By Myles Little
There is a long history of photography that denounces poverty, such as Jacob Riis’ documentation of nineteenth century New York City slums or Mary Ellen Mark’s depiction of Seattle’s homeless children. And yet, few Americans truly understand wealth. When Harvard Business School asked Americans how much they thought CEOs earn relative to the average worker, they answered, for the most part, 30 to one. The reality? It’s over 350 to one.
In curating “One Percent: Privilege in a Time of Global Inequality,” I gathered images that examine global wealth. I used Edward Steichen's 1955 exhibition, “The Family of Man,” as a response point. The 500-piece gallery showcased people from all over the world, categorized by family, religion, and work. It celebrated the optimism that dominated the postwar era and argued for, in Steichen’s own words, “the essential oneness of mankind.”
But as inequality reaches historic levels, I find this thesis less and less viable. Consider, for example, that the six heirs to the Walmart fortune own more wealth than the bottom 42 percent of Americans combined. “One percent” is a response to Steichen’s project. It offers images on similar themes, but in the context of extreme wealth. While “The Family of Man” was a sprawling, varied, and democratic mix of images by both known and unknown photographers, I took an approach befitting the exclusive spirit of my topic. I selected a small number of polished, well-crafted, medium format images by some of today’s best photographers, depicting how the wealthy spend on education, health, and leisure.
MYLES LITTLE is Senior Photo Editor at TIME.