Retail Therapy: Brian Ulrich’s Copia

Brian Ulrich
Brian Ulrich
Pep Boys, 2009
"At 1 a.m., after a long day, walking back to the car to pack up the camera, I looked back at this Pep Boys and cursed under my breath as I knew the picture would prolong sleep at least another hour. I woke the next day happy and tired."
Caption comments courtesy of Brian Ulrich

Taken from the Latin word for plenty, Copia, is the 10-year-old brain child of photographer Brian Ulrich: his in-depth exploration of American consumer culture. The project consists of three-parts: Retail, Thrift, and Dark Stores. TIME spoke with Brian about his inspiration for this project.

“The Copia project began as a simple curiosity: Were people out shopping in the months after Sept. 11th to follow a patriotic directive? It quickly dawned on me that the subject I began to explore was something a lot bigger; one historical, anthropological, ideological and indicative of American identity and psychology. It also seemed a crucial time with the change from one century to the next and one where paradigms were shifting faster than we could grasp.

So many of the ideas set forth in the 20th century—the American ideal, the manufacture of desire, the insistence on exponential growth—all brought us to a point where the measure of the quality of our lives is based on how much we spend and how much time we have for leisure. Once we began to equate this well-being with financial markets our futures were gambled. The financial market does as it is built to do, rise and fall, gain and recede, but with so much of our well being invested in it, we act surprised when the tides shift.

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. 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.”

-Brian Ulrich

Photographer Brian Ulrich was previously based in the Midwest, and now resides in Virginia.  An exhibit of Ulrich’s work will be on display at the Cleveland Museum of Art from August 27, 2011 to January 16, 2012. The exhibit consists of 50 images from the Copia series. This is his first museum exhibit.

A book of the images will soon be published and can be purchased from the Aperture Foundation‘s website.

Ulrich was also recently on assignment for TIME shooting the planned destruction of houses in the suburbs of Cleveland which can be seen here.

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