Living Trust

Buck Ellison

July 10, 2020

In his first monograph, the US American photographer uses staged scenarios to cleverly decode the superficially perfect image of the white, privileged, rich and conservative social class in the USA.
Perfect pictures. Too perfect. The motifs appear flawless, as though the people and scenes were taken from a catalogue promoting the happy life in the USA. After a closer look, however, a feeling of uneasiness arises. Coldness and superficiality seem to poison the atmosphere of the light-hearted and colourful pictures, depicting wealth and beauty. This approach reflects the author’s subversive technique, where images are reminiscent of commercial stock photos, yet reveal much more than what is at first recognisable.

Living Trust: this term comes from US American inheritance law and plays a role in estate legacy planning. Yet, it is only those with millions and billions at their disposal who have access to this alternative within inheritance law. As though looking through a magnifying glass, this photo book focuses on eight different series, all taken from the lives of US WASPs (White Anglo Saxon Protestants). In addition to having an enormous diversity of socio-political contacts, and the consequent immense influence, this relatively small social class is also particularly rich.

One of their privileges is that they have control over their own image. This was the starting point for Ellison’s photographic study. The photographer remarks: “We live in this over-photographed world; yet there is a whole class of people - the ultra-wealthy - who, for the most part, disclose only what they want to disclose.” Even though the pictures are staged down to the smallest detail, with paid models and actors – of which there are endless amounts in the Los Angeles talent pools –, they certainly do make reference to real people. This becomes particularly clear in the chapter titled The Prince Family, Holland, Michigan, which supposedly shows real scenes from the family album of Betsy DeVos, the controversial and unpopular US Secretary of Education at this time. Like her brother, the founder of the infamous private security firm, Blackwater, she belongs to one of the richest and most influential families in the United States. Despite the fact that they are well known, Ellison could not find any private pictures of the family online, as you would normal find for virtually any part of society these days. Indeed, the super rich do not give anything away recklessly. This was why it was necessary for Ellison to stage his meticulously researched productions.

The pictures in the book flow seamlessly from one chapter to the next: still lifes, family portraits, and sports studies all reveal societal codes. The daughters play lacrosse; a bumper sticker reveals a lot about the driver’s status. Organic vegetables, wellness therapies and sportswear are also features that characterise affiliation to a certain class. Appearing rather humorous at first, the pictures gradually evolve, chapter by chapter, into a powerful social criticism and commentary. Good and bad. Because of their degree of precision, the motifs mature into an analytical instrument for understanding an increasingly divided society – one that exists not only in the USA.

Buck Ellison, Living Trust
With texts by Lucy Ives and Orit Gat
132 pages, 60 colour pictures, 25 × 32 cm. English

Loose Joints
Ulrich Rüter
All pictures on this page: © Buck Ellison 2020: courtesy Loose Joints

Buck Ellison+-

Born in San Francisco in 1987, Buck Ellison received a B.A. in German Literature from Columbia University (2010), and a M.F.A. from the Städelschule (2014). His work has been featured in major publications, including Artforum, Aperture and The New Yorker; and in recent years, in numerous exhibitions. Ellison lives and works in Los Angeles. More


Living Trust

Buck Ellison