After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Americans were urged to shop to keep the economy strong, advice that wedded patriotism to shopping. The suggestion sent Chicago-based photographer Brian Ulrich to the stores, but not to buy: he began documenting America’s peculiar and complicated culture of shopping at malls, thrift shops and big-box stores. A featured artist in Worlds Away: New Suburban Landscapes, Ulrich took both surreptitious and art-directed shots of the spaces and faces, not to mention the rarely seen back rooms, of our consumer landscape.
In January, Brian and I, friends since we met through Adbusters magazine years ago, discussed his three-part, multi-year Copia project. While his work offers a critique of — “and maybe a warning” about — overconsumption, it also arises from empathy, a we’re-all-in-this-together acknowledgement of the commercial world we live in.