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Trending: Behind the Scenes with Lauren Greenfield, Documenter of the Rich

By David Schonauer   Wednesday August 22, 2018


Lauren Greenfield has spent her career looking at wealth.

As a photographer, she burst on the scene with her 1997 book Fast Forward: Growing Up in the Shadow of Hollywood, a look at youth culture in the age of hip hop and MTV that earned her the International Center of Photography’s Infinity Award for Young Photographer. She went on to look at the culture of beauty and cosmetic surgery, the housing-foreclosure crisis in California, China’s “Bling Dynasty,” and an Atlanta strip club where dancers hope to get rich and up-and-coming hip-hop stars hope to get discovered.  

Greenfield’s interest in wealth also led her to make the award-winning 2012 documentary Queen of Versailles, which looked at the construction of a $100 million house amid last decade’s financial crisis. The film, PPD noted in a 2015 profile of Greenfield, was a good example of her work. “She is a keen and sympathetic observer who allows those ideas to reveal themselves through the vivid characters she captures,” we noted.

 “The human nature part of the story has always been my real interest,” she told us.

Last year saw Greenfield open a major photographic exhibition  and book called “Generation Wealth,” which gathered together 25 years of her work examining the globalization of materialism — or, as she described it in a 2015 PPD profile, “how keeping up with the Joneses became keeping up with the Kardashians.”

Now Greenfield has followed the exhibition with a newly opened documentary film of the same name. See the trailer below.

In a recently profile, The New York Times  called Greenfield  “America’s foremost visual chronicler of the plutocracy, and those who hope to join its ranks,” noting that her fascination with materialism has often “placed her ahead of the cultural curve.”

“When Kim Kardashian was photographed with Donald Trump in the White House,” Greenfield told The Times in July, “it looked like it could have been an ad for my movie.”  

NoFilmSchool recently talked with Greenfield about her work in general and her new documentary in particular, describing how she creates an motion version of an environmental portrait of her subjects.

“As a filmmaker, there’s a lot that comes from my photography, and one of the things I'm very focused on is craft,” she told NFS. “That’s really important to me, the composition and the color and the visual way that the story is told. When I do an interview, I never want to do the 60 Minutes  tight interview with the background thrown out of focus and some kind of generic background.” She uses her environmental-portrait technique, for instance, when she revisited the Hollywood teens she photographed for Fast Forward.

The film is also unexpectedly personal and may strike a chord with other filmmakers and photographers who find themselves driven to work on large projects. Greenfield examines her own obsession with work and its costs.

“I'm not trying to equate my addiction with the characters', as their consequences are a lot more grave,” she says. “For example, with an eating disorder, that's a life-threatening illness. Doing work that I love is not life-threatening. I really don't want to trivialize any of the addictions, but I also did want to say that our actions have consequences, and that my actions have consequences. Even doing this work that I love has consequences on my family that I wasn't really aware of. I woke up to that in the process of making the film.”

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