Incredible photos give a totally unexpected perspective into how the 1% lives

2013, Paolo Woods and Gabriele Galimberti/INSTITUTE Paolo Woods & Gabriele Galimberti—INSTITUTE

It’s no secret that today the top 1% of the world’s population holds 50% of the global wealth, while the bottom 50% holds a mere 1% of the wealth.

Top CEOs in America earn around 350 times as much as the average worker, and in 2015 the 25 highest-paid hedge fund managers were collectively paid $US13 billion, which works out to an average of more than $US500 million each.

In his book and touring gallery show, “1% Privilege in a Time of Global Inequality,” curator and photo editor Myles Little explores this complex issue by showing a collection of work from various photographers.

“I want people to start a conversation about economic fairness, about our priorities, and about our values as a society,” he told Business Insider. “Are we celebrating the right heroes? Are we treating the right people well? Or are our sympathies misguided?”

These are the questions he hopes viewers of this show contemplate as they get an exclusive look into the lives of the super rich.

We spoke to Little about the project and how it came together.

Little conceived the idea for the show while on vacation in Oaxaca, Mexico, where he and a fellow curator discussed photography, wealth, and inequality. Little left inspired to begin curating a selection where the three intersected. This image, “Varvara in Her Home Cinema,” explores what it’s like to grow up as a privileged child in Russia. Little said Skladmann described this image as “a butterfly trying to escape.”


“Varvara in Her Home Cinema,” Moscow, 2010, from Anna Skladmann’s series “Little Adults”

This image is from the series “Removing Mountains,” which examines the coal-mining industry’s effects on the culture and landscape of Appalachia. Little chose this photo for its ominous tone. It speaks to “the environmental costs of consumption and privilege,” he said. “The costs that might be hidden behind a nice tall row of trees, but will, in fact, affect other people down-wind.”


“Cheshire, Ohio,” 2009, from Daniel Shea’s series “Removing Mountains”

“This photograph comes from a diamond mine in Tanzania. Within this series [photographer David] Chancellor also documents impoverished locals who happen to live close to the mine, and who are scrambling all over the rocks to try to get traces of diamond dust or rock,” Little said. “I just love this perfect distillation into one frame of high luxury, the environmental costs of mining, and the high-powered violence that can be brought to bear when privilege is questioned.”


“Untitled # IV,” Mine Security, North Mara Mine, Tanzania, 2011, David Chancellor/kiosk

Little was very conscious not to select typical images of wealth that we see in the tabloids and through Hollywood. This photo, from the 2008 series “Paradise Now,” documents nature that is artificially illuminated by large Asian cities. “I wanted to show fantastic, manic, economic activity. It’s important to show labour, productivity, and sheer work in a show that’s so much about the economy,” Little said.


“Paradise Now Nr. 18,” 2008, from Peter Bialobrzeski’s series “Paradise Now”

Little said that he wanted to “avoid the cliché, villain, fat-cat banker.” “What I loved about this image is how powerfully it caught the adjacency of wealth and poverty, beauty and ruin,” Little said of this picture of Shanghai.


“Shanghai Falling (Fuxing Lu Demolition),” 2002, Greg Girard

“I wanted to make a show that was made of beautiful, precious objects,” Little said. In this image, a man floats in the 57th-floor swimming pool of the Marina Bay Sands hotel, with the skyline of the Singapore financial district behind him.


2013, Paolo Woods and Gabriele Galimberti/INSTITUTE

“Hollywood, California” is from a book that explores iconic landscapes of the American West. Little was drawn to this image because “it’s examining the [Hollywood] symbol of tremendous financial and cultural power up close, in a way that’s less forgiving, or simply in a way that isn’t celebratory.”


“Hollywood, California,” 2007, from Jesse Chehak’s book “Fool’s Gold”

This image, an aerial view of a gated community in Henderson, Nevada, brought the question of sustainability to Little’s mind. This image “talks about the environmental effects of privilege. It takes a lot of water to make that grass look so green in a desert in Nevada,” he said. “There’s something a little alien about this presence in the landscape, and I personally wonder, how long can that be sustainable?”


“Roma Hills” Guard-Gated Homes Looking East; 3,000-8,000 sq feet, Henderson, NV; 2012 © 2012 Michael Light, from Lake Las Vegas/Black Mountain, Radius Books

“The powerless celebrating the powerful is something I see in America quit a lot,” Little said. “I want to avoid criticising the man in the photograph; instead, what appeals to me is the metaphor, the larger idea around this.”


“Legless Star Cleaner on the Hollywood Walk of Fame,” 2005, Juliana Sohn

Beyond the gorgeous colour palette and textures of “Chrysler 300,” Little saw it as an opportunity to bring up automation and how it’s affecting the middle class. “It’s important to talk about the pressure that’s come down on the middle class, and I think automation is very much a part of that conversation,” he said. “We’re producing incredible technology, technology such as these robots. But that doesn’t always mean it’s good for us in every way. It doesn’t mean it’s going to be making a lot more jobs for us.”


“Chrysler 300,” 2007, Floto+Warner

“Projector” is from a book that explores the newly built casinos (pictured below) and decaying military structures in the neighbouring communities of Wendover, Utah, and West Wendover, Nevada. “What I love is that we have this incredibly seductive, glittering object of desire, and yet, it is illusory — it is a ceiling instead of a door. It’s an end instead of a beginning,” Little said.


“Projector,” 2012, from Mike Osborne’s book “Floating Island”

Here, a street preacher in New York City appeals to Wall Street to repent. In Little’s opinion, this is “one of the iconic images of finance in America.”


“A Street Preacher in New York Appeals to Wall Street to Repent,” 2011, Christopher Anderson/Magnum Photos

Little aimed to choose works that spoke the same language as the wealthy. “The show is about exclusivity; it’s about privilege, and so I’m using that language of privilege and wealth to critique privilege and wealth,” he said. Aside from its incredible decadence, Little loved the idea that this opera house in Monte Carlo was also inside a casino, a place of “high risk and lots of money.”


“Opéra de Monte-Carlo,” Monte Carlo, Monaco, 2009, David Leventi

Little is careful to point out: “I don’t think that all wealthy people are villains, at all. This is why I included the image of the High Line Park in New York City, which was built with huge donations from wealthy individuals. It’s just a wonderful addition to the city.”


“The Highline: Above 34th Street Eastward,” 2004, Jesse Chehak

Little included this image of Harvard to address the education system in America. “I think it’s incredibly important to talk about the education gap,” he said. “We have a K through 12 program that’s failing us depending on where you live, and the privilege you come from. It might be true that the top universities tend to be located in America, but at the same time, there are tons of universities in America that aren’t good that are still charging students a fortune.”


“Harvard University,” 2006, Shane Lavalette