Plenty, Brian Ulrich's long-awaited first monograph, presents the photographers decade-long exploration of the shifting tectonic plates that make up American consumer society. Ulrich focuses, in part, on photographing the architectural legacies of a retail-driven economy in the midst of collapse shopping malls on the brink of demolition, empty big box stores, and other retail structures in transition. In depicting the disintegration of the former economic and social anchors of the American landscape, Ulrich does more than sketch the fraying surfaces of a shopping-obsessed culture. He has also created a series of clear-eyed yet sympathetic portraits of teenaged shoppers lost in reverie over a new pair of shoes, thrift-store mavens determined to find the best deal possible, and families desperately in search of that perfect purchase. Cinematic and utterly engrossing, these portraits are interspersed among the forlorn landscapes of empty parking lots and foreclosed malls.
Tracing a palpable trajectory from irrational exuberance to debt-laden hangover, Ulrich has successfully managed to get under the skin of the current economic crisis, providing a sobering document both personal as well as sociologically astute of the American consumer psyche in the first decade of the twenty-first century. Plenty will accompany an exhibition of the same title at the Cleveland Museum of Art.