When Catherine Opie photographed this mini-mall in Silverlake, a Los Angeles neighborhood near downtown, its businesses reflected the bilingual nature of a community that included many Spanish-speaking residents of Mexican and Central American heritage.
This is one of seventeen images that make up the series Mini-malls. The large format of both the film negative and the resulting digital print (made from scanning the negative) increases the legibility of details. Signs in a variety of languages underscore the ethnic diversity of Los Angeles's inhabitants and the challenges of immigrant assimilation. Inspired by the quality of expansiveness that permeates late-nineteenth-century landscape photographs, Catherine Opie began documenting contemporary urban landscapes with a 7 x 17-inch panoramic format camera. Her 1997-98 series of Los Angeles mini-malls focuses on the decidedly unspectacular architecture of strip malls that originated in response to automobile culture and convenience shopping. Photographed at dawn or predawn on weekends with the camera placed parallel to the buildings' facades, the images are devoid of people and cars. Rendered as black-and-white inkjet prints on watercolor paper, they blend elements of nostalgia and romanticism with a deadpan documentary style. These low-slung structures offer the convenience of one-stop shopping, in which beauty salons, video stores, travel agencies, and medical clinics are interspersed with family-owned restaurants and fast-food franchises.