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Ulrich Photographs American Consumerism

Marquette University’s Haggerty Museum of Art is host to a major exhibit of photography that makes us look at and question what it means to be a consumer.

For ten years, American photographer Brian Ulrich traveled across the United States to document Americans shopping.  The exhibit is in three chapters – retail store, thrift shops, and dark – or closed stores.

Ulrich is based in Virginia now, but started the project as a graduate student at Columbia College in Chicago in 2001.  His first day of school: September 11th. It was the following days where New York’s Mayor Giuliani, President Bush, and Vice President Cheney all asked the Americans to go shopping.

Shopping got money circulating again, but it also meant returning to normal.

Throughout this project, Ulrich realized how much shopping and money became a protecting factor in our lives.

“It’s such a powerful and integral part of our life that we really should think about it,” says Ulrich. “We should think about it in profound ways.  We should try to understand it.  We should try to understand it and how it’s responsible for so much.”

Ulrich photographed shoppers, security guards, night guards, and buildings for ten years to capture its presence in American society to make us think.

“How do you get people to pay attention to this thing that is in our periphery?” asks Ulrich. “How do you get people to think about this subject; which is big, which is encompassing, which is representative of so much?”

Ulrich hopes that his exhibit is a start.

The exhibit, Brian Ulrich : Copia – Retail, Thrift and Dark Stores 2001-2011 is on display at the Haggerty Museum of Art through mid-May.

Listen here to hear where Ulrich's work might go next:


Bonnie North
Bonnie joined WUWM in March 2006 as the Arts Producer of the locally produced weekday magazine program Lake Effect.