Jacob Riis, How the Other Half Lives.
Is there something wrong in this picture?
Clearly there is. What’s an elaborately designed lamp doing in a tenement house?
The contrast between the poor living conditions of immigrants in housing settlements versus luxuries afforded by the rich is startling. During the Gilded Age and as a result of the industrial revolution, individuals in the likes of Rockefeller, Carnegie, Morgan, and others used both honest business tactics and dark corrupt practices to build their own empires of wealth. Ultimately, New York saw the transformation of its urban landscape from a well developed city into a crowded metropolis of immigrants living in slums, co-existing with the ‘ultra-rich’ living in luxurious mansions.
The disgruntled and impoverished look on the faces of the inhabitants also creates a striking comparison to the brightly lit and joyous image created by the lamp. The lamp represents the wealthy and their blinded quest for material gain at the expense of those in poverty.
The Tiffany lamp is truly a paradoxical item in its day. While it is thought of as the epitome of American luxury and high class living, combining artistic ideals with modern technological advances, the lamp is also a representation of the corrupt and exploited labor of the working class people.
– A. Han