Showing Off Photographs of Wealthy Wannabes

“We’re all subject to this ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ syndrome,” photographer Lauren Greenfield said while standing in front of a cluster of her photographs of rich kids at pool parties at the International Center of Photography (ICP) Museum, where her retrospective, “Generation Wealth,” will open on September 20. “Looking rich is almost as important as being rich.”

Greenfield’s work is indeed more about the aspiration to wealth, rather than the attainment of it. Known for her documentary films and photography exploring America’s exaltation of excess—and its corresponding ills—Greenfield started out by following affluent kids in Los Angeles in the mid 1990s, during the height of US credit boom, documenting their lifestyles in vividly colored and candidly shot photos.

“Kids are the real truth tellers, that’s why I started with them,” she explained to Observer. “They reflect our cultural values back at us in the most honest and transparent ways.”

Ilona, a photographer and former model originally from Latvia, in the mezzanine library of her home, which so far contains only copies of a self-published book of her fashion photographs, Moscow, 2012. Lauren Greenfield

Greenfield’s interest in casting a gaze on consumerism developed organically from this original body of work. For the last 25 years she’s been capturing the fun, fantasy, and frailty of wealth as it shapes and shifts both American and global consumer culture. The ICP exhibition is the New York debut of the first major retrospective of her work, which originally premiered at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles earlier this year. It includes over 200 photos, documentary film footage, interviews, and stills, including from her critically acclaimed 2012 documentary, Queen of Versailles.

It’s easy to lose yourself when staring at some of Greenfield’s images of sexy people, stately homes, and shiny objects. These are, after all, things that have long been touted as totems of the American dream, what we should all aspire to be or have, and have been told we can—with the right loan rate. But the photographer tempers these desires with garish montages of mid- or post-op plastic surgery photos or images of children being weighed and measured at a weight loss camp. Interview: Lauren Greenfield Photographs Wealthy Wannabes | Observer


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