LAUREN GREENFIELD IMAGE FROM THE ANNENBERG SPACE FOR PHOTOGRAPHY EXHIBITION LAUREN GREENFIELDS GENERATION WEALTH
“Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless.” -Ecclesiastes 5:10
Check out this story by Priscilla Frank from the Huffington Post on photographer Lauren Greenfield, who has spent 25 years photographing our society-wide obsession with wealth, money and possessions.
Greenfield’s first series, “Fast Forward: Growing Up in the Shadow of Hollywood,” focuses on the impact of media saturation on youth culture in LA. “It was the beginning of MTV,” Greenfield said. “I was seeing how rich kids, influenced by hip-hop, wanted to be like the kids of the inner city with this idea of ‘bling,’” she said. Those same kids living in inner cities, in turn, yearned to be rich. The series revealed that the appeal of wealth and fame crossed boundaries of race, class or background; most young Los Angelenos were driven by a desire for status and attention.
“Money affects kids in many ways,” Adam, a 13-year-old subject of Greenfield’s, explained to her in a 1994 interview, the first she ever conducted. In the photo alongside Adam’s interview, he’s pictured as a pudgy pubescent grinding with a go-go dancer at his nightclub-themed Bar Mitzvah. “It has ruined a lot of kids I know,” he continued. “It has ruined me — wearing a Rolex watch to school or just buying a $200 pair of shoes. I take flying lessons. I mean, I know a person who has a soccer field and an indoor basketball court. But that person’s dad is going to jail.”
Greenfield recalled the impact Adam’s words had on her back in 1994. “I was so amazed by the acute perceptions that a kid right in the middle of it had,” she said. “I was very moved that he could see it and be critical of it and still be affected by it.”
And some more:
Greenfield’s extensive photographic project features 14 chapters, each focusing on a particular population, fixation or epidemic. “New Aging” explores society’s rejection of aging and the ways medicine and technology conspire to prevent its effects. In one image, a woman receives a post-operative mani-pedi in a luxury surgery-aftercare facility, her entire face covered by a mask of bandages with holes for her eyes, nose and mouth.
“The Princess Brand” documents how even the innocent exercise of playing dress-up initiates young girls’ obsessions with luxury and desirability. Greenfield captures girls as young as 4 years old, wearing their mothers’ high heels, striking a seductive pose for the camera. Juxtaposed with “New Aging,” the series hints at how aging adults and young girls chase the same impossible ideal.
“I started to think about the connections,” Greenfield said. “The connection between a little girl and her precocious sexualization and the woman who decides to become a prostitute because she doesn’t want to make $20,000 a year anymore as a social worker, to Jackie Siegel, who decides being a beauty queen will get her closer to the American dream than her engineering degree.”
I’m feeling a simultaneous sigh and a yikes. And one last excerpt:
Although there are urgent moral undertones to Greenfield’s project, she never casts judgment on her individual subjects. Rather, she portrays every person, from a former assembly line worker at General Motors to the sex worker famous for citing Charlie Sheen as a client, as reflections of the same cultural phenomenon. “We’re all susceptible to it,” Greenfield said. “We all become addicted.”
Greenfied’s book includes an interview with social critic Chris Hedges, who illuminates just how pervasive our generation’s preoccupation with status has become. “Celebrity culture functions like a religion,” he said, continuing:
“For one thousand years the Catholic Church ruled Europe by creating massive stained-glass windows with images of torment and hell and damnation and salvation to control society. Today we have electronic images of celebrity and wealth that do the same thing. We worship narcissistic monsters. The drive to become a celebrity is at its core a drive to become immortal. What you’re seeking is an unattainable perfection. You’re seeking essentially to become a god.”
I really don’t have much more to add here. Just wow. You can read the whole thing and see more of Greenfield’s photos (which are going to be on display in L.A. next month) cataloguing conspicuous consumption here.