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Capturing America's fading shopping malls through a photographer's lens


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

John Yang: Empty fountains. Quiet corridors. Shuttered storefronts. Once the bustling centers of a community's social scene, malls aren't the fixtures of everyday life they once were. Ideastream Public Media in Cleveland brings us the story of how one photographer is documenting these once grand-structures.

Jessica Anshutz, Photographer: So this photo is of me, and I was 18 months old, and my mom had me at Chapel Hill Mall and she was approached by a photographer from the Akron Beacon Journal who asked if her child would pose with some tiger cubs. So this picture ran in the Akron Beacon Journal in 1978.

My name is Jessica Anshutz, I am a documentary photographer and a storyteller. My dad is a bricklayer and one of his first jobs was working at Rolling Acres mall during the building of the mall. So, quite literally, from the first bricks of that place, my family has been involved.

I went on my first date at that mall, at the movie theater. I had my very first job at the mall. I started photographing malls in 2016. I've always been interested in architecture and buildings, and I drove by Rolling Acres on my way to my mom's house. Every season, I would go and take different pictures, you know, because there were trees growing up in the parking lot, and the leaves would change. You can look at the storefronts and know from the colors and patterns, like what store used to be there. There might be a label scar. All of the plants were dead. The fountain was empty. It just it smelled old and moldy and musty, but it's still, you know, it was a mall.

With malls now, they've taken all the seating out. You know, you don't see fountains. Like even plants are hard to come by. And it's just this big white box that you go in, you shop, and you leave.

When I visit malls, I am very immersed in the actual experience of it. I shop while I'm there if I can. We'll get a snack. We'll go sit by the fountain if they have one. And I think that lends itself to photos that are a little more atmospheric. And I feel like my photos are a little more intimate. I've always had a camera. My parents put one in my hands, very young, I will see something or experience something, and if it's impactful enough, I want to know everything about it. I'm looking at it from more of, like, wanting to document these places while they're still around and engaging with people and just enjoying the nostalgia. But I'm also not a person who is like and I think mall should still exist.

In a lot of ways, the time of the mall has passed. I do think it's important for photos and the folklore of a mall to still exist. There's definitely an interest. And I've noticed locally, like, if I post pictures, local people are just like, oh, my gosh, I haven't thought about that place in so long. And it just -- it sparks all of these memories and discussions that reinforce what I'm doing. And if I can be the person who helps them spark these memories and spark these conversations, then that's fantastic. I love it.

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