Photographer Lauren Greenfield has been documenting what she terms "the influence of affluence" for the last 25 years. "Consciously at times – and at other times unconsciously – I have captured signs of a seismic shift in our culture," she says. "I began to recognise the pattern in 2008, during the financial crisis, and I have been trying to decipher it ever since, both by making new work for this project and by editing the photographs I’ve made throughout my career."
Now, her images have been drawn together in a gorgeous tome published by Phaidon and with a foreword by Juliet Schor, entitled Generation Wealth. However, Greenfield is quick to point out that this is not "about the 1 per cent, about people who are wealthy." Instead, she says, it's about "the aspiration for wealth and how that has become a driving force – and at the same time an increasingly unrealistic goal – for individuals from all classes of society.
"We have less social mobility now than we had in prior generations, and, more than ever before, a greater concentration of wealth is in the hands of the few... As our political system becomes less democratic—with wealthy donors and well-funded special-interest lobby groups exercising disproportionate influence on elections and legislation – we have experienced a democratisation of the signifiers of wealth. Luxury for the common man, woman, and child defines the new American Dream."
We see menacing sets of gold teeth, bared for the camera lens; ostentatious toilet interiors decorated in a similar hue; the cult of the paparazzi and of always being "on show". It's an enlightening portrait of America, presenting a magpie's dream of glitter and gaudiness that delineates cultural shifts as much as stylistic trends.
Generation Wealth is published on 15 May 2017 at £59.95. Lauren Greenfield will be in conversation with columnist and broadcaster Anne McElvoy at the Design Museum on 18 May, event details here