Photo Essays

Empty Photographs

by Alicia Eler on March 6, 2014

Lynn Saville, "Downtown, Los Angeles, CA," (2013). All images courtesy of the artist for Hyperallergic.

Lynn Saville, “Downtown, Los Angeles, CA,” (2012). All images courtesy of the artist for Hyperallergic.

CHICAGO — Lynn Saville‘s photography series Vacancy captures storefronts, malls, parks, highways, and billboards across America. Existing now in states of transition, they largely appear deserted, and lifeless. Saville gives no explanation as to why these spaces are empty; there is no history or backstory to any of them. Instead, there is only a sense that this place exists currently empty.

These types of commercial vacancies exist from coast to coast. Though the majority of Saville’s photographs were shot in the two coastal cities of New York and Los Angeles, smaller cities like Columbus, Ohio, and Jersey City, New Jersey, also appear in the series. An empty JC Penney department store in Columbus offers square cushion-covered seats to those who wander in and discover that their store has been shuttered. I did a quick Google search for JC Penney stores in Columbus, however, and three locations popped up. What happened to this one? We’ll never know the answer because Saville does not give any additional information — perhaps that’s not even necessary.

Lynn Saville, "Former J.C. Penney, Columbus, OH"

Lynn Saville, “Former J.C. Penney, Columbus, OH” (2011)

Yet return to New York City, and no such department stores exist in this series. There, the spaces are smaller, more compact, and less suburban-looking. An empty storefront is lit only by a neon sign that reads SPACE FOR RENT and a number to call; in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, a ladder appears in a glass-walled lobby. Don’t throw rocks.

Across the country in Los Angeles, everything stands a bit further apart — there’s far more space in-between. Cars zoom by, palm trees line streets, and a constant sense of the cinematic surreal underlies the landscape. Was this storefront part of a movie, or does it just look like it could be?

“One can’t seem to escape the proximity of the movie business, [and so] by association, a vacant warehouse with old signs stenciled on its facade easily suggests a movie-set version of abandonment,” Saville tells Hyperallergic.

Sometimes, it doesn’t matter where the photos themselves were shot. These spaces have been stripped bare of objects and personal items that once gave its walls, corners, and nooks a feel of lived-in warmth. Each photograph reminds that this space used to matter, and that one day it might receive new occupants, and a fresh beginning.

Lynn Saville, "Space for Rent, NY, NY"

Lynn Saville, “Space for Rent, NY, NY” (2012)

Lynn Saville, "Corner Store, Los Angeles, CA"

Lynn Saville, “Corner Store, Los Angeles, CA” (2012)

Lynn Saville, "Mustangs, Culver City, CA"

Lynn Saville, “Mustangs, Culver City, CA” (2012)

Lynn Saville, "Fairfax, Los Angeles, CA"

Lynn Saville, “Fairfax, Los Angeles, CA” (2012)

Lynn Saville, "Lobby, Greenpoint, Brooklyn"

Lynn Saville, “Lobby, Greenpoint, Brooklyn” (2012)

Lynn Saville’s series Vacancy was recently on view at Carrie Schneider Gallery (230 W Superior Street, Chicago).

  • Subscribe to the Hyperallergic email newsletter!

Hyperallergic welcomes comments and a lively discussion, but comments are moderated after being posted. For more details please read our comment policy.

Previous post:

Next post: