America”s shopping malls are disappearing at an alarming rate. The shopping mall used to be one of the quintessential American experiences. Due to shifting economic trends, malls are now going the way of the dinosaurs.
As America”s malls slowly and quietly make their exit, photographer Seph Lawless documents their decline. His latest book of photography, Black Friday (2014), focuses on America”s abandoned malls. The book is now available, and Lawless recently joined us for a chat.
Your latest book, Black Friday, explores the world of abandoned shopping malls in America. What was your inspiration for photographing these decaying malls?
Often times words aren”t enough, so I started taking pictures. I think the images affect people very deeply and has the propensity to change the way Americans think. We have accumulated the largest debt in the history of the entire world. I think Americans are tired of living with government waste, corporate, and personal debt. The images resonate so widely because they represent corporate greed and the ugly side of capitalism in America.
What process did you use to find these malls?
Through my first project called Autopsy of America, which started in 2001 and is ongoing. Exploring the most abandoned parts of America, I came across abandoned malls and knew the images would spark political debate and it did on a global scale.
What was the creepiest or most depressing place to photograph in this series?
Rolling Acres Mall in Akron was the hardest. Walking there as a child, then seeing it now–it”s depressing. It”s also the creepiest mall by design.
I can imagine that many of these abandoned malls were locked up tight. If you can share, how did you go about entering these malls to photograph them?
Can”t say for legal reasons, but shortly after my television interview with CNN, I was arrested by detectives. My lawyer called and said I had to turn myself in and that they knew my real identity. I turned myself in with my lawyer present and I was arrested on felony breaking and entering and several counts of criminal trespassing. The case is ongoing and I can”t comment more about the case at this time per my lawyer”s request.
What precautions did you take when entering these malls?
At times, I carry a gun but don”t always. I legally can carry firearms in certain states, but not all.
Are there any stories from photographing these malls that you”d like to share?
After I shot the malls and the story went viral in 2014, several people started going. It started a whole generation of people that wanted to be like Seph Lawless. According to the detectives that arrested me, that”s the main reason they arrested me. Too many kids wanting to be me started going into these malls and getting hurt in the process. Parents and city leaders hate my work, and it wasn”t long until I was the police and detectives” number one suspect.
As someone who experienced firsthand the decay of consumer culture in America, does it make you worried for the future?
I”m terrified…not just for America”s economy and the catastrophic debt of this county, but also the decay in humanity. It”s a scary time on many levels.
Is there a message that you”d like readers of Black Friday to take away from your pictures?
Change the way you consume. Change the way that you waste. Open up a savings account instead of waiting in line the next Black Friday sale.
What projects are next for you?
Just got back from New Orleans for an upcoming project about the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. I”ll be showing people where it”s headed and what still needs to be addressed. It will be part of an upcoming CNN special.
I”ll also be filming for an upcoming television show in 2015, but can”t really disclose anymore information on that at this time per confidentially agreements.
Is there anything else that you”d like our readers to know?
I recently was in an active thriving mall and felt out of place. I didn”t know how to behave. Then, a stranger came up to me and said “Aren”t you that mall guy?”
For more photography from Seph Lawless, make sure to check out his website here. His latest book, Black Friday (2014), is on sale now. Also make sure to follow him on Facebook and Instagram.