The International Center of Photography in New York presents Generation Wealth, an exhibition by Lauren Greenfield, an American photographer, video artist, and documentarian. First shown at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles, the exhibition brings together an impressive body of work developed over the course of 25 years. There are over 200 photographs on display, alongside many videos and interview excerpts. Starting in the 1990s, Lauren Greenfield became interested in the place of money in American society. She first photographed the golden youth of Los Angeles, and then went on to conduct her research like a true anthropologist.
The exhibition shows several different series, all tied together by a common idea: money as an end in itself. A critique underlies every image, but it, too, is in a certain sense evanescent in that it is not aimed at anyone in particular. All subjects photographed appear to be victims of a system that seems to exist in and of itself, without origin. Lauren Greenfield tries to describe a system that is bigger than individual people, and it is undoubtedly thanks to this approach that she is able to get so close to the persons she photographs. It seems that, out of the humanity towards her subjects, and in order to avoid slipping into cynicism, she didn’t want to fully identify with her message. This is understandable, and it is up to the viewers to draw their own conclusions.
Other, more contemporary, series endeavor to show the ideological undercurrent at work, and the way the values of a certain social class are treated like universal principles. The exhibition thus transforms into a veritable document where portraits and testimonies dovetail and debate the impact of set norms (of beauty, success, etc.) and how these norms insinuate themselves into our personal lives. These works, not exactly photographic in the strict sense of the term, are profoundly perceptive and sensitive.
Greenfield’s images are abrasive and potent, but they are not devoid of humor or certain tenderness. The message is incisive, and shows the limitations of our society, which has no value other than monetary success. Generation Wealth is a disenchanted look at the American dream and the pursuit of happiness when that happiness has become meaningless. A catalog, published by Phaidon, accompanies the exhibition.
Hugo Fortin is a New York-based writer specializing in photography.
Lauren Greenfield, Generation Wealth
September 20 to Januery 7, 2018
International Center of Photography
New York, NY 10012