JANUARY 24, 2013
Consumers who have spent any time in thrift stores in the past decade may very well find themselves as the subject of photographs currently on display at the Anderson Gallery.
Two new exhibits featuring the work of Brian Ulrich, an assistant professor of the photography and film department at VCU, opened at the Anderson Gallery on Friday, Jan. 18. Organized by the Cleveland Museum of Art, “Close Out: Retail Relics and Ephemera” and “Copia: Retail, Thrift, and Dark Stores” address similar themes of consumerism and the American shopper.
“I started finding a lot of signs and signage,” Ulrich said. “Some of the stuff was abandoned, long gone, sometimes the places were about to be bulldozed. I thought it would be interesting to collect some things, take them back to the studio and try to make sense of them.”“Close Out” is a collection of photographs and materials Ulrich discovered while searching through private collections donated by patrons. The exhibit features some interesting objects, like a collection of Polaroid photographs depicting individuals caught shoplifting, as well as a row of door handles collected from a closed Montgomery Ward department store.
The second exhibit, “Copia,” is housed on the gallery’s second floor. The project, which Ulrich worked on from 2001 to 2011, is divided into three separate project sections that Ulrich formulated during his travels across America.
Made up of over sixty original photographs, “Copia” features images sorted into three different categories: “Retail” is images of people shopping in regular stores; “Thrift” displays images of thrift stores, shoppers and second hand goods; and “Dark Stores” is a series of photographs of business buildings closed as a result of the 2008 financial crisis.
The images in the photographs, according to Ulrich, are mostly the culmination of several elements coming together. He said that he would often spend hours in the stores, fading into the background and waiting for the right moment to take the picture.
“It’s not dependent on any creative athletics,” Ulrich said. “It’s often being in the right place at the right time, but I’d also have to walk around the stores and what would be a really good setting and paying attention to the light in those places. Then I’d simply sit and wait for people to walk into it.”
Ulrich said that he made the gallery shows in the post 9/11 period, because he felt messages from political leaders were telling the public to rebuild the economy by spending money. Ulrich, curious to see if people were actually following this advice, went to stores in 2001 to see if it was true.
“There were people buying red, white and blue everything,” Ulrich said. “I was starting to look at something that was potentially much bigger than patriotic shopping.”