When Art Exploits Children It Is Time for Change

Good art can sometimes make us uncomfortable.  It can spark conversation and push the limits.  When it pushes too far, Art stops and inhumanity begins.  Photographer Jill Greenberg did more than push the limits, she enlisted and paid parents to exploit their children, so that she could capture the shot.

Click here to see the images.

“End Times” is a series of images of very young naked children.  They are crying so hard that saliva drips from their mouths to their nipples.  Their red, pleading, and watery eyes beg for help.  This is the “raw emotion” that Greenberg was trying to capture, and she created  the environment to do just that.

Each of these children was given candy.  Parents were paid to remove it in a way that would illustrate their child’s powerlessness, so that it could be captured on film.  The shoot was successful.  Greenberg got what she wanted, and mom and dad got some cash.

The heartbreak, lack of control, and emotion is undeniable as we look at the images of these children.  There is something else in each picture, something that nags at viewers just a little until we connect the common theme amongst them:  it is one of power, control, and vulnerability.

Each child is naked, and the images progressively show more desperation, and more skin.  The final image in the series is one of saliva reaching from the mouth of the subject to her nipple.  The stream flows over her long, blond, flowing locks, and lands one of  the only two protrusions visible on her young chest.  Her mouth is open and her wet eyes look upward, begging it seems, for someone to help her.

This sentiment streams across each image: a powerless, naked, distraught child begging for help.  Greenberg calls it Art.  Others call it sadism, masochism and exploitation. All these brutal tactics and techniques, most typically associated with torture and war, forced upon a powerless group of young children by their own parents; a minority whose vulnerability, innocence, and powerlessness we vow to protect.

What is stunning about this series, is the blatant admission of our belief that children are property; beings who are here to do what we want, and to be used in any way that provides their owners with gratification.  Typically, we mask this belief with claims that children are resilient, do not remember, or are overly sensitive. Not Greenberg, though.  Greenberg and the parents of these children say loudly and undeniably that bigger people have all the power, and that abusing it for our own gain is not only OK, but should be rewarded with industry awards and acclaim.

Art should not exploit and abuse a weaker people.  When it does, we can see it as a reflection of the times, and use it as a wake-up call to address the issue it brought forth.

In this case, Art shows us that children are property.  They are used for personal and societal gratification, and have little hope for finding trust and comfort in the world around them.

When parents and other adults intentionally set children up for hurt and objectification, what are kids to do?  When a person is left without an ally, where are they to turn for help?

It is possible that the message of this series is one of the worst kind; that children are available to use in whatever way we see fit.  It seems that the photographer’s choice for the subjects to be naked leads us down a more revolting path; one that suggests that in addition to our ability to control these weaker beings, their bodies are also available to use at our discression, and however we see fit.

If art imitates life, it is time to change life for children.



54 Replies to “When Art Exploits Children It Is Time for Change”

  1. Manipulating any human being like this is not art – it’s torture. My heart is heavy…that parents 1.) Would make their children desperate and sad on purpose and 2.) That they’re getting paid for it…I’m going to go throw up now…

  2. This is appalling– and beyond how it has already impacted these sweet children– what are these poor children going to think of themselves, and their parents when they are grown and see these pictures posted on the web? OMG. I hate our culture.

  3. If these parents are so desperate for cash, perhaps they should sell themselves instead of their innocent, seemingly powerless children!! This is an outrage! How in the world have our children become possessions instead of the angels entrusted to us from Heaven for the short time we are on this earth! This makes me seriously ill and sad.

    • Seriously? Not a single celeb looks like they’re being tortured or exploited. And besides… they are all consenting adults. These children are most definitely NOT!

      • Wow, i agree. what a fuss! My boys cry like this when I say no sweets it’s lunch first so am I torturing my children daily? I would not want to be paid to make them sad but I do laugh at them when they sob for sweets. Get a grip people. Children are for sure our most precious little treasures and deserve to be nurtured and loved but there are way more worrying issues out there.
        Keep real for life is short

        • My daughter cries too when I say no sweets but to give it to them and then take it away to purposely upset them is where the problem lies.

  4. I am an artist, mother and teacher. It is appalling to think this person considers herself an artist. Art is to show your creativity. There is nothing creative Ms. Greenburg of your photography. You are a child abuser, using your art to create grief in children in order to make money. Parents of these children you are also a child abuser, for actually accepting to upset your child on purpose to make money. You are also an abuser for allowing someone to take photographs of your children naked. I have always said that the biggest betrayal a child could have is to be abused by their own family, especially their parents. If you can’t trust your own mom or day, then who can you trust. To the public, do the right thing: don’t look at these pictures, don’t purchase these pictures and actually boycott anything else Ms. Greenburg ever does.

  5. This is sad, and especially so since getting a picture of a crying baby is not hard work. Spend a couple hours with a child and you’ll get your shot. Seems like that is part of the art, is waiting for that shot, not stepping in and producing it.

  6. I agree, this really bothers me.

    I couldn’t even look at the all of the photos, let alone imagine doing that to my own child for some cash.

    Awful. Why do we think it is OK to treat our children this way?

  7. I agree. On a micro scale I am always angry when my friends make it a point to post pictures of their sad/crying/injured kids on their blogs and Facebook. I could never delay providing comfort to my child so I could take a photo. It makes me sick.

  8. This makes me sick. Thanks for bringing it to our attention and I agree it should be considered a call for change.

  9. I left a couple of comments on her page. While I don’t deny she is talented…this was a sick sick project. This is exploitation. The parents of those kids: what were they thinking!

  10. Art is about capturing the inner emotion. People would be ok with taking the picture of a child when he cries because he is denied candy in a natural setting but not when a simulated event is produced? Children go through crying episodes hundreds of times, do they remember each and every one, no. How many do you remember from your childhood? Do you know that these parents do this for a living or is this an isolated incident that the child will never remember? No we do not. Rushing to judgment, I’m afraid, is also a part of our culture.

    • I totally agree with your comment! It is sad that she did it this way, but how do you propose she do it to capture the real inner emotion? It is an isolated situation that the child will propably not remember… Although I would not do this with my children, if I did, I would also be there to pick them up after… and if they do remember, I will be there to help them get through it… life is not all fun and games and unfortunately, we cannot always be there to protect our children… life is what makes our children… if nothing ever happened, we would not question everything and that would be a huge problem because that is propably where people would abuse, use and manipulate others and children… this, a have to agree, is art my friends… many artists have to do things like this to provoke, to make us think, and to reach us… by making us discuss this, the artist has succeeded! Isn’t that great?

      • We can’t always be there, but in this case, there certainly is a choice and to choose to treat your children this way is just despicable. If this is how a parent acts, then a child will not want a parent to protect them and will seek protection elsewhere. It’s betrayal and though it seems trivial to adults, it’s a big deal to children and I wouldn’t be surprised if the children remember this for the rest of their lives.

    • it is to capture the true essence and emotion of a child. Not for perverted reasons as everyone thinks…

        • All I can say is that art gets to us in so many different ways… it provokes, it reminds us of things, it makes us FEEL… you are not the only one freaking out about the children being naked, but it did not bother me… my children run around topless and are SO happy to be doing so, ALL the time… this was not an issue for me in the pics until MANY brought it up… and it still is not… we don’t see their penis or vaginas… we see a bit of their chests… I am mad that the world has sexualised nudity, and I am also mad that we need to teach our children to hide themselves, of course, because this brings out so many more problems about self esteem and not being comfortable with their bodies. But a naked child, is beauty and innocence in itself… Now, thank you Jennifer for actually posting my comments!

    • And since you mentioned naked, if you actually LOOK at the pictures you can see the child is cold on top of it all. Their skin speaks volumes. Very, very sad.

  11. Sick. These crying faces remind me so much of the crying faces in the Watchtower publications by the Jehovahs Witnesses. I was in that cult over 30 years. Sick, just sick.

    • Get over yourself. You’re obviously a troll with a vendetta and agenda. You comment all over the place with anti-JW stuff whether it fits the subject or not.

  12. Heck yeah, let’s just remove multiples from their parents and raise them in an institution so that science can study them. Won’t it make the world a better place? Oh, yeah, we’ve already done that. Abusing kids in the name of science or art is on par with vivisection. Disgusting.

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  14. I can’t even look, it makes me sick just hearing about it. Naked, too? Disgusting.

  15. Upsetting, sickening and disturbing. I chose not to look the pictures as I feel awful enough just thinking about it. Those poor, poor children. I strongly feel that these parents should be questioned by authorities as well as the photographer. This is criminal. This is NOT acceptable on any level whether it be for ‘art’ or any other purpose.

  16. There is so much to say that I couldn’t possibly say it all. The betrayal of a child’s trust for a dollar, the release of cortisol into their tiny bodies from so much distress and just plain heartless, cold treatment of another being… that’s all I see here.

    I’m torn. I want to share this post. I do not want her website to continue getting hits because we shared the post. We’re driving traffic to her. I’m not sure what I want to do here.

  17. The nakedness pushes the envelope. That is what makes this disturbing. It makes them appear too pitiful and vulnerable. But I will say, if the children had been clothed I would have no problem with this shoot. If we are literally torn apart emotionally by denying our child candy, we’re ruining our children. This exact thing probably happens 10 times a week to every child, naturally. A toy they can no longer have, a food, a treat, an activity. We should be training our children not to be spoiled enough to experience genuine heartbreak over something so trivial, when other children are literally starving to death, suffering ACTUAL abuse, being denied water, losing parents to war. These aren’t 15 month olds with no ability to grasp the concept that they can’t always have exactly what they want. How spoiled are our children that we can’t handle some tears over candy? I’m not fully comfortable with this photo shoot, and it seems a little silly to me, but I hope we don’t think of every temper tantrum as a time to fall all over ourselves trying to reverse it and make our children happy. I don’t enjoy seeing my child upset, but I’m perfectly willing and strong enough to endure it and let it happen when I need to. And when it’s over something as ridiculous as candy, it can even be a bit comical.

  18. This is not art! This is sick & disgusting & the photographer & parents should be ashamed. Deeply ashamed. Nothing but abuse of children.

  19. Having a look at her other photos of children, Jill Greenberg manages to capture their beauty, innocence and potential as children who will one day grow into adults. I think the fact her photo of children crying manages to capture their vulnerability and suffering in such a powerful way that it evokes such a response from readers of this article shows she is a clever artist and an amazing photographer.

    The process of getting the children upset may seem horrifying- but at the end of the day, they are crying over not having a lolly- something most parents have seen their children cry over and hardly grounds for abuse. That she had the parents support in taking the shot- and paid the parents- shows this isn’t some wicked evil thing- for all we know some of the parents may have their children modelling so that their earnings can be saved towards college or some sort of medical condition. Who are we to judge the motives of parents whose children are modelling or actors? If these images offend you, do you also put the same amount of protest when you see children in clothing catalogs? It’s the same type of exploitation- the children are being paid to model-t. Greenberg;s workhighlights the vulnerability of children- to me making a statement about a child’s suffering is more ethical than using a child to support capitalist consumerism- but at the end of the day, they are both the same thing- the use of a child’s image to communicate a message.

    The children’s beauty and innocence is being used to sell a product. There was a time when a naked child was seen as something beautiful and not sexual- sadly the sexual abuse of children and the public’s growing awareness of child abuse means that any photo of a naked child is seen as something sinister- I don’t think that Jill Greenber was aiming for something sexual in the series of the kids- but certainly it does highlight their vulnerability.

    There are real cases of child abuse out there- these photos are not showing those cases- but if it raises awareness of how precious and vulnerable our children are- and how seeing a child in tears pulls at our hearts- then the photographer has effectively stirred our emotions, evoked a response and had people talking about a real social issue- in my opinion that makes for good art.

    • That was in no way this photographers intent, according to her quotes. She exploited children for personal gain. A defenseless, vulnerable, powerful minority. If this was any other group of children, she’d be in trouble. But hey- it’s kids! Yes! Kids have no rights! Let’s use them!

    • Do you see the pain and hurt in these children’s faces? Do you enjoy feeling that kind of pain? It is very real to them, and it doesn’t matter if to us it’s just a ‘lolly’ that caused that very real pain that they are experiencing. Capturing an image of a child in tears with the aim of presenting ‘raw emotion’ and opening up a dialogue over child abuse is fine, but here the photographer is not ‘capturing’ anything, she is causing the pain, then photographing it. That is sick. Shall artists carve up animals or injure them in other ways in order to then photograph their pain too? Doesn’t this all sound like some sick experiment on live human/animal subjects who perhaps would not consent, if they had a choice? I have many friends who are artists, either musicians or photographers or writers, myself included, and none of us would call this ‘art’. This is closer to being an evil experiment that ends with photographic documentation. I don’t care if it’s just a ‘lolly’: stop saying that. It could be a lolly or a pony or a sandwich or a slap or a scolding or a spanking or any number of things that cause pain in young children. The point is that the photographer caused it, because she could, for her own gains. I mean what is the definition of abuse? I’m pretty sure it applies here. And in response to your second comment below, Andrea, I also have been abused. And I am not okay with this. And in response to your comment that if this is the worst thing that happens in a child’s life then that’s pretty good, I’d say that that is quite a cynical and apathetic response here: is it really okay to have pain inflicted on you for the sole purpose of being witnessed and observed by others? And if there are worse things happening out there, does that mean we should diregard the ‘pretty bad’ things happening here? I think not, clearly.

      To the photographer: capture events as they happen…that’s part of your task, challenge, skill (ideally), and joy of being a photographer. You want to create something then photograph it? That’s fine too, use inanimate objects or people who are able to consent. You want to inflict pain like that and document it? On children or animals who are unable to stop you? Grab a lab coat and find a job in a pharmaceutical company, you will be with like-minded peers there.

  20. And just in case you are wondering- I am an artist and I was also abused as a child. I also have a beautiful son that I’ve often been told should get into child modeling- for me, though the money could have helped with things such as private school education, I decided I didn’t want to exploit his appearance and childhood to sell products.
    My artwork (paintings) looks at people on the fringes of society- including children who are victims of sexual abuse. I aim to portray the victims in a way that is degnified- where their pain but also their beauty can be shown. I also want to work with traumatised children and youths using art as a form of healing. If the worst thing that has happened to a child is that their parent took a lolly from them while a famous photographer took photos of the child crying (and paid the child/.parents for their tears) then the world would be a better place. There are some more serious- and disturbing- forms of child abuse and photos of abuse happening out there- we should be outraged about that, not this.

  21. I have to say that this blog post make’s Greenberg’s images sound A LOT worse than they actually are (in my opinion). I was expecting to get my heart wrenched out when I clicked to see the images, but what I actually saw were thought provoking, highly photoshopped photographs.

    First of all, these are portraits of the children’s faces. They are not wearing shirts, but there is no clue to know if they are really “naked” as commenters seem to believe. Also these are not tiny vulnerable babies that are being photographed – these are pre-schoolers. When a baby is crying, we should know that it is because a basic need is not being met and we should care for that child immediately. But when an older child is crying, there could be a lot of reasons and sometimes we need to comfort that child immediately, and other times… they could wait a second or two (especially if it’s because they’re candy was taken away). And if the child is crying to the point of tears streaming down their face because CANDY was taken away? Then that child has other, deeper issues that she will need to grapple with in the future. Jill Greenberg is not causing trauma to these children, she is merely illustrating the kind of reality we face. Yes it’s painful to see anybody in pain for whatever reason, however she writes in her statement, “The most dangerous fundamentalists aren’t just waging war in Iraq; they’re attacking evolution, blocking medical research and ignoring the environment. It’s as if they believe the apocalyptic End Time is near, therefore protecting the earth and future of our children is futile. As a parent I have to reckon with the knowledge that our children will suffer for the mistakes our government is making. Their pain is a precursor of what is to come.”

    These images don’t really mean much as art until the viewer understands why the artist created these images (and not just the how). It’s a powerful and frightening message that Greenberg is making, something I’ve wondered as well… why am I having children and trying to raise them with the utmost amount of love and respect… when the outside world is so damn f*cked up? It’s scary to think about, but I’m glad there’s someone else that feels the same way. And if more people realize how scary the future is, maybe a lot more people will try to change the damaging things happening in this world. For that, I give Greenberg credit for trying to make people more aware.

  22. it’s true these are awful, disturbing images. i don’t like them. there’s no way i’d participate. i don’t condone them. however i am interested in the title “end times” and in what the artist may be trying to convey. i wonder it it’s related to the fact that the way we are living today, the way we are consuming fossil fuels and allowing a fossil fuel driven economy to continue, parents are effectively taking much more than candy from our kids. the future really does not look good for our children unless we win some radical changes very soon. *if* this was the discussion the artist was trying to provoke with these images, i still don’t agree with her method but i think it’s a message worth reflecting on. these images are horrific, and so is climate change, economic collapse etc

  23. Wonder how much more views these photos have had due to the links from this article. Seems like free publicity for her.

  24. This is an extremely poorly written article about a decent, and also relatively tame, modern artist. The comment section should include Greenberg’s photos as the avatars. Cheers.

  25. There are a lot of crybabies here, but I’m not talking about the children. Wah, wah, wah. I don’t like this. Boo-hoo-hoo, it’s not my taste.

    These are just photographs, folks. Nobody starved to death, no one was beaten. They are upsetting images because they’re supposed to be upsetting. But children weren’t actually abused, in the real sense of that word. These are MODELS.

    If you see a film where someone gets shot, do you call the police to report a murder? If you watch King Kong do you dial 911 to report a giant ape on the loose? Get a grip, people.

    The biggest problem with this blog is it trivializes child abuse. If we consider every child’s tear to be a sign of abuse then EVERY child everywhere is being abused daily. This unnecessary histeria about nothing makes it easier for actual child abuse to take place.

    Remember, there are children out there who are actually being abused by real sadists, real child molesters, real pornographers, and lots of bad parents. To exaggerate these photo shoots and call the work “abuse” does a disservice to children who are actually suffering from neglect and genuine physical harm.

    I’m not sure what the agenda is here. To shock us? To get us riled up over nothing? Or to provide a smokescreen for genuine abuse? Or to attempt to ruin a famous photographer’s career? Something sinister is at work here, and it’s not the photographer who is doing it.

    • Congratulations for having the most idiotic comment on here. Those children aren’t acting. And just because there are worse things out there doesn’t mean this isn’t wrong to do to children.

  26. You know what all of this self-congratulatory pearl-clutching reminds me of? People who get super-handwringy about child abuse so that they have the opportunity to talk about it in great detail, constantly. It’s creepy. The author seems to have a real issue with the children being naked — their saliva-covered nipples seem to fire their imagination in particular. They seriously doth protest too much, methinks. Creepy creepy creepy.

  27. I wonder what the reaction would be if the photographer wanted to capture the raw emotion of a devastated adult. Maybe a staged phone call to let them know that they’d lost their job or house or spouse would ensure the best photos. Still OK? I don’t think this is necessarily abuse, but it shows an astonishing lack of empathy for those kids.

  28. What I want to know is what these parents were thinking? I wouldn’t ever accept money to cause my child to cry! That’s insanely barbaric! Talk about confusion too… I get fed up with people exploiting animals, exploiting children is just unspeakable sickness.

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