Photographic displays of “haunting decay” have become so banalized as to sometimes evoke more eye-rolls than chills. But photographer Seph Lawless (a pseudonym) has, through his politically charged depictions of American vacancies, restored novelty to imagery of the old and dilapidated: images from his 2014 book, Black Friday, were widely circulated last year. The title, based on a tradition that unfortunately hasn’t lost its relevance in American culture, was juxtaposed with photos of abonded structures central to this “holiday”: malls.
Our notion of the dominance of Black Friday “spirit” set against the suburban graves of former mall settings illuminated the near-pathological imbalance of the American shopping experience: we have a day devoted specifically to shopping, but American malls lie dormant like the ruins of ancient cathedrals. Given their former grandiosity (their having been designed as pedestrian thoroughfares, with displays meant to excite the senses), seeing them vacant both gives us a clearer view of their diminished architectural strategies for wooing shoppers and leads to an unsettling conflation of consumer appeal and ancient, holy structures’ aim of inducing spirituality. In the same way as we might gaze at the corpse of a newly dead villain, there’s an initial sense of victory (for the shopping mall was never an innocuous symbol) that’s abruptly impeached by a notion of the rise of greater villains. Progress is not what has killed the shopping mall.
After publishing Black Friday, Lawless returned, this winter, to one of malls he’d originally photographed, to find that snow had fallen through the ceiling, creating a Snowpiercer-ish sense of a dying empire. These interior snowscapes almost look, with their combination of a wintry whitewash and consumerist signifiers, like a quaint Christmas fantasy. The snow provides a false hope to these images of the wreckage of the capitalist dream — but it’s a charming “hope” we affiliate with snow predominantly because Christmastime advertising itself has, for ages, told us to do so. Click through the slideshow of Lawless’ work below, and be sure to follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for more information.