In 2010, I borrowed a scanner from a friend to digitize some old negatives and I came across ancient images capturing life inside shopping malls, a consumer culture that had been decimated by the Internet. I put the images online and they went viral. So I kickstarted a book, “Malls Across America”, and they went more viral. In a crazy twist of fate, that book ended up getting released by the publisher Steidl who printed the work that inspired those photos – books by William Eggleston and Robert Frank. Unfortunately, Steidl didn’t print nearly enough of the books, so the Kickstarter backers of that project, “Malls Across America”, were some of the few people who were able to get it. It has been out of print for 6 years now, and currently trades for upwards of $1000. At some point I want to re-publish that book, but for the time being it remains out of print and out of reach. At first I thought I would use some of the classic images in the new book, “The Decline of Mall Civilization”, but I found hundreds of other powerful images that deserved to be seen so we decided to keep it completely separate. The two books have very different feels as well. “Malls Across America“, which was designed by the incomparable Peter Miles, is all single images over double page spreads. This time we spent a lot of time and effort pairing the images into diptychs that play off of each other in interesting ways. We are incredibly excited to make “Decline of Mall Civilization” available.
In 1989, I was a sophomore at NYU when I took my first photo class, “Color Printing”. My teacher was awesome and our first assignment was to watch the film “River’s Edge“. At the time, I was dating a girl who went to Stony Brook and I’d take the Long Island Railroad out to see her every other weekend. One weekend, shortly after I had started the class and had to find a subject for my class project, I happened to go to the Smith Haven Mall with her and immediately knew I’d found a place to shoot. I was a Religious Studies major who took a lot of anthropology and sociology courses, which helped me to think of the the mall in complex ways. I was especially interested in considering the mall as something of a privatized public square. While I focused on the people, I thought about the way that they interacted with each other and the space. The teacher loved the work and encouraged me to continue it that summer. So my friend Sebastian and I packed ourselves in his Corolla station wagon and we hit the road without any real plan at all.
Our first stop was Columbus Ohio. We stayed with my aunt but we didn’t find a mall. We then hightailed it to Detroit where we hit the jackpot with the Woodfield Mall. It’s a beauty and there are probably a dozen in the book from that one. Next stop was Chicago- then South Dakota, and on and on. All in all, we hit about 15 malls. We got some great images but it wasn’t really their time. By 1989, the “Pictures Generation” – with its focus on more constructed and deconstructed images – had pushed street photography out of the galleries. They were doubling down on big ideas and conceptual work. I went on to take a couple other photo classes, but turned my attention to making music and making films. I shot a lot of images, but my main outlets for them were fanzines and album covers. I moved on to making films. In 2010, I re-discovered these slides and the rest is history.