Jesse Rieser believes he grew up in peak mall culture. As a child in Springfield, Mo., in the 1990s, he remembers back-to-school shopping with his mom at Macy’s, discovering music at Best Buy, and avoiding his brother’s Nerf gun at Toys R Us.
Now Rieser, a photographer based in Phoenix, can shop for items as pedestrian as toothpaste with a click of a button.
“It’s interesting to me how fast things are changing,” he told In Sight in an interview about his award-winning project “The Retail Apocalypse: The Changing Landscape of American Retail.” “It’s very interesting just how quickly certain ways of life can change. And what it means not only to shop as an American but to live in your community as an American.”
Rieser’s memories, like so many retailers in America, are fading away. Earlier this year, The Washington Post reported that retailers have closed more than 15,000 stores since 2017 and an estimated 75,000 stores will close by 2026. In “The Retail Apocalypse,” Rieser uses an architectural approach to create striking images of these now-stark hulls of retail and the world they left behind.
The project, which he started in 2015, began after he observed the soullessness of Arizona’s abandoned strip malls. “It’s really that these are architectural ruins,” he said. “When you think of ruins, you think of a civilization’s past. But for me, it’s like this is just yesterday.”
It is this duality of speeding up and slowing down that makes Rieser’s images remarkable. As he writes in his artist statement, you are both “looking to the past and peering into the future."
Initially, it was this notion of both time and speed that compelled Rieser to turn to photography. “I think I’m obsessed with time and change,” he said. “It is like this amazing currency you can never buy back and it’s the most finite thing on the planet.”
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