“'Generation Wealth’ was a particular kind of obsession,” says photographer Lauren Greenfield of her latest body of work. “It was a 25-year project and it was completely all-consuming and addictive in a way that I didn't really realize when I started.” The work offers both a retrospective of the Los Angeles-based documentarian’s career and an overarching narrative exploring the influence of affluence in our society. Encompassing a book, a feature-length film for Amazon Studios, and an exhibit that combines life-size prints with text and film, “Generation Wealth” draws on Greenfield’s archive of more than half a million images, as well as new work.
To tackle such a daunting project, Greenfield and curator Trudy Wilner Stack created a sort of walk-in storyboard. “It was kind of a dream,” says Greenfield. “Our process in doing the edit was very printer-driven. We printed about 5,000 pictures, and I painted all of the walls in my studio and print room magnetic.” They output the images on a Canon Pixma MX920 so that they could arrange them on the walls, starting with 4x6 prints. They printed larger sizes as they narrowed the collection down to the 600 images that appear in the book, published this year by Phaidon Press.
“It was an opportunity to really reflect on the last 25 years in so many ways: what was in the work, the form of the work, what it added up to,” says Greenfield. “In thinking about the narrative arc, I needed to see all of the pictures on the wall.” Using prints during that early phase also allowed her to achieve a unified aesthetic, even though the original photographs were taken on various types of film and Canon digital cameras. “That's where we really got the color exact, both for the book and for the larger prints,” Greenfield explains.
From the images for the book, Greenfield and Wilner Stack then chose 200 for the exhibit. Viewing the large prints revealed details that even Greenfield hadn’t seen since she took the shots. “It was usually an opportunity for wonderful surprises about the picture,” she says. “The technology is so gratifying now, because however that diamond sparkled when you saw it, or the sea looked blue on vacation with the 1 percent, or the grill gleamed on Lil Jon's teeth, now the technology really allows that to come out.” Greenfield worked with her longtime printing tech to output the exhibit images in sizes as large as 4 x 6 feet on her Canon imagePROGRAF printer.
Bringing out the details of a subject wasn’t just a technical feat for Greenfield; it’s part of how she engages viewers with an image. “I think the specifics make it universal,” she says. “You really see the grit and the reality and the specificity.” And letting exhibit visitors experience her subjects in large prints is equally important to her. “Really, the power of this work is empathy,” she explains. “When you print at a size that lets you stand face to face with this human that's on your scale, it's a very different relationship. Standing in front of somebody and relating to them is just really unique. I think that the print is really where the work gets life breathed into it.”
—Sponsored by Canon.