Critics’ Picks

Lauren Greenfield, Spring Break, Panama City, Florida, 2000, silver dye bleach print, 11 x 14".

Lauren Greenfield, Spring Break, Panama City, Florida, 2000, silver dye bleach print, 11 x 14".

Los Angeles

Lauren Greenfield

Annenberg Space for Photography
2000 Avenue of the Stars
April 8–August 13, 2017

This survey, titled “Generation Wealth,” is promoted as a morality tale, but it’s more of a master class in dramatic irony. For twenty-five years, Lauren Greenfield has photographed those who see money and fame as vehicles to happiness—celebrities, Ponzi schemers, wealthy teenagers, Russian oligarchs, the list goes on—while highlighting the vacancy of that pursuit. Donald Trump is exactly the sort of person Greenfield might photograph, and her artist statement included in the show plainly states that she sees his election as a symptom of such generational sickness. This exhibition sometimes suffers under the weight of its own moralizing impulse, but such acute foreshadowing makes these images vital, if not too late.

A short documentary about the photographer’s many series and own documentaries describes how she began taking pictures of privileged LA teenagers in the early 1990s—which formed her 1997 book Fast Forward: Growing Up in the Shadow of Hollywood—and how she watched their obsession with consumption become a mirror of the larger world. A photograph of a woman who appears to be giving an upside-down blow job while on spring break, Spring Break, Panama City, Florida, 2000, precedes Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers by more than a decade. The cluttered frames of Greenfield’s later work give way to symbols loaded as Chekhovian guns: a Lucite pumpkin carriage at a gauche Disney World wedding; a golf club wielded in a gilded Chinese mega-mansion; a toddler’s tiny, suggestive tongue; a gaggle of designer bags. But she is most subtle, and powerful, when identifying the insecurity that an excess of information brings. In photographs from her documentary on anorexia, Thin (2006), she locates the vulnerability of people facing an overload of aspirational imagery. There is no clear moral to their struggle, and what her subjects long for is intangible.