Guest Lecture

“I’m a Luxury” – Embodied Consumption and Exhibiting Capital in Lauren Greenfield’s Generation Wealth

Event Information

  • Thursday, January 25, 2024
  • 2:15 pm - 3:45 pm
  • Emil-Abderhalden-Str. 26-27, SR 5
  • 06108 Halle (Saale)

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“I’m a Luxury” – Embodied Consumption and Exhibiting Capital in Lauren Greenfield’s Generation Wealth

Prof. Dr. Kerstin Schmidt (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München)

Abstract of Lecture

Lauren Greenfield’s comprehensive 2017 exhibition Generation Wealth chronicles a large-scale social and economic transformation of society. In an abundantly rich Kodachrome color palette, the photographer and filmmaker inputs on display the ways in which market consumerism, commodity culture, and rampant materialism have shaped generations of people in their individual and group identity. More importantly, Greenfield’s photographic practice focuses on how conspicuous consumption with its logic of desire and display are tied to the body of the newly rich and ‘wannabe’ rich. Viewing photographs such as the close-up of Limo Bob’s hand with heavy golden rings on each finger as he signs a credit-card bill, or of rapper Lil’ Jon’s € 50,000 dollar diamond and platinum grill concocts the image of a ‘new gold rush’ at the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st century. The posing and performing in front of the camera lens as a way of exhibiting oneself and one’s life-style show the conflation of self and wealth as a dominant way of being in the world. The embodied „imperative to buy” (Wilner Stack) dominates meaning-making processes and is laid bare as a prime force in shaping desire and fashioning subjectivity. Greenfield’s visual archive also demonstrates how wealth absolutely needs visual display as it is conspicuously tied to the body, especially the female body. The camera, in turn, functions as a powerful collaborator to demonstrate luxury, class, and social status. Greenfield’s own documentary practice, then, unveils an embodied gaze that partakes in the need for display as it engages with both sitters and scene, even though her vision is shaped be the effort to avoid moralizing and to respect the lives that she presents. Taking a possible cue from Barbara Kruger’s 1987 turn on Descartes, I Shop Therefore I Am, Greenfield’s archive unfolds as a reflecting pool of the ways in which the American Dream has turned into a neo-capitalist pipe-dream embodying the compulsion to overspend and overconsume, showing how commodities define a contemporary sense of belonging and an albeit precarious place in the world.

Bio Sketch

Kerstin Schmidt is Professor of North American Literature at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München. She studied at the Universities of Freiburg and of Massachusetts/Amherst (USA) and taught at the Universities of Freiburg, Bayreuth, Munich, Siegen, Eichstätt as well as at Weber State University in Ogden, UT (USA). Scholarships and research stipends have brought her to Yale University; to Indiana University/Bloomington; to the University of Wyoming; to the CUNY Graduate Center, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Life; and the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts; in New York City as well as to the Universities of Toronto and British Columbia/Vancouver. In over 10 monographs/edited volumes and over 30 essays, she has written on 19th and 20th-century American literature and culture, focusing on American drama and theater, race and diaspora studies, theories of space/place in American culture as well as on media theory (especially American radio) and documentary photography. Together with colleagues from France and the US, she edits of the interdisciplinary review journal Kritikon Litterarum (Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter). She is deputy director of the Bavarian American Academy (BAA) in Munich and serves on the advisory board of US-American and Canadian journals. She acts as speaker of both the DFG-funded research training group GRK 2589
“Practicing Place: Socio-Cultural Practices and Epistemic Configurations” as well as the KU Center for Advanced Study “Dialogical Cultures: Critical Reflection Spaces for Cultural Studies and Social Sciences.”

When and Where

Thursday, January 25, 2023, 2.15 pm
Seminarraum 5 (Emil-Abderhalden-Str.)


Everyone is welcome to attend!


Organized by

Dr. habil. Johanna Hartmann