Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Supermarket Checkout

(Brian Ulrich)

It was only yesterday that I realised how interesting the queue (line-up) for the supermarket can be. Even if you are in a hurry, there's nothing you can do about it - so why not enjoy it. I realised that I wasn't just zoning out as I stood there with my trolley (cart) full of stuff, but I was catching views of the people in my own queue as well as the adjacent one, and listening to the the criss cross of the various conversations going on (at least cellphones are good for something).

(Brian Ulrich)

It was like turning the dial on the radio through the shortwave band - faint voices coming and going, then one stronger for a while and then fading (I remember how clearly I could get Radio Moscow when I lived in the Arctic...).

In the adjacent line-up was a young, handsome, but scruffily dressed man who seemed to be from somewhere in South America. On his cellphone he was busy apparently talking to a member of his band as they were due to fly into the airport. Switching from Spanish to English and back mid sentence, he made arrangements to meet them, talked about the gig and then- more excitedly about their future plans. (The young woman behind him was staring intently at both his long flowing hair - as he talked on the phone with a great deal of animation - as well as his behind...)

(Brian Ulrich)

Behind me was a huge man with close cropped hair in jeans and a leather jacket using his Bluetooth. He had a boxer's nose and barked with apparent authority over the ear-piece in what sounded like one of the Slavic languages. I was convinced he was perhaps Chechen mafia - and when he paid for his couple of items (celery sticks and carrot juice?), he peeled off $20 from a huge wad from his inside pocket. But as I hauled my own load back to the car, I saw him helping a little old lady pull her cart through the half melting slushy snow and help her load it into her car.

(Brian Ulrich)

Then there was an elderly man with a weathered face and a plaid woolen shirt under his overcoat. One basket, small or single portions of everything, 1l of milk and a couple of cans of dog food.

Finally there was a very diginified elderly Afghan man wearing his pakul hat and talking with his young grandson as they waited. He was switching in and out of English as they talked - about hockey, going sledding and school lessons. (I struck up a short conversation with him - his grandson was the same age as my son - and it turned out he was a scholar and a historian).

(Brian Ulrich)

No photographs, but - surprisingly for me - time not wasted. And images held and formed in my mind, if not on film. And besides, Brian Ulrich has already done it so well.

(All pictures - Brian Ulrich)


LostinHollywood said...

Pretty cool fotos :)

Luis said...

I am very familiar with Ulrich's work, and as I was looking at your pics, was thinking to myself: "How different and fresh these are from Brian Ulrich's work".

His are focused around an ideological political nucleus that is not as social/landscape-ish as yours, which are more connected to Robert Adams' _What We Bought_, in an aftermath kind of way, with far more fluid/living/organic compositions and solvency about the sense of space.

In your shoes, I would explore this further. Much further.

--- Luis

Struan said...

I don't think you can avoid politics (with a small 'p') in an environment which is designed down to the last tiny detail. Nothing in the visual design of a modern mall is left to chance, and not to address that aspect of photographs taken there seems a bit head-in-the-sand. Ulrich does perhaps make a pool of spilt milk work a little too hard, but he's awake and aware of what's around him.

In suburbia and out in the spandrels there are many conflicting arbiters of taste, all competing over the same ground. There is also plenty of scope for vegetation to confound the best-laid-plans of the humans nominally in charge of those spaces. In a mall you are at the mercy of the head office planners, and only the head office planners. I think that demands a different approach.

Bahi said...

For years, I've longed to photograph in supemarkets. I think I'd probably get stopped and asked to leave. Photography in London is, as you know, viewed with increasing suspicion. Last time I was in my local Sainsbury's, I counted 42 security cameras at the checkouts, installed in 21 pairs. Remarkable. Imagine the response to my taking a photo of them.

Nice post - thanks. I think the Ulrich URL has a bit of leftoever stuck to its front so it doesn't work.