Generation Wealth at The Annenberg Space for Photography


How do you tee up a conversation about values with your kids? How do you keep their focus on people and their work, and not on things that can be purchased and displayed? We all have goals for our children, ideal settings for their moral compasses, but let’s face it: we live in a city known for a focus on wealth and superficiality, and our daily lives are inundated with a celebrity culture unlike no other.

Sometimes the best approach is to face the beast head on.  We recommend taking your tweens and teens to view Lauren Greenfield’s new show, Generation Wealth, on view at The Annenberg Space for Photography (through August 13, 2017).  Greenfield’s color photographs are extremely accessible and each tells a potent tale. Kids will be fascinated by the various worlds she explores – a range of images assembled over the past 25 years that aims straight at today’s image-focused culture, and explores “the influence of affluence.”

Greenfield has clearly concluded that we have arrived at a place in culture where “everyone wants to be rich.”  Whether you agree with her, or not, posing a question about “affluenza” is a great opener for conversation with your kids.

  • Is that the case in their lives? Where does “wanting to be rich” fall in a list of their goals?
  • What does that mean to them to be rich? To drive a nice car? To take a lot of nice vacations?
  • How do they feel and think about how their friends think about money?
  • If you open the lens to television and social media, how are values about money communicated?
  • And what about Los Angeles, and our life here? How does that underline the pressure for wealth?

Kids may not think about values, per se, but you can bet they have thoughts about money and how it is spent, either in your life or the lives of their friends.  Having this conversation can help them deconstruct the consumerism that abounds in their daily life.  Having general conversations about your family’s finances and your own values around money is actually reassuring to kids, because they don’t always understand the way money works. They are probably acutely aware of celebrity culture, and thinking about how that impacts our ideas about what constitutes a good life is also valuable.

Here’s a good article, from Common Sense, about how teach your kids to recognize and resist advertisements and become smart media consumers – the article is divided into age-groupings, and can empower your kids from a young age to understand when they’re being sold a product, and help keep those ads from bombarding their social media feeds.

We love visiting the Annenberg Space for Photography – it’s a compact and intimate space, and a film that is produced by The Annenberg Foundation in conjunction with each show that tells the story of the photographers themselves.  Be sure to take time to watch the short film (under 30 minutes) that accompanies the show.  After touring around the small show once, sit down and watch the film – and, if you have time afterwards, take a second look at the images with a more in depth understanding.

One of Greenfield’s most persistent messages over the course of her career concerns the objectification of women – she pays persistent attention to the way that women are taught to think about themselves. Her camera captures seemingly light moments (such as the one above, and including early shots of the Kardashians hanging around Los Angeles) that pack a pop-culture punch. And she also likes to provoke when observing more specific worlds, such as when she immersed herself in the world of plastic surgery procedures, or got to know women that make their living selling their bodies, or investigated beauty pageants for the very young… and, for the very old. Highlights from these journeys comprise the first half of the show (and are published in her excellent early monographs, Fast Forward: Growing Up in the Shadow of Hollywood, and Girl Culture).

Ilona at home with her daughter, Michelle, 4, Moscow, 2012 (Lauren Greenfield)

After years of exploring the world of girls and women her interest turned to broader targets of our consumerist values – and she dove into this cultural mosh-pit with a vengeance, making a popular documentary about the largest house in the world (The Queen of Versailles), investigating the families of Russian oligarchs, and recently, the heartbreaking economic slack after the boom in hardest-hit parts of the world such as Las Vegas, Iceland, and Ireland. The images are accompanied by short descriptions or interviews with her subject, which allows you to understand her purpose for including them in the show (she reviewed over a half million images for selection in this exhibit). A book about the show has been published by Phaidon can be ordered here – there is a discount code on the site now, and the book ships in May).

Lauren Greenfield grew up here in Los Angeles, and went to Crossroads. She chronicled the fast lane of the Westside kids as they  grew up, and studied documentary technique at Harvard. Greenfield has become one of our country’s most honest chronicler of the leading edge of our consumer culture — and her focus on how it affects kids growing up is what makes her so appealing to parents in Los Angeles.

She has been involved with ad campaigns to help kids think about their bodies in the groundbreaking advertising campaign, Like A Girl. Share this one with your kids to provoke valuable conversation about how we think about our bodies as we grow up. Although Like a Girl isn’t part of this show, it represents the activist side of Greenfield’s work, part of her overall concern for girls.

The Annenberg Space for Photography // 2000 Avenue of the Stars, Los Angeles 90067

HOURS: Wed – Sun: 11am – 6pm – Mon – Tue: Closed