Photographing the rich
Here’s an interesting excerpt from a recent web/blog article about Robert Frank (that’s Robert Frank the photographer from last century and not the economist from Cornell or the journalist who used to write for the Wall Street Journal and who now works for CNBC):
One of the most poignant themes that Frank pursued in “The Americans” was the disparity of wealth in America, as well as the blatant racism. One of the subject matters that hadn’t been explored much during his period was the rich. He didn’t want to just photograph the poor and the middle class – as he wanted to paint a fuller-picture of the American socio-economic classes.
However the difficulty he found in photographing “the richer people, the upper class people” was that they were more difficult to find and photograph. Whereas the poor and the middle class would often be out in the open, the rich would be more secluded, behind closed doors. To locate and photograph the rich, he focused on finding them at movie premieres and balls where the wealthy were abundant.
Frank deserves credit for wanting to photograph the rich, who are the most important social class in the country. For some reason, most sociologists are more interested in studying the poor than studying the rich, yet there’s a lot more to be learned from the rich.
Frank seems to be describing what Paul Fussell called the “out-of-sight” rich, so called because they in live remote places and estates that are invisible from the road.
I don’t know about the 1950s, but there are a lot of in-sight rich people in today’s Manhattan. They walk out onto the streets just like everyone else. The problem is that, when they do, they usually don’t look very different from a regular upper middle class person (or a “bobo” to use the term favored by David Brooks), so you don’t even know that you are looking at a rich person.
It’s hard to tell apart regular bobos from the truly rich, but what they share in common that’s not shared by New York City’s poor is that they don’t just hang out. If you walk through a poor neighborhood in New York City, you will see poor people just standing around or sitting on stoops doing nothing. The higher class New Yorkers are always doing something or going somewhere when you see them outside of their houses.