Photographer and filmmaker Lauren Greenfield got her start with National Geographic, documenting the Maya in Mexico. But turning her focus back to her hometown of Los Angeles ignited what's become her life's work — documenting the global obsession with wealth, fame and beauty.
Her acclaimed 2012 documentary, “The Queen of Versailles,” about a Florida couple’s quest to build the largest home in America, was also a morality tale about the housing crisis. Her 2008 film, “kids + money,” examined how young people in L.A. view wealth.
As Greenfield describes it, "Generation Wealth" is a project about "the aspiration for wealth and how that has become a driving force — and at the same time an increasingly unrealistic goal — for individuals from all classes of society."
The Frame's John Horn recently got a preview tour of "Generation Wealth" with Greenfield at the Annenberg Space for Photography.
On the parallels between her exhibition and the brand that Donald Trump created
There are a lot of uncanny overlapping themes and tropes and parts of his character that run through the work. From the aesthetic of luxury, the kind of grandiose architecture, being a real-estate mogul and real estate being kind of at the center of this project, and tracking the boom and the bust as kind of an allegory. But also the fact that Donald Trump owned beauty pageants, the commodification of women — there are so many kind of intersecting themes. Of course I had no idea that he would be elected, but it's true that now, when you look back through the work, the writing's kind of on the wall.
On the definition of "wealth" in the "Generation Wealth" project
It's definitely not limited to material possessions. It's really about wealth, broadly interpreted. I'm looking at the currency of the body, the currency of sexuality, the currency of youth, the currency of celebrity, the currency of fame ... it's really about status and "being somebody," and what success means in the new American Dream.
On how her high school experience in L.A. influenced the trajectory of her career
Part of this is because, in 10th grade, I spent a year living in France. I was a paying boarder with an aristocratic family and learned for the first time that you could have nobility and class without money in other cultures. And when I got back, I really saw that L.A. was a place where social class and stature was purely defined by money. And so that was something I kind of wanted to come back and look at when I became a photographer. I actually studied visual anthropology in college and started at National Geographic, so my first assignment was with the Maya in Mexico. And as I was really struggling with access there, and really struggling to understand a foreign culture, I kind of said to myself, Who am I to tell their story? Maybe I should go back to a culture that I know. And maybe that culture that I had seen at that point — depicted on shows like "Beverly Hills 90210," and looked up to internationally — I thought maybe that culture is actually worthy of that same kind of study that we bring to other cultures.
To hear the full interview with Lauren Greenfield, click the blue player above.