A line of cash registers stretches on forever, a streak of red surrounded by the white of fluorescent lighting, drop ceiling tiles and smooth floors. The photo, taken inside a Granger, Ind., Target store by photographer Brian Ulrich, stands out as a striking example of our nation's addiction to shopping.
It brings to mind questions like, how could a store need that many cash registers? Do they ever use them all at once? If so, what horror must that be?
"It was pretty perplexing the amount of checkouts they have available," Ulrich says.
His work, about 50 prints from his Copia series, will be on display at the Cleveland Museum of Art starting Aug. 27. The series is broken into three chapters — Retail, Thrift and Dark Stores — and confronts consumerism in the United States.
"It started as a simple idea," Ulrich says, "but as a project, it kept continuing and growing."
Photographs were taken throughout the U.S., with several coming from Northeast Ohio. Although Ulrich is a native New Yorker, he is a graduate of the University of Akron and lived in Cleveland for four years.
Following 9/11, Ulrich says, he felt compelled to take photos of people in public. Then, Ulrich felt blitzed with media and government messages of imminent future attacks. He remembers one headline: "Not If But When," which is now the name of his website.
"And then there was the rhetoric that we needed to shop to deal with this grand event, to fight terrorism and to keep the economy solid," he says.
All of a sudden, shopping became a patriotic duty. So Ulrich went to stores such as Target, The Home Depot and Sam's Club and took his camera with him, determined to document this point in history. He was also curious: Were Americans buying into the fact that the very act of spending money was a way to defeat terrorists?
"I figured out pretty quickly that people were there buying flags, ribbons, anything else with the idea it was going to change things," he says.
He followed that up with a series of photos of thrift stores, followed by images of abandoned retail spaces. It is in this final installment that Ohio is prominently featured.
"There were times when I thought I could do the entire project in Ohio," Ulrich says. "There was so much blight in so many areas."
One of the images of Rolling Acres Mall in Akron shows what once was a grand atrium with sunlight streaming in through a skylight. Beyond the atrium, though, the mall is dark.
"Rolling Acres was one of the first malls I started going to," Ulrich says. "When I started doing research, I was surprised to find out it was pretty much abandoned. It was kind of amazing that when I went there in the summer of 2008, there was nothing, just two stores left."
More Info clevelandart.org