Internationally-renowned photographer Jill Greenberg has done everything from the biggest magazine covers to scores of her own stunning work--taking pictures of crying babies, statuesque horses and portraits of trained monkeys. The latter are heavily featured in a pivotal scene in Richard Shepard's new film DOM HEMINGWAY, and Jill's piece "Georgia", a crisp photo of a solemn-looking baboon, is front and center on the movie's poster. We caught up with Jill this week and asker her some hard-hitting questions, both about her Monkey Portraits series and her larger body of work.
Tell us about the origin of the piece "Georgia".
Georgia is an Hamadryas Baboon that I photographed in 2003 for my Monkey Portraits book project.
How did you come up with the idea of doing a book of portraits of monkeys? How did you cast each simian?
The first monkey was shot on a job in october of 2001 in LA, where the client's concept required we rent a cat, dog, and Katie the capuchin. I thought it would be nice to do a portrait of the monkey after the shoot was over. When I saw the results, I loved the personality and humor and decided to do a series. I did it over about five years since they were quite expensive to rent. They are all animal actors and they come with trainers, etc. It took a while to find a gallery to show the work, and a publisher as well. I contacted all the animal agencies I could find and ended up shooting in New York, Los Angeles and Miami.
Your work is very singular--you can look at any one of your photos and immediately recognize it as a "Jill Greenberg". How did your craft evolve to be this very unique style? Do you get annoyed when people try to replicate you?
I have done lots of different creative approaches to photography over the 35-or-so years that I have been shooting (my background is in drawing). The various iconic looks evolve over time with constant experimentation, and since I do my own retouching--I have been using photoshop for 23 years, since it first came out--my style is somewhat integrally tied to my post-production.
People often mistake the large prints for paintings. What you are are seeing is my hand, digitally painting on top of the images. Although most of the image is captured in-camera, I call that lighting recipe "monkey lighting" and I have moved on from it since it developed from a metallic light look I was doing in the late '90s. I have been most excited about some black and white work I have been doing lately as well as some intensely colored landscapes, plus I am sort of obsessed with Instagramming.
Do you have a new series in the works?
Nothing to announce yet, but I am continuing to work on the conceptual pieces which arose from my Horse series. The Scold's bridle-inspired sculpture and the collision sculpture I have sketched which is included in my essay; I am creating a maquette to be exhibited in Toronto at my solo show at the O'Born Contemporary from January 24, 2014.
I do also have a rather exciting exhibit coming up at FOTOGRAFISKA, the new photography museum in Stockholm, opening December 12 of the Monkey Portraits* as well as the End Times series.
What subject matter or people have you been dying to shoot but haven't the chance yet?
I love shooting all types of people, particularly handsome men; I would have loved to shoot Jude Law ;)
Dom is pretty violent but has a strong moral code. I love how a lot of your photos can be visually stunning but also quite disturbing. What draws you to that dark side?
I have always had a very dark sense of humor, it informs much of my work.
What would you say your personal style is?
I like dressing deceptively normal to belie the twisted depths, plus I am way too busy to worry about fashion. In general, I'd say dress like a guy on a film crew.
What would be your first order of business after being in jail for 12 years?
A yummy meal---perhaps a nice Califorina red wine, Caesar salad, grass fed steak, and profiteroles for dessert!