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America is a country that celebrates wealth. It is also a country where millions struggle day to day, with no real hope of prosperity in their future.

Lauren Greenfield, a photojournalist, has been documenting this tension for nearly 30 years in her photography and films, which have covered subjects ranging from consumerism and body-image norms to the vast expansion of credit-card debt and the Great Recession.

I recently spoke with Greenfield about her latest book, Generation Wealth, an enormous undertaking made up of Greenfield’s photography as well as short reflections on wealth and money. Generation Wealthdocuments the last quarter-century of America’s obsession with and desire for money and the material goods that signify status—and what happens when people lose all of it. The conversation below has been lightly edited for clarity.