Lau­ren Green­field Q&A

In her new doc­u­men­tary, the es­teemed pho­tog­ra­pher looks at what money buys (spoiler: it’s not hap­pi­ness)

Esquire (UK) - - Contents -

Over her 25-year ca­reer, Lau­ren Green­field has doc­u­mented Rus­sian oli­garchs and five-year-old pageant queens, and even a tweenaged Kim Kar­dashian. Re­vis­it­ing many of them and amal­ga­mat­ing their sto­ries into a new doc­u­men­tary, Gen­er­a­tion Wealth, she has cre­ated a star­tling com­men­tary on our cur­rent cul­ture and the seem­ingly desperate need for noth­ing more than, well, more. ESQUIRE: What is the mes­sage of Gen­er­a­tion Wealth?

LAU­REN GREEN­FIELD: “I felt like we were ad­dicted to con­sumerism in a way that will kill us, and that we were on an un­sus­tain­able path. Half­way through edit­ing, when Trump was elected, it felt even more ur­gent be­cause that was the ul­ti­mate ex­pres­sion of Gen­er­a­tion Wealth.”

ESQ: Can you imag­ine Don­ald Trump watch­ing this film?

LG: “Um, I don’t know, be­cause he sounds like he doesn’t have that much of an at­ten­tion span and it’s a com­plex film…” ESQ: You’ve been pho­tograph­ing the rich for decades. When did you start think­ing it could be part of a sin­gle project?

LG: “It was the in­ter­na­tional hor­ror of the fi­nan­cial crash and see­ing the same thing hap­pen in the US, Europe, Dubai; see­ing ma­te­ri­al­ism go on over­drive in China; and see­ing what I’d started look­ing at late in the Nineties blow up all over the world, through glob­al­ism, me­dia and our in­ter­con­nected fi­nan­cial sys­tems. It was a light­bulb mo­ment of: ‘This is a big­ger story than I re­alised’.” ESQ: You in­ter­view Flo­rian Homm, a for­mer hedge-fund man­ager on the run. How did you get him to speak to you?

LG: “We had known him in col­lege so my hus­band Frank called him up. I re­ally did not think he would talk to me. He’d gone from an $800m banker to the FBI’s most-wanted, but he said, ‘Sure, I re­mem­ber you guys and Lau­ren can come over.’ And when I went to Ger­many and in­ter­viewed him, it was re­ally the be­gin­ning of, ‘Oh my God, there’s a movie here’, be­cause he was like the devil who had be­come a truth-teller, and had this wis­dom that maybe you can only have if you have that jour­ney, that fall from grace.” ESQ: He’s in ex­ile in Ger­many. Did you have to be sur­rep­ti­tious?

LG: “In the be­gin­ning he was very cagey. I think he was al­ways think­ing there would be Amer­i­cans there to whisk him away.”

ESQ: You say the Amer­i­can Dream has al­tered. How would you de­fine it now?

LG: With the Amer­i­can Dream, we have

“gone from a place of tra­di­tional val­ues and hard work and fru­gal­ity and dis­ci­pline, to a place where all that mat­tered was money, or look­ing like you have money. One of the tragic parts for us in the US is that we’ve never had so much in­equal­ity, and we’ve never had so much con­cen­tra­tion of wealth in the hands of the few. So, at the time when look­ing like you’re rich is so im­por­tant, ac­tu­ally get­ting there is al­most im­pos­si­ble.” ESQ: Kim Kar­dashian crops up sev­eral times in the film. What do you think of her? LG: “When I went back and started look­ing through out­takes, I re­alised that I had pic­tures of her when she was 12 and so, in a way, our jour­neys be­gan at the same time. She wasn’t even in­cluded in my first book be­cause she wasn’t im­por­tant then, but by the time I fin­ished, she was so im­por­tant be­cause she is an icon of con­sumerism, of tele­vi­sion, of narcissism. Un­abashedly so.”

ESQ: A big theme in the film is our cul­tural evo­lu­tion, and its im­pact on women and their bod­ies.

LG: “Def­i­nitely. In a way, the most com­pelling and tragic part about the ul­ti­mate cost of cap­i­tal­ism is the com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of hu­man be­ings — the ul­ti­mate degra­da­tion. Not that women are the only peo­ple af­fected — they’re not, as you see in the movie — but theirs is a par­tic­u­larly ob­vi­ous case study, and also one that I’ve per­son­ally been en­gaged with. So that was a re­ally im­por­tant part of the puz­zle for me to fig­ure out ‘How does gen­der fit in, if it does?’”

ESQ: Do you think we might be com­ing back around to a more pos­i­tive at­mos­phere for women?

LG: “I feel like, if we didn’t have Har­vey We­in­stein, we would not have had #MeToo and that, like with ad­dic­tion, you have to crash, you have to hit rock bot­tom be­fore you can re­cover. And there’s power in that.” —

Gen­er­a­tion Wealth is out on 27 July

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