America's Dead Malls and Ghosts of Shopping Past

| by NRDC

By Kaid Benfield

Richland Mall, 2009 (by: Brian Ulrich, all rights reserved, via The Morning News)

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.

Target, 2008 (by: Brian Ulrich, all rights reserved, via The Morning News)

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 idea.

“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 ago.”

There is a gallery of Ulrich's work on The Morning News site. 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.