In a debate about photography as a tool of power, I heard the argument that we often see invasive photographs of the downtrodden in their humble environments but the domestic privacy of the wealthy is always respected. Not really true. Granted, it’s not a question of privacy.
But the home interiors of the wealthy receive significant public exposure. Magazines showcase their design solutions. They themselves hold open houses. And their domestic space tastes set trends while being inimitably eccentric.
The difference between those images and the photographs of the poor is in the photographs’ intention and silent commentary. The photographs of the wealthy exude respect and admiration for their subjects. The interiors enlarge their personality. The resources on display enhance their personal dignity.
However, not always is this the case – only if the wealthy also command power and social respect. Renowned Italian photojournalist Carlo Gianferro visited the mansions of wealthy Roma (Gypsy) people in Romania and Moldavia and, over several years, photographed the interiors with their posing owners, who were willing to show off their wealth and status.
Gianferro made it clear that his intention wasn’t to present his subjects in a negative light. But there is something very elusively negative in these powerful photographs – something elusively mocking. They vaguely seem to present themselves as caricatures of what the wealthy owners certainly intended to present. Maybe it’s the oppressive space around the subjects in which they seem lost. The cascade of details. I can’t put a finger on it, but I feel it there. And it’s proof that wealth in not enough to ensure respect.