Entertainment :: Books

Malls Across America

by Kevin Taft
Contributor
Tuesday Dec 10, 2013
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The new coffee table picture book "Malls Across America" should really be called "Malls Across America via the ’80s." Featuring almost 70 photos capturing unsuspecting shoppers and mall workers at their most vulnerable (read: in ’80s attire), the book effective captures a specific time period in a remarkably honest way.

The photos were taken by Michael Galinsky for a sophomore college photography class assignment. His teacher was so taken with the photos she prodded him to take his camera to other malls. So in the summer of ’89 Galinsky and a friend traveled across the country with no money and nowhere to stay in order to capture a time that is endeared to (and mocked by) many.

Hitting 16 malls in New York, North Carolina, Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, South Dakota, Colorado, Oregon and Washington State, Galinsky manages to create a perfect pictorial of a time before there the Internet and cell phones; where the mall was the ultimate chat room, Tinder, and Facebook put together. Malls were the social mecca of the United States and as diverse as the citizens were, the fact that you can’t tell one mall apart from another shows how much America could be homogenized. While malls might simply represent materialism at its finest, their decline is disheartening.

Galinsky’s photos not only remind us of stores of the past ("Tape World," anyone?), but of the fashion that is now the butt of many a "remember when" joke. Big hair, high-waisted pants, boys that could be mistaken for girls, and more acid washed jeans than you could throw a Bangle at, this is a not just a book of amusing pictures. It’s history. From the picture of a family ogling a "big screen TV" for the first time, to the lone cowboy having a conversation on a pay phone, this is our past. For some of us, we grew up in the Age of the Mall. We often regale the kiddies with stories of Friday nights roaming the main corridor as we giggled and flirted with passers by. While the ’50s was all about cruising the strip in souped-up cars, the ’80s was all about the endless loop around the mall.

What’s touching about this collection is the amount of love that Galinsky captured. While at first the photographs might appear cold and distancing, certain images provoke feelings of intimacy. Whether it’s an older couple traveling down an escalator together, a worn-out son hugging his mother, friends sharing secrets, or the girl who appears to be in distress while talking with a friend in the food court, there is a surprising affection.

Other photos tell a slightly foreboding story, most notably one of a woman clad in an oversized puffy jacket, teased out long hair, black high-waisted leggings and white hi-top sneakers. She stares across the floor at a mannequin in a shop window. The mannequin -- dressed in leopard print -- is reaching out to her as if to beckon her to come in and spend her money. She also seems to be pleading for company while she remains trapped behind the glass. The woman watching, on the other hand, remains aloof, as if she is aware that everything in the mall is a manipulation and she isn’t having any of it. Which, oddly, seems to be a foretelling of things to come.

"Malls Across America"
$65.00
www.steidl.de

by Michael Galinsky

Kevin Taft is a screenwriter/critic living in Los Angeles with an unnatural attachment to ’Star Wars’ and the desire to be adopted by Steven Spielberg. He can be seen in the flesh on the weekly PBS movie review series "Just Seen It."

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