The funny thing about Michael Galinsky’s photographs of malls, taken during a road trip across the U.S. in the winter of 1989, is not the feathered and hair-sprayed hair, the pleated and pegged jeans, the high-tops and acid wash, the puffy chests in too-small or over-sized tank tops. It’s not the whiff of Mrs. Field’s cookies, Orange Julius, and Chick-fil-A waffle fries. It’s not the fluorescent lights and pained efforts to bring the outdoors in: rubber plants, umbrellas hovering in food courts, faux snow fluffed, not falling, over Christmas scenes. That dusty, dim glow.

The funny thing is, looking at Galinsky’s photos, is that we can’t tell one mall from the other. We have no way of knowing if he was in South Dakota or Indiana, Arkansas or Kansas. Without marking his slides, Galinsky, too, realized then, he’d have no way of knowing where in America, exactly, he’d been. But it turns out, looking back some 30 years later, it’s not so much where that matters, but when.

On the cliff between one decade and the next, a new millennium looming, malls spun a fictional, maybe satisfactory solace. Maybe we were constructing the world we wanted to live in. Right here, wherever here happened to be. Whole communities communed, in fact, in these tiled and tiered, glassy and mirrored centers. People went to shop (to save!) to sit. To be seen and to see. To discover new worlds, entire worlds—promising to meet all, albeit, very specific needs—were born: from Accessory World to Candy World, Dick Van Dyke Appliance World to Earrings World, Fashion World, and Flag World, Toy World, and Wallet World. According to, these worlds still exist. Somewhere out there.

It’s funny that it’s a website that points to all these places in space. These worlds that existed before we (most, almost all of us) knew about the internet, before we had easy access to all the other worlds out there. Still it seems, in Galinsky’s photos, that even then (though we tried to deny it) we knew, we wanted so much more than this.

Michael Galinsky is an American filmmaker, cinematographer, photographer and musician and a recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Arts. Malls Across America is published by Steidl, October 2013.

Sara Distin is a writer and editor based in Boulder, CO, and Brooklyn, NY. Follow her on Twitter @sldistin.

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