How The 1% Lives—A Haunting Photo Series

Photo: Courtesy of David Leventi.
This story was originally published July 31, 2015.
"The 1%" gained traction after the crash of 2008 and the Occupy Wall Street movement (rallying under the slogan "We are the 99%") that sprung up its wake. But in truth, wealth inequality has been growing for decades. Currently, the richest 400 Americans control about as much wealth as the poorest 150 million.

Moreover, most people don't realize quite how big the wealth gap is. In a Harvard Business School and Chulalongkorn University study published June 2015, subjects in the United States estimated that a CEO was paid 30 times as much as an unskilled worker. They were wrong by a factor of 10: in America, a CEO makes 354 times what an unskilled worker does.

Myles Little, a photo editor at Time, has set out to document this gap in a new exhibit, "1% Privilege In A Time Of Global Inequality." After two years culling thousands of images, Little edited the collection down to less than 30 to be showcased around the world, starting in Pingyao, China this September. The photos in the exhibit are a gorgeous, luxe group, highlighting the wealth of one class and the stark rubble of another, making a statement on the baffling income disparity between the haves and have-nots.

"We think we understand wealth in this country because we see somebody who is famous, like an athlete, and know how much they're paid," Little says. "The highest paid athlete in the world last year was Floyd Mayweather. He made $105 million. That's a lot of money. That’s our general understanding of a super-wealthy person."

In that same year, however, there was another incredibly wealthy person. His name is Ken Griffin. He was the highest-paid hedge fund manager in 2014. His salary? $1.3 billion dollars. "Yes billion, with a 'B,'" Little says. "And yet, he is totally unknown to most people."

Of course, income inequality isn't just present in America — the photos explore the homes of the wealthy in Russia, luxury lodges in Kenya, and the incredible growth in Shanghai. It also shows the absence of all that. "Elegance and degradation turn out to be neighbors," author Geoff Dyer wrote for a statement accompanying the exhibit. The incredible rise of the wealthy only serves to underscore the lack of wealth in other areas, after all.

"What I want to do is inspire a conversation about economic fairness," Little says. "Ask ourselves, what are our priorities and values? Do we want to celebrate somebody who makes a tremendous amount of money simply from having a tremendous amount of money already? Or do we want to celebrate people who work hard for a basic living, despite great odds?"

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Photo: Courtesy of Anna Skladmann.
A young girl in Moscow poses in her home cinema. According to an AP report in 2013, only 110 people in Russia own 35% of household wealth in the country; equivalent to $420 billion. This photo comes from a series photographer Anna Skladmann did profiling the children of the incredibly wealthy in Russia.
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Photo: Courtesy of Paolo Woods & Gabriele Galimberti.
"Singapore is the home to a lot of tax havens, which provide loopholes for the wealthy to park their riches and thereby avoid taxation. That’s an enormous drain on governments around the world," Little says. This photo, where a man floats in a swimming pool on the 57th floor of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore, comes from a series looking at tax havens around the world by photographers Paolo Woods and Gabriele Galimberti.

"The way that I read it, it says something about complacency," Little says. "There’s this lovely pool, it seems very peaceful, tranquil, and luxurious, and yet there’s an element of danger in this photo. I love how the edge of the pool forms a diagonal that almost looks like a waterfall that is going to carry you away, and the sense of risk in a financial capital makes it very appropriate."
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Photo: Courtesy of David Leventi.
The Opéra de Monte-Carlo in Monte Carlo, Monaco is actually housed in a casino. "It's obviously ornate, obviously expensive, but it's also in a casino, which I though reflected a few different meanings about gambling and risk-taking," Little says. Monaco's casinos are obviously a bit nicer than the ones here at home.
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Photo: Courtesy of Greg Girard.
Titled "Shanghai Falling," this piece showcases the glowing skyline of Shanghai, contrasted by a large pile of rubble. "Shanghai has been transformed into this capitalist dream in a formerly Communist country," Little says. The original series focused on the intense changes in Shanghai, where the city gets rid of the old to bring in the new.
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Photo: Courtesy of Juliana Sohn.
A homeless man sits on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in California. "What is sad to me about this photo is that it's a metaphor of our culture," Little says. "We celebrate the powerful, we treat them well, hoping to one day join their ranks." That's the American dream: the rags to riches story.

"I think America is an optimistic place and it’s great in many ways, but it’s also a little unreasonable in other ways," Little says. "Statistically speaking, it’s very unlikely that any given person will become wealthy in this country, unless you have had many advantages of education and luck."
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Photo: Courtesy of Andrew Moore and Yancey Richardson Gallery.
An old Packard Motor Car Company plant in Detroit, empty and unused. "When you’re talking about how the top tier and the bottom tier are sort of getting larger, I think it’s important to talk about how the middle is shrinking," Little says, "and part of the reason for that is the decline of union-based industrial work, exemplified by Detroit and the car industry. It maybe isn't that sexy, but it provided us a steady and reliable income to millions of people for years. Now we have ruin, collapse, and scavengers."
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Photo: Courtesy of Michael Light, Radius Books
A cluster of gated homes and an oasis of green lays in the desert of Henderson, Nevada. "What I love about this image is the adjacency of the really grim, drought-stricken land around these homes, [which are] the lush oasis in the community," Little says.
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Photo: Courtesy of Mike Osbourne.
This image, while all lights and color at first, is actually the ceiling in an American casino. "What attracted me to it was not just the beautiful craft to the image and the beautiful colors," Little says, "but also the message. It speaks to me about issues of illusion, false promises, and mirages."
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Photo: Courtesy of Zed Nelson.
In London, a 25-year-old man undergoes rhinoplasty surgery to make his nose smaller. "What drew me to the image was the graceful composition and the surgeon's hand moving out of the shadow into the light," Little says. "But I also think it's important to talk about the healthcare gap in the world. Like in America: You have cutting-edge medical technology in the same country where people might not be able to afford a basic checkup at the doctor."
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