'My mall project began with some stealthy stalking of the big haired denizens of Smith Haven Mall on Long Island. It was a shoot for my first college photo class during the late winter of 1989. After some encouragement from my teacher, I hit the road to continue my research into American mall culture at the tail end of the ‘80s. Over a few rambling weeks, my friend Sebastian and I stumbled through about a dozen malls. The only way to tell one mall from the next was the floor color because otherwise the stores were largely the same: The Gap, Au Cotton, Radio Shack, and Merry–Go–Round. I shot about 25 rolls of slide film and didn’t get them developed until I got home. When they were ready at the lab, I tore through them, pulling out the ones that jumped out at me—mostly the ones that were simply in focus. For the most part, I had shot from the hip because I was always afraid I’d get caught and thrown out of the mall.
At the time, galleries were interested in big–idea photography, and my work was decidedly old school and amateurish. I was a shy 19–year–old who lacked confidence, so it took everything I had to try and bring them to a gallery. When the first person I showed the work to could barely contain their smirk, it made it hard to get to the next place. The slides went in a box. A few years later, I projected them at a show my band played at an art gallery. Then, I didn’t pull them out again till 2010. By that point, the Internet had started to do its thing. I put some up on Facebook and they went kind of crazy. The images were about 20 years old, and they were starting to resonate quite profoundly.
On my band’s last record that I played on, recorded in 1998, my bandmate sang, “Nostalgia should become a criminal offense. We’re always pining for our lost innocence, dreaming back a feeling that we never really had at all.” My experience with these images has taught me a lot about how our brains work, how we process images, and what this tells us about our past and our future. I don’t know that nostalgia should become a criminal offense, but I do understand how it can be problematic. Still, I throw myself at the mercy of the court, because while we sang that song in our late 20s, I am now in my very early 50s and I am becoming increasingly nostalgic for a time before the Internet. I love how this spidery web helped my images reach so many people, and I love how it connects me to others. However, I worry about where we’re going. Although I hated the mall when I made these images, even I am nostalgic for a time in which we were somewhat more unified by culture—dreaming back a feeling that I never really had at all.'
- Harper Voyager
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