There is a long history of photography denouncing poverty, such as Jacob Riis’ photos from 19th century New York slums or Mary Ellen Mark’s photos of Seattle’s homeless children. But recent decades have witnessed a boom in strong photography questioning privilege. Consider Jim Goldberg’s "Rich and Poor" shot in San Francisco, or Lauren Greenfield’s "kids + money" shot in Los Angeles.
In curating 1%: Privilege in a Time of Global Inequality, I have tried to gather images that examine wealth globally and in many different ways. One reference point I had for my project was Edward Steichen's 1955 exhibition The Family of Man. Curated in the optimistic postwar era, it presented over 500 documentary photos of very different people from around the world, grouped under common themes such as family, religion and work. It argued for, in Steichen’s words, "the essential oneness of mankind". But as inequality reaches historic levels, I find this thesis less and less viable. Consider, for example, that the 6 heirs to the Walmart fortune own more wealth than the bottom 42% of Americans combined. I wanted to respond to Steichen’s project by finding images on similar themes but taken in the realm of wealth. While The Family of Man was a sprawling, varied and democratic mix of images by both known and unknown photographers, I took a different approach, befitting the exclusive spirit of my topic. I selected a small number of polished, well-crafted, medium format photographs by some of today’s best photographers. I wanted to borrow the language of privilege and use it to observe and critique privilege.
Some of the images map out points in the world of affluence, such as education, leisure and healthcare (while avoiding clichés like fur coats and private jets). Other images are positioned outside the world of the 1%, looking back in. For example, one of Nina Berman’s images shows a crowd of hopefuls attending a church in the American South that teaches that Jesus wants us to be rich. Some images contain juxtapositions of class, such as Guillaume Bonn’s photo of maids in a wealthy Kenyan household. Still other images are more abstract, such as Sasha Bezzubov’s photo of a cloud of golden dust over a logging road in Gabon, which evokes for me the ephemeral nature of wealth.
In March 2015, billionaire private equity investor Paul Tudor Jones II publicly declared that the wealth gap “cannot and will not persist...it will get closed. History always does it. It typically happens in one of three ways: either through revolution, higher taxes, or wars.”
So then, what will it be?
I hope this project helps spur that conversation.
Photographs in Wilson Hall, First Floor
A street preacher in New York appeals to Wall Street to repent
A man floats in the 57th-floor swimming pool of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, with the skyline of the Singapore financial district behind him.
Paolo Woods & Gabriele Galimberti
A chef from a nearby luxury lodge waits for his guests to arrive from a hot air balloon excursion before serving them champagne in the middle of the Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
Maids prepare a room for a guest in a wealthy Kenyan household.
Paradise Now Nr. 18
Untitled # II, Intruders on the Rock Face, North Mara Mine, Tanzania
LaGuardia Landing Pattern over Brooklyn
Varvara in Her Home Cinema, Moscow
Legless star cleaner on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
Shanghai Falling (Fuxing Lu Demolition)
Photographs in Nau Hall, Second Floor
Pheasants are laid out on a hunter's pickup truck in the UK
A crowd protests the G8 Summit in Heiligendamm, Germany
Jeff Koons, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
The Highline: Above 34th Street Eastward
Pastor Eddie Long's New Birth Baptist Church in Atlanta, USA
Opera de Monte-Carlo, Monte Carlo, Monaco
A 25-year old British man undergoes rhinoplasty surgery.
Untitled #IV, Mine Security, North Mara Mine, Tanzania
Untitled #5, from "Hedge"
Scrapper, Packard Motor Car Company Plant, Detroit
From the series Republic of Dust
Daimler Chrysler's supercomputer at their headquarters in Stuttgart.
Fish bowl, Fraud Department, Greek National Criminal Investigation Unit
Princess Studio, a wedding photo studio'in Shanghai, China.