Color photograph of a woman speaking on a rotary phone, wearing a bright colored dress in pink and blue, with a man in a white shirt standing behind her. They are in a room with blue and gold curtains in the background, a mirror on the wall and a lamp are partially visible.

Buck Ellison

Drawing on the vocabulary of stock photography, Buck Ellison produces meticulously detailed images that examine white American wealth. On the surface his large-format images appear to mildly reproduce the habits and tastes of affluent families, WASP dynasties, or Ivy League students. Lurking beneath this, however, is a deep inquiry into how whiteness and privilege are sustained and broadcast. With references to seventeenth-century Dutch family portraits, Ellison plants codes in his compositions, telling details that act as clues. These tableaux showcase the mechanisms that quietly, even politely, obscure inequality in the United States.

For a series of photographs investigating the ultraconservative, evangelical DeVos family, Ellison paid actors to reenact everyday moments that we would not otherwise be able to see. These works are coupled with a pair of carefully composed and inherently narrative “still lifes.” Additionally, a video work by Ellison is on view in the museum lobby, on the monitors usually reserved for signage. Using a litany of tropes from pharmaceutical and bank advertisements, the artist presents a hollow, mechanized version of white masculinity and fatherhood.

In Made in L.A. 2020: a version, the artist’s work is present in two institutions, across Los Angeles. See Buck Ellison's work on view at The Huntington.


Buck Ellison was born in 1987 in San Francisco. He received a BA in German literature from Columbia University, New York, in 2010, and an MFA from the Städelschule, Frankfurt am Main, in 2014. Borrowing from the language of stock photography, Ellison produces meticulously detailed images that examine white American wealth. His large-format photographs portraying Ivy League students, WASP dynasties, and affluent homes are inspired by seventeenth-century Dutch paintings, specifically family portraits, that display an intricate set of coded signifiers and a particular attention to detail. His process involves thorough research into the lives of his subjects (some fictional, some real, such as the ultraconservative, Evangelical DeVos family, subjects of a recent series) so that he may plant clues (e.g., a lapel pin from a defense-contracting firm, a Dutch Reformed hymnal, a bruise from Chinese cupping therapy). Overall his tableaux showcase, in vivid detail, the mechanisms that quietly, even politely, obscure inequality in America. Ellison has exhibited his work at Balice Hertling, Paris (2019, 2017); Carl Kostyàl, Malmö, Sweden (2019); The Sunday Painter, London (2019); Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna (2018); Index—The Swedish Contemporary Art Foundation, Stockholm (2016); Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio (2016); and Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt am Main (2014).