Brian Ulrich’s Strangely Sad Photos Taken in Thrift Shops

Photographer Brian Ulrich first began his Copia project, an in-depth exploration of American consumer society, almost 10 years ago; now, the resulting images are being published by the Aperture Foundation in his first monograph, Is This Place Great or What. While we’ve previously shown you photos from the brightly-colored mega stores of the Retail portion of the collection, as well as the eerie, abandoned spaces of his Dark Stores series, today we’re looking at the third and final chapter of his examination of the American shopper: Thrift. The photos in this series — while inherently less dramatic than the previous two — inspire a unique mix of emotions in the viewer. They are at once oddly familiar (we’ve all spent time in stores that look just like these), depressing (you’re looking at other people’s discarded stuff), and guilt-inducing (there is so much of said discarded stuff).

“Currently the predominant thought is based on putting capital back into markets so they’ll pick up again and bring us back to where we once were; like jump starting a dead car battery,” he explained to TIME earlier this year. “What we miss is how unsustainable that is. Even bigger is the idea that we as a nation are not made up of businesses, banks, malls, markets, homes or things. Our greatest asset is ourselves: our lives and our people. The real investment should be there.” Click through to check out a slide show of the images that he snapped in our country’s thrift stores, and let us know in the comments what you think of the work.

Photo credit: Brian Ulrich