The seemingly unstoppable rise of North American consumer culture probably isn’t unknown to anyone who would be reading this. We shop, buy, eat, and consume more than any other continent on Earth. Far beyond the simple, original need to go out and buy something to eat or buy something to wear, we’ve plunged ourselves into a consumerist machine where a large part of our culture and, indeed, our entire economy is based on people buying lot of shit. I know because I’m in the middle of it – I write advertising for a living…
In his on-going photographic project “Copia”, photographer Brian Ulrich is using the power of the captured image to force a second look into just how far down that consumer rabbit hole we’ve all fallen.
“Copia” is part of Ulrich’s reaction to the post-911 idea that in times of strife and uncertainty Americans could support their country by shopping. He forces us to look at moments that have become so common and socially acceptable that when, in the context of his project, we make the effort to look twice that’s when we realize just how bad it’s become.
As he says in his own statement, “In 2001 citizens were encouraged to take to the malls to boost the U.S. economy through shopping, thereby equating consumerism with patriotism. The Copia project, a direct response to that advice, is a long-term photographic examination of the peculiarities and complexities of the consumer-dominated culture in which we live.”
Though clearly his project is driven by his own awareness of the evils of consumerism, his photographs maintain the unjudgemental eye of a consummate documentarian. His shots aren’t manipulative or over-wrought; he’s not telling us what to think. He’s showing us moments inside the halls of the shopping kingdom. If there is a deeper meaning or glaring irony in the image, it’s simply because he was vigilant enough to capture it amongst all the banality. Lots of the time, it’s the exceptional normalcy – the complacency of consumer culture hidden within these mundane moments – that makes them worth looking at.
I like how he leaves the series so open for interpretation. Though clearly the project has a brilliantly realized purpose, it’s set up for us to do all the discovering. These aren’t shots for us to merely look at. These are photographs we have to see; primarily because they’re all showing us something we’ve already seen before (cleanup, Aisle 12…) and so you need to dig in and find out what the layers all mean. Even the names of each shot give no direction or inclination – each photograph’s title is simply the location you’re looking at and the year it was taken.
Currently made up of three chapters: “Retail”, “Thrift”, and “Backrooms”, Ulrich promises to add to the scope of the project as it continues. And I can’t wait…
Via Brian Fichtner @ Cool Hunting