Penelope Umbrico and Brian Ulrich in Conversation

Penelope Umbrico on her piece For Sale/TVs From Craigslist at Aperture (May, 2009).

Consumer culture can be an ugly reality to face. Despite what might seem to be an oxymoronic concept, the contemporary sense of self is increasingly predicated on possessive individualism, a self-definition by way of consumption, or more simply put, the thought: ‘I am what I buy.’ Not only has shopping long become a pastime, so too has the proclamation of these purchases across social media.

This consumer culture is what we the audience are confronted with in the work of Penelope Umbrico and Brian Ulrich. On Tuesday, April 17, 2012, two of the most exciting photographers working today, come together for a conversation about how their use of images address this facet of our society. The event will take place at Julie Saul Gallery, where Ulrich currently has his exhibition Is This Place Great or What: Artifacts and Photographs on view through May 5, 2012.

Umbrico’s work over the past few decades offers a radical doubletake on the consumer and vernacular images with which we are bombarded. She aggregates photographs that follow a kind of “script,” compiling thousands of somehow related images found on social media websites like Craigslist and Flickr. Some are selling used products, others are sharing personal but generic vacation moments. All, however, have hints of privacy or intimacy in them. As she explains in the clip above, the used TVs people sell on Craigslist often bear reflections of themselves or their apartments. Her most recognized work Suns From Flickr, which made the cover of her conceptual first monograph from Aperture in Fall, 2011 Penelope Umbrico (photographs), is made up of thousands of found snapshots, generic vacation photos tagged with term “sunset,” cropped down to sun alone, sometimes 5% of the original photograph, and installed on a mural-sized grid.  The monumental result is meant to explore ”what [these images] can tell us about our relationship to photography, technology and each other.”

Ulrich’s work on view at Julie Saul is part of a decade-long exploration of the American consumer landscape for a series called Copia. The project, he explains for Time’s Lightbox, is something he embarked on as a response to the president’s call for the nation to bolster the economy in the wake of the 9/11 attacks by way of shopping. The series, comprised in three parts tracking the degradation of this consumer cycle–”Retail,” “Thrift,” and “Dark Stores,”–was also published by Aperture in Fall, 2011 as Ulrich’s first monograph, Is This Place Great or What.

Gurnee, IL (2003); from the series Retail (c) Brian Ulrich/Aperture Foundation

Retail” features often vibrant candy-colored, mostly medium-format images taken in big box stores. He captured candid moments with the help of a waist-high viewfinder. The nameless shoppers within his frame carry hollow expressions that convey a kind of alienated stupor during the precise moment, Ulrich says, “the Germans call Konsumieren Rausch or Consumer Intoxication.” “Thrift” features more cluttered images of consignment stores and second-hand shops where the original goods are discarded, while “Dark Stores,” features images of derelict, hollowed out, abandoned malls and shopping centers across the country that have shut their doors.

Belz Factory Outlets (2009), from the series Dark Stores (c) Brian Ulrich/Aperture Foundation

Penelope Umbrico and Brian Ulrich In Conversation
Tuesday, April 17, 2012 at 6:30 pm

Julie Saul Gallery
535 West 22nd Street, #6F
New York, New York
(212) 627-2410