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Culture & Religion

An Unusual Look at the Lives of the Top 1%

Did you know that in 2014 the top 25 hedge fund managers in the U.S. were paid a collective $11.6 billion? 

Did you know that in 2014 the top 25 hedge fund managers in the U.S. were paid a collective $11.6 billion? Did you know that the top 1 percent owns half the global wealth and the bottom 50 percent own 1 percent? Questions like these, concerning the rising global inequality, inspired Myles Little, an Irish photo editor based in New York, to curate the photography exhibit 1%: Privilege in a Time of Global Inequality.

A chef from a nearby luxury lodge waits for his guests to arrive from a hot air balloon excursion before serving them champagne in the middle of the Maasai Mara National Reserve, Kenya. 2012 Guillaume Bonn

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

Varvara in Her Home Cinema, Moscow 2010 Anna Skladmann

With the exhibition, Little wants to point out that as much as we may think we know about global inequality, the actual scale and scope of the issue remain mostly invisible. We don’t know the names of the richest people in the world — contrary to what we may think, they are not the celebrities we see in the media. Neither do we know the actual disparity between rich and poor. Little cites a Harvard Business School study, showing that while Americans believe top CEOs make, maybe, 30 times more than the average worker, the reality is they make 354 times more.

Maids prepare a room for a guest in a wealthy Kenyan household. 2011 Guillaume Bonn

Shanghai Falling (Fuxing Lu Demolition) 2002 Greg Girard

‘Harvard University’ 2006 Shane Lavalette

The photographs Little has curated don’t portray what one may expect — a sneak peek, maybe, into the opulent lifestyle of the rich, full of yachts and sports cars. The selected works of 27 photographers from around the world — from South Korea to Germany, from Uganda to Canada — take a more unexpected look into the lives of the privileged — from work to education to leisure.

Some of the 25,000 members of Pastor Eddie Long’s New Birth Baptist Church in Atlanta, USA. Long, who has received millions from the church in salary, preaches that homosexuality is a sin and that God rewards believers with riches. 2010 Nina Berman–NOOR

Untitled # IV, Mine Security, North Mara Mine, Tanzania. From the story ‘Intruders.’ 2011 David Chancellor — kiosk

The exhibit inspires further investigation into the causes and effects of wealth inequality and invites a conversation. To help start this conversation, Little has invited the Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz to write an essay on inequality specifically for the exhibit. In a 2014 article Stiglitz writes: 

“Too much of the wealth at the top of the ladder arises from exploitation—whether from the exercise of monopoly power, from taking advantage of deficiencies in corporate governance laws to divert large amounts of corporate revenues to pay CEOs’ outsized bonuses unrelated to true performance, or from a financial sector devoted to market manipulation, predatory and discriminatory lending, and abusive credit card practices. Too much of the poverty at the bottom of the income spectrum is due to economic discrimination and the failure to provide adequate education and health care to the nearly one out of five children growing up poor.” 

Interestingly, one of Little’s reference points for the exhibit came from a 1955 photography exhibit “The Family of Man.” Showing the daily lives of people around the world, it argued for the “essential oneness of mankind”, a concept that rising inequality and its effect on big parts of society certainly puts to the test.

Untitled #5, from “Hedge” 2010 Nina Berman — NOOR

A street preacher in New York appeals to Wall Street to repent. 2011 Christopher Anderson–Magnum Photos 

Starting September 19th until October 2016, the exhibit will travel to every inhabited continent. Mr. Little is currently raising money on Kickstarter to publish a book featuring the photographs and essays on inequality by Joseph Stiglitz. With three days left, he is still short of a few thousand, so if you consider the cause deserving, help out here.


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