BloggingBaby charged her with “bullying these children for profit and … trying to justify it by saying it’s ‘art.'” Many other bloggers — including several of the toddlers’ relatives — defended the work.

Greenberg, also a prominent commercial photographer, said she was upset by the derogatory remarks because “I honestly did not feel my technique was controversial or questionable.”

The series began when she photographed a friend’s son, who spontaneously began crying, soon after Bush’s 2004 re-election.

“When I saw his mortified expression, I decided to call the [photo] ‘Four More Years,'” Greenberg, now 38, said. She went on to shoot some 35 toddlers (including her own daughter), two-thirds of them models. She said she chose children 3 or under because she could easily make them cry by using a common show-business technique: taking away a lollipop or asking their mothers to leave the room. She said the images are shocking because toddlers tantrum — as if they’re being tortured — over small things. They cried for about 10 minutes.

“Seconds later, these children were fine,” she added.

Paul Kopeikin Gallery, 6150 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 937-0765.