Nicholas Fahey on why he loves Lauren Greenfield
The respected LA photo gallerist on what to look for in a Lauren Greenfield picture, how she's turning on a new generation to photography and why he thinks she's a little bit like Henri Cartier-Bresson
As Lauren Greenfield arrives in Europe to begin a week of talks and appearances in Amsterdam, Paris and London, we caught up with the LA gallerist who has been synonymous with the work of the Generation Wealth photographer for nearly 20 years. Nicholas Fahey, of Fahey Klein Gallery, came across Greenfield’s work in the 1990s and since then has been at the forefront of documenting, presenting and promoting many of the varied aspects of her photographic career including her latest project, Generation Wealth. Once you've read our interview with Nicholas you can buy tickets for Greenfield's UK talk at The Design Museum here and take a closer look at the new book here.
One of the common misconceptions about the Generation Wealth project is that it’s about the one percent but it’s also about those desperate to live like them isn’t it? Exactly! And what is so great about this book is that all those bodies of work are really the sniper views of these groups but putting them all together provides this 40,000 foot view to really show how confused and sad everybody really is. Even the rich people who supposedly have it all are sometimes the most miserable. And then you have these other people who have great lives and great families but who are so focused on reaching this place that is really just a fantasy that they can't see it.
Brian Eno has said of Greenfield's work, 'she makes it personal, it could have been me' but what do you personally see when you look at her work? That’s interesting. For me one of the most powerful images in the book and our show is the photograph of the teenage girl in a bikini driving in a convertible to the beac. I grew up in LA in the Nineties and I knew these kids and how weird this idea of the kids of celebrities being celebrities was. I feel that’s a really important photo and it’s stayed impactful to me for the past 20 plus years of looking at it. It still resonates, it’s still really strong. The other one I really love is the model on the runway where she’s twisting her ankle and falling. I feel that photo really sums up a large part of the Generation Wealth project – this aspiration for wealth and luxury but it’s all just crumbling and falling apart. And no one’s really jumping out to save this girl, no one’s helping her. Everybody pretends to be everybody’s best friend but they’re really gunning for you to fail at the end of the day.
The photo of a young Kim Kardashian really sums up how young that quest starts doesn’t it? Oh yeah, absolutely. My high school is the oldest high school in LA. I saw kids from all over LA whether it was Hollywood, Bel Air or Malibu. So you got these windows into what these people were, what their motivation was. A whole group of kids growing up as junior high kids and elementary kids were watching Beverley Hills 90210 and Melrose Place and almost thinking oh, we grew up here, this is what we should be doing, this is who we should be. So I think yes, that has come into its culmination with the Kardashians and you have that picture in Lauren’s book of the Kardashians as kids at some party.
What should people look for in Greenfield's photos? I think it’s always a case of looking for the truth in them. It’s looking through all the play and really trying to find what are the motivations of these people and ask yourself why are these people doing what they’re doing? What is their motivation? Is it because they want to build housing for a bunch of people or is it because they want to make the most money and have the biggest house and be this person and really - what does that get you at the end of the day?
It’s incredible how she gains the trust of her subjects and remains friends with them even when the portrait she paints is not entirely flattering! I know! She’s not painting these people in the best light all the time but somehow she gets people to join in and join her game. Everybody seems to get it. I’m stunned really. The fact that she’s portrayed certain people in a certain light and they’re happy with how they’ve been portrayed. And I mean I guess they must understand the irony of the situation and they must get it for what it is. It’s very revealing of celebrity culture. People don’t give a fuck about what they’re a celebrity for, it’s just: ‘I’m important, I’m great. Maybe I’m important and great just for being this incredibly rich person but I’m still important and great!’
Can you trace a lineage in her work back to the classics? Yes, definitely. Obviously she’s not a war photographer but there is this aspect of Bresson, or the Seven (agency) photographers. Lauren is definitely one of the more domestic photographers the Institute has but I absolutely see her coming from that thought process, that generation, Eugene Smith - all those kind of guys.
Do you think she is turning an entire new generation of people on to photography? One thing we always say about photography at the gallery is the future of photography is in somebody who has never bought a photograph. I think this project opens up opportunities for people who wouldn’t consider themselves ‘artsy’ to identify with a body of work and maybe go to a museum, or maybe go to a gallery and maybe buy that book. And all of a sudden somebody who never thought they were part of the art world is part of the art world. And that’s important for me as a gallerist. Humans have been communicating with symbols and with pictures longer than we have using the written word. So I think it is intrinsically a human trait to look at and appreciate art. So one of my missions is to get people to understand that. And you’re not ‘artsy’ if you’re doing that – you’re human. So I think they way that Lauren is going about this body of work is humanising art.
You've found that she brings a new audience to the gallery but what else do they look at when they come in? That's one of my favourite things about working in a gallery. You have the people who know what the gallery is all about and they charge in and they know how to act but then you have people who come in and they ask, ‘how much does it cost to come in here?’ And I’m thinking:right, this is not what you do on a normal day to day basis and somehow this body of work brought you in - whether it was through the Phaidon website or the LA Times. And I love giving those people a tour round the gallery. And you always find that they respond to the great images that everybody responds to – because the cream rises to the top. So they’ll walk in and go oh what’s that? And it’s Berenice Abbott’s Night View, or oh my god what’s that? and it’s a Mapplethorpe. And you get to have a moment with them and explain the history, and it’s great.
Who else have you working with lately? I’m doing a whole new contemporary emerging program. We just did a show called Young Blood which was a bunch of young contemporary photographers, one being Brendan Pattengale – we’re working on a book with him right now. We’re in the process of signing Janette Beckman who has always shot rebel cultures. She was in London in the late 70s and shot the rise of the punk rock movement and then moved to Manhattan in the 80s and shot the rise of the Hip-Hop movement.