For 25 years, photographer Lauren Greenfield has been documenting America’s increasing obsession with image, celebrity, and materialism.
So when the twin financial and real estate crises hit in 2008, she was not surprised. Everything she had been seeing up to that moment had inevitably led to downfall.
What did surprise her, though, was how short-lived the reckoning seemed to be in the aftermath of the crisis. With barely a moment’s pause, the global trend of obsessing over status and image simply plodded onward.
Greenfield, who also directed The Queen of Versailles, a 2012 documentary focused on the owners of the largest and most expensive home in America, has just published her photos in a new book, Generation Wealth. She refers to the book as a “documentary inquiry” into “the influence of affluence.”
“It’s not about wealth itself,” Greenfield told Money. “It’s about wealth as status, wealth as success marker.”
Real economic mobility has slowed, so what Greenfield calls “fictitious social mobility” has moved in to fill the gap. Many of the subjects in the book are actually not wealthy at all, but have made every effort to appear so, because that’s the image they aspire to project.
As she writes in the introduction to the book: “As our political system becomes less democratic—with wealthy donors and well-funded special-interest lobby groups exercising disproportionate influence on elections and legislation—we have experienced a democratization of the signifiers of wealth. Luxury for the common man, woman, and child defines the new American Dream. And if you don’t have money, as Emanuel, one of my teenage subjects in Los Angeles, assures us, ‘There are ways to make it seem like you do.'”
Check out these photos from Generation Wealth, available for purchase now.
Princess bride: Some of Christina Alaniz’s favorite childhood memories centered on Disney vacations, according to Greenfield. When she got married, she took her husband and her parents on Cinderella’s glass coach to the ceremony, the grand method of transportation for Disney’s Fairy Tale Wedding package.
Limo king: “Limo Bob” Strauser, the self-proclaimed “Limo King,” holds the record for owning the longest limousine in the world. “Bob builds, sells and rents out limos in his hometown of Chicago, and has created a fleet that includes the record-breaking 100-foot limo, and another made from a Boeing 727,” Greenfield writes.
Golden touch: Yvonne Xue, 44, board chairman general manager of Shanghai Si Tong Cable Industry, has a complete Versace bedroom set at her home in Shanghai.
Luxury life: Russian socialite Ilona Stolie and her daughter Michelle, 4, live in a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired mansion located in Rublyovka, an elite residential area outside of Moscow.
Raining money: A VIP guest “makes it rain” with hundreds of $1 bills on a sold-out Saturday night at the Marquee Las Vegas club.
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