Photo Journal Monday: Brian Ulrich

Photo Journal Monday: Brian Ulrich

Powerhouse Gym, 2008. © Brian Ulrich

Powerhouse Gym, 2008. © Brian Ulrich

The Copia project began as a simple curiosity; were people out shopping to follow a patriotic directive? It quickly dawned on me that the subject I began to explore could become something much bigger: at once historical, anthropological and ideological, a subject matter emblematic of American identity and psychology. So many of the ideas set forth in the 20th century—the American ideal, the manufacture of desire, the insistence on exponential growth—all brought us to a point where the measure of the quality of our lives came to be based on how much we spend, and how much time we have for leisure. Once we surrendered stewardship of this well-being to the financial markets, our futures were gambled. The financial market does as it is built to do: rise and fall, gain and recede, seek advantage wherever it can... But even with so much of our well being invested in it, we seemed surprised when the tides suddenly shift. 

Dark Stores, Ghost Boxes and Dead Malls is an extension of my long-term work documenting American consumer culture since the turn of the 20th century. ‘Dark stores’, ‘ghostboxes’ and ‘dead malls’ are retail industry terms for emptied, vacant and dying retail stores, big-boxes and malls. With the financial recession of 2008, the dominant economic model of the 20th century revealed many of its effects on communities, the environment and the American landscape. By photographing the hulking remnants of a retail infrastructure now abandoned and stripped of its pre-eminent stature, vacated by many attractive brands, promised illusions and advertisements, the futility of a consumer-driven economy lays bare in the empty malls and retail stores, which come to represent reminders of a habit of consumption without foresight.

Initially many of the photographs were made during late nights and long exposures, this overly dramatic lighting emphasized the now purposeless architecture and the resulting ‘labelscars’ of the once profound brands. As the consumers retreat from the sites new patrons move in. Some still seeking some semblance of nostalgia, others are looking to glean from the rubble a new experience. Mall walkers, vagabonds, vandals, or explorers descend upon these now lawless superstructures, some for shelter, others still seeking some emotional connection to the former gods of consumption.

Kids “R” Us, 2008. © Brian Ulrich

Kids “R” Us, 2008. © Brian Ulrich

Randall Park Mall, 2008. © Brian Ulrich

Randall Park Mall, 2008. © Brian Ulrich

Rolling Acres Mall, 2008. © Brian Ulrich

Rolling Acres Mall, 2008. © Brian Ulrich

Pep Boys, 2009. © Brian Ulrich

Pep Boys, 2009. © Brian Ulrich

Forever 21, 2009. © Brian Ulrich

Forever 21, 2009. © Brian Ulrich

Chicago Place Mall, 2008. © Brian Ulrich

Chicago Place Mall, 2008. © Brian Ulrich

Columbus City Center Mall, 2009. © Brian Ulrich

Columbus City Center Mall, 2009. © Brian Ulrich

JC Penney, Dixie Square Mall, 2009. © Brian Ulrich

JC Penney, Dixie Square Mall, 2009. © Brian Ulrich

Belz Factory Outlet, 2009. © Brian Ulrich

Belz Factory Outlet, 2009. © Brian Ulrich

To find out more about Brian Ulrich’s work click here.

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