For Merry Alpern, whose previous book Dirty Windows (Scalo, 1995) received international recognition, her new project was a natural outgrowth of her own daily life: spending time in stores, mostly women’s clothing stores. She noticed other women in these stores in the middle of the day, all day, everyday. In particular, the group dressing rooms seemed to offer a combination of camaraderie and anonymity. Trying on clothes is an opportunity for self-examination, fantasy, and opinions from others — sometimes solicited, sometimes not. Alpern says. “We stand there in our underwear, all trying to achieve some private version of a ‘look’.” With a video camera concealed in her purse, Alpern took endless hours of footage, without ever looking through a viewfinder, but putting the bag in a general direction of activity. Sometimes the bag was an extension of her body as she carried it with her, other times it was placed in a stationary position, separate from her body. Later Alpern started to examine the footage, to isolate moments and make stills. “Viewing surprises on the video tape was one of the most entertaining parts of the project.” With this new photographic essay, Alpern dives into the realm of the objects that cover our social body. Her colorful images constitute a visual ethnography of American shopping, indeed one of the most important activities of everyday life in the West. Shopping is a sometimes shocking and often funny expedition into a world we all know only too well!
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