In the late 1980s, filmmaker Michael Galinsky took a roadtrip across the U.S., stopping at dozens of malls to photograph those shopping, eating, and loitering within. Twenty years later, the photos have reappeared, and Galinsky will be presenting Malls Across America, 1989 at the Drake this week.
The photos are interesting for a number of reasons. Predictably, there is a lot of good hair. There are a lot of great pairs of jeans. Nostalgia looms large: This is how strollers used to be. This is how moms used to tuck their shirt. This is how Foot Locker signage used to look. The nostalgia is amped by the quality of the photos, as if a Hipstamatic “late 80s pocket camera” lens had been employed. Some are blurry, many are off centre.
While the photos are fun because they speak of a time and place generally (America, 1989), they’re not merely funny-because-we-remember-those-outfits. Malls Across America is a study of the way that mall patrons make use of the benches, counters, promenades, and fountains. The photos ask what it means to visit an indoor, public(like) venue where you’re meant to watch and be watched. The mall clearly serves different purposes for the many tribes it houses. Groups of teenage girls strut in solid packs, looking out sharply. Younger shoppers will take a seat to rest, to examine their purchases, while retirees sit with as much comfort as if they were in their own living room, cigarette in hand. My own favourite group is “exhausted dads.”
Galinsky will be showing and discussing the shots at the Drake Underground this Tuesday, May 3 as part of Scotiabank Contact Photography Fesitval (free, doors at 6:30, more info here). Take a look at the shots here.
Galinsky’s Hot Docs entry, Battle for Brooklyn, was reviewed by Spacing here.