Photographer Michael Galinsky visited shopping malls in 1989 to examine how everything in America was beginning to look exactly the same. The cheap photos of butt rock–era mallrats sat in boxes for 20 years before he submitted them to the site Retronaut on a whim. Now, after a successful Kickstarter campaign, they’re in the process of becoming a book.
In 1989, following in the footsteps of Robert Frank, Garry Winogrand and William Eggleston, I drove across the country and documented malls across America. I had a cheap Nikon FG-20 and an even cheaper lens — but I had a lot of passion.
I shot about 30 rolls of slide film in malls from Long Island to North Dakota to Seattle. It was hard to tell from the images where they were taken, and that was kind of the point. I was interested in the creeping loss of regional differences. I thought a lot about Frank’s “The Americans” as we drove from place to place without any sense of place.
The project may have been about places, but 23 years later, what’s most striking is the time that’s passed. The gallery is a nostalgic portrait of a long-gone era — mullets, neon, cropped T-shirts and all. It’s the incisive lens of a time-traveling anthropologist — which was not at all what Galinsky intended at the time.
Perhaps the most powerful image of the batch (scroll down — it’s the second-to-last in the series) shows two couples, one old, one young, sitting on opposite benches. What would that look like today? The young pair would be grey and boring, while hipsters in jeggings and fake glasses would face away from them and contemplate how invincible and awesome they feel.