“Mall Series”: Documenting the Daily Life of People at a Mall in 1984 by Stephen DiRado

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Eric’s NoteStephen DiRado is based in Worcester, MA. and has been exhibiting his photographs since 1983. He is a Photography Senior Lecturer in the Studio Arts Program in the Visual and Performing Arts Department at Clark University. Stephen has also recently received the prestigious Guggenheim fellowship to continue his photographic projects. In addition, he has finished his film “Summer Spent,” a personal documentary about recording beach goers on the island of Martha’s Vineyard on a large-format camera.

The emergence of the shopping mall during the later part of last century was like heaven opening many doors for a healthy middle-class to venture.  As a subject it was under the radar of artists, accept for possibly George Romero’s cult film Dawn of the Dead in the late 70s, where zombies roamed about in a suburban mall in Pennsylvania. Shopper’s World, in Framingham, Massachusetts was located just miles from where I grew up. My parents loved shopping there, but I was emotionally terrorized with all of its multilevel ramps, dead end corridors, multiplex cinemas and endless parking lots.

Despondent towards malls in general, I explored the possibilities of documenting a number of them in my area during the spring of 1984. I investigated newly built suburban malls but decided on an urban, two story, sprawling mall with its numerous outlets and two anchor stores just blocks from where I live. The Worcester Galleria, built in the 1970s, then at its apex in its short lived popularity, was a perfect environment for me to document its daily life. Coincidently, during my brief three year residency, I also recorded the beginnings of its decline.

With permission from management I had total freedom to roam about and photograph. I averaged eighteen hours per week for almost three years to pile up thousands of 4×5 negatives. In the end, I edited the work down to 60, give or take, that exemplified the community that typifies the mall.

My work concluded with a solo exhibition at the Worcester Art Museum, titled Galleria Series that opened during the fall of 1986.  (Since, I have titled this work: Mall Series.)

I used an old Burke and James monorail 4×5 view camera, mounted with a 90mm Schneider lens to make all the photographs for this series. For light, I used a Sunpak flash not synced to the camera.  All my exposures were a quarter, or a half second at f22; long enough duration to simply hit the test button to illuminate my subject. Tri-x film over exposed and underdeveloped, or exposed at a 100 ISO setting was a technique I used throughout the project to reduce the vast contrast experienced throughout the mall’s environment.

You can see the rest of Mall Series on Stephen’s website here.

Summer Spent

Stephen has recently put together an insightful 40 minute documentary titled: “Summer Spent” about documenting the beach goers on the island of Martha’s Vineyard. It gives an insightful look into his photographic process and his ability to connect with the community. Some epic large-format action!

The film is only $15 USD (including shipping) and all proceeds go to ARTSWorcester, a nonprofit arts center. Donations will be accepted and appreciated.

You can pick up a copy of “Summer Spent” here.

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