Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Mall


Here's the poem I mentioned yesterday by Evelyn Lau (and here) from The Walrus:

THE MALL

Today I choose it over the ocean.
Over the trees, their fall leaves
a flock of orange parrots perched on branches.
Over the chandelier of sunlight broken
on blue waves, over flowers
shaped like teacups or trumpets,
over the jade garden where once I dreamed
I wore a green velvet dress
clasped tight at the waist
like the grip of a man’s hand.
I walk towards it like a Zombie,
this strange planet suspended in time,
a space station in the rainforest
inhabited by teenage girls wearing glitter eyeshadow
and slippery lipgloss. I skate
along its arid walkways
as if on an invisible track, away
from my life. Here it could be day or night,
the walls stripped of clocks,
music moaning a mindless refrain,
not a window in sight.
The stores hold their mouths open
like seductresses, radiating heat and light
and a bright array of wares,
a sorbet rainbow of merchandise
delectable as pastilles.
Outside, the lives of grasses
and insects and breezes go on.
After a day at the mall,
stepping back into what’s left of the world,
the sunlight will sear your skin,
and the gallons of fresh air
will pour over you like pain.

- Evelyn Lau


For me it perfectly captures the spirit (or lack thereof) of Malls. I find them deadening, soul destroying places. I don't know if it's still the case, but West Edmonton Mall used to be the largest mall on the planet - entering there on the rare occasions when I have to (such as when a visitor to town really wants to see it...) is like entering one of Dante's levels of hell. Although I haven't worked out precisely which one yet.

My question is, where is all the good "mall photography"? (Obviously I don't have any, I had to go with the next best/worse thing: sub-arctic Walmart). A huge portion of the lives of North Americans is spent in malls. In fact, not just N Americans, but increasingly Europeans and others - when I was in Nicaragua a few years ago, malls were being built in the centre of the still earthquake damaged Managua.

Much "classic" street photography - as it is often still practiced - seems like a sort of quaint anachronism when put alongside the life of the mall. I recall someone on the Streetphoto list at one time was doing some good work along these lines (I've lost the link...), but what else is there out there being done? I haven't come across much, but maybe it's out there.


Featured Comment: from Adrian Tyler:
"it's gonna be difficult, firstly because every mall in every town in every country in the world is the same, and (as william bouroughs says) so are the people in them. secondly cameras are prohibited. i got a commercial project which involved photographing a mall, i thought "bingo" but the contacts where as nullifingly boring as the mall itself.

So to your question where are all the good photographs? well in the age where the "white noise" of contemporary photography reaches almost everywhere, perhaps it's because the image processing software program to make those places real and interesting just hasn't been invented yet!"

Or as Rem Koolhaas put it, "Close your eyes and imagine an explosion of beige" (I recently heard on what was ostensibly a comedy show, a design company trumpeting their greatest achievement as the invention of the colour greige - which was far too close to the truth to be funny...)




(Photo: Walmart, Yellowknife. Tim Atherton)

6 comments:

adrian tyler said...

it's gonna be difficult, fristly because every mall in every town in every country in the world is the same, and (as william bouroughs says) so are the people in them. secondly cameras are prohibited. i got a commercial project which involved photographing a mall, i thought "bingo" but the contacts where as nullifingly boring as the mall itself.

so to your question where are all the good photographs? well in the age where the "white noise" of contemporary photography reaches almost everwhere, prehaps it's because the image processing software program to make those places real and interesting just hasn't been invented yet!

Anonymous said...

Brian Ulrich???

chuck said...

One of the issues of shooting in malls is the draconinan security/private property issues in these places. They are not public spaces, and the corporate ownersip can do anything they want - including banning photography. Brian, if you're out there, how the heck do you get by at Costco, Target and all those places??

tim atherton said...

However, attempted restricitons on photography have never prevented good photographs being made.

tim atherton said...

BTW, one of the things that Brian has often done is use a camera with a waist level finder. Most of the subjects don't ever realise they've been photographed

Joe Reifer said...

Photos of big box stores are handled in an interesting manner in Jeff Brouws' book "Approaching Nowhere" which I reviewed back in March.