“The Copia project began as a simple curiosity: Were people out shopping in the months after Sept. 11th to follow a patriotic directive? It quickly dawned on me that the subject I began to explore was something a lot bigger; one historical, anthropological, ideological and indicative of American identity and psychology. It also seemed a crucial time with the change from one century to the next and one where paradigms were shifting faster than we could grasp.
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 is based on how much we spend and how much time we have for leisure. Once we began to equate this well-being with financial markets our futures were gambled. The financial market does as it is built to do, rise and fall, gain and recede, but with so much of our well being invested in it, we act surprised when the tides shift.
Currently the predominant thought is based on putting capital back into markets so they’ll pick up again and bring us back to where we once were; like jump starting a dead car battery. What we miss is how unsustainable that is. Even bigger is the idea that we as a nation are not made up of businesses, banks, malls, markets, homes or things. Our greatest asset is ourselves: our lives and our people. The real investment should be there.”
Circuit city, 2008
Circuit city, 2010
Simon, Winrock Shopping Center, 2010
Marshall Fields, 2009
Circuit City,Ponderosa Steakhouse,2008
Sara, Deerbrook Mall 2010
Pep Boys 3,2009
"At 1 a.m., after a long day, walking back to the car to pack up the camera, I looked back at this Pep Boys and cursed under my breath as I knew the picture would prolong sleep at least another hour. I woke the next day happy and tired."
"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."
Interview The Morning News
Las Vegas, NV, 2003
Gurnee, IL, 2005
New York, NY, 2004
Flushing, NY, 2004
Edinburgh, UK, 2003
Chicago, IL, 2003
Chicago, IL, 2003
‘For many of the pictures in the Retail project I used a medium format SLR with a waist level viewfinder. Having a finder that you can look down into instead of holding it to your eye calls a lot attention to yourself as well as allows one to hold the camera still at much slower shutter speeds. Regardless of those things though, the majority of the time it takes a combination of patience and boldness. Strangely I don’t run into people having much of an issue with it. Most often I really don’t think people notice. If an employee does ask me not to take pictures I simply laugh and move on, I’m well aware that what I’m doing looks odd. Better to own up and hit walk across the street to the Kmart’.
‘I had such good luck with the medium format camera that I’ve also used a 4×5 as well. Again in these cases I think most people think I’m supposed to be there. I’ve had employees keep the store open late so I can finish a picture!
"Thrift was meant to be photographs not just of the stores and items but a different consumer class than Retail"
Untitled, 2007 (0707)
Untitled, 2007 (0718)
Untitled, 2007 (0713)
Untitled, 2007 (0710)
Untitled, 2005 (0505)
Untitled, 2006 (0611)
Untitled, 2005 (0503)
"One of the events that really triggered the commitment to photograph the thrift stores was the Hurricane Katrina disaster in 2005. The daily broadcast and attention to issues of race and class in mainstream media was merely the tip of the iceberg of those enduring problems in our country. I thought the thrift shops could in some ways be an allegory for that dilemma where upper and middle class goods were cast down to a lower income consumer class."
Pictures and words by Brian Ulrich