The New York based International Center of Photography is hosting an incredibly powerful exhibition ‘Generation Wealth‘ by Lauren Greenfield. The curatorial text has been written by Juliet Schor, one of the co-authors of our new book, ‘Green Economy Reader‘. The exhibition presents a rich tapestry of stories from contemporary America describing the current culture of damaging economic growth: the celebrity cult, the corruption of money, the fixation on ‘fashion’ and ‘beauty’, the image problems and plastic surgery, the culture of showing off, consuming for the sake of it, creation of a false self through consumption. All these trends have become commonplace in contemporary societies and are unfortunately taking us away from sustainability in environmental sense.
Shot in a very straightforward, matter-of-fact way, the photographs presented depict people consumed by obsessions to be, look or seem better than they really are. This obsession gives rise to a whole industry: school graduates are trying to outdo their peers in the lavishness of their graduation party, parents encouraging children to take part in the beauty contests to become famous, grown up men and women injecting themselves with hormones and chemicals to look younger, young girls undergoing plastic surgery costing many thousands of dollars to be more successful, obsession with status symbols and expensive cars among the youth in Los Angeles, the passed sensitivity thresholds for those who experienced luxury and now want more, extreme wealth often linked with financial schemes prior to 2008, lavish lifestyles with many mansions where nobody lives.
Examining these manifestations of human greed, envy and worshiping the golden calf, Lauren Greenfield, holds a mirror to contemporary society and asks a profound question: is this really what we would like this world to look like? The texts accompanying the exhibition inform the viewers and contextualize the images linking them into a coherent narrative, making it easier to understand the depicted events and the reasons for including them in the exhibition. This rare exhibition is unique in that using the power of photography, it allows us to reflect on the contemporary cultural trends, think about possible futures, examining the psychological, environmental and economic implications of current trends. The insatiable appetite for more could definitely be one of the reasons for the financial crisis that happened in 2008.
The exhibition is accompanied by an extensive commentary, and a book: Lauren Greenfield (2017) Generation Wealth, which is well worth the read. International Center of Photography Museum is located in 250 Bowery, New York, NY 10012. Highly recommended!
References: Lauren Greenfield (2017) Generation Wealth, Phaidon
Image (c) Dr Stanislav Shmelev