America's Dead Malls and Ghosts of Shopping Past


By Kaid Benfield

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I first featured Brian Ulrich’s haunting photos of America’s dead malls and
big-box stores back in March, in the context of
describing a model of suburban life that was losing its grip on the country’s
consciousness. And now, with the holiday shopping season peaking, Lisa Smith of
the design magazine core77 has posted a new story on his work.

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The right-on-point phrase “ghosts of shopping past” comes from another
writer, Nozlee Samadzadeh, who interviewed the photographer for
the online magazine The Morning News. Ulrich told Samadzadeh about the
genesis of the project:

“The idea went back to 2005 when I drove weekly past a large closed
supermarket on the North Side of Chicago. At night the space really transformed
from one of neglect and misuse to something incredibly visual that described a
Rothko-esque painting space divided in three parts (parking lot, building, and
sky). I spent a few nights making some photographs to try and replicate what I
saw. I had been working on a larger project dealing with American consumerism,
and it was no surprise to me that these spaces would fail and dwindle as fast
they arise. I was in the midst of a deeper project, photographing in thrift
stores and recycling shops as part of my “Copia” series, so I shelved the

“At the end of 2007 with many rumblings of recession, I thought of those
pictures and began the project in earnest in May of 2008. In many senses it was
a vindication of what I had been talking about in my earlier work. How can an
economy sustain a lifestyle based on exponential growth and the leisure and
wealth to support it? It’s not rocket science to expect these kind of illusions
to fail. What’s strange is how ingrained the brands and spaces are to us that so
many were not only surprised to see major retailers and malls sink but were
saddened. Many of these ideas were set in motion decades

There is a gallery of Ulrich's work on The Morning News
. In addition, visit his own site, Not
If But When
, for more information about the artist and many more
wonderful, evocative photos.

Thanks to Tony Chavira of FourStory for pointing me to
Lisa Smith’s article.

Kaid Benfield writes (almost) daily about community, development, and the
environment. For more posts, see his blog's home page.


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