By David Menconi
Thirty years ago, Chapel Hill’s Michael Galinsky was taking a photography class at New York University. Partly for a class project and partly on a whim, he started shooting pictures at shopping malls across the country. The resulting photographs added up to a composite of a moment in time – 1989, just about the apex of the mall’s primacy as the public square of American life – that came to resonate as time went by.
“Even though it was for a photography class, the work was more informed by the anthropology and sociology classes I was taking,” Galinsky says. “I was an amateur photographer, but with enough knowledge to be right on the line between professional and amateur. And it was also right on the line between art and anthropology, in this weird space that kind of only works 30 years later.”
Galinsky has compiled those 1989 mall photos into a lavish picture book, “The Decline of Mall Civilization,” which is being published this month. It’s another intriguing work from Galinsky, who has one of the most wide-ranging and idiosyncratic resumes of any artist in the Triangle. He’s been playing in rock bands, taking pictures and making films for most of his adult life, with many of these projects done in collaboration with his partner/wife Suki Hawley.
Nowadays Galinsky plays in Elvis Division, a high-concept cover band that renders classic rock as you’ve never heard it. In earlier times, playing in the 1990s-vintage indie-rock band Sleepyhead provided an entre into the underground-rock chitlin circuit across American college towns, which led to Galinsky taking pictures and making videos.
It also led to Galinsky and Hawley’s first film, 1994’s “Half-Cocked,” a wonderful and amazing cinema-verite take on the underground rock scene of that time. Hawley and Galinsky have made a wide range of films, videos and documentaries since then, covering everything from gentrification in Brooklyn to conspiracy theories involving former president George W. Bush. Upcoming projects include a “30 for 30” sports documentary about the 1978 Kentucky basketball team for ESPN as well as the occasional Elvis Division show (including the Nov. 17 “EddieFest” at Carrboro’s Cat’s Cradle).
In terms of pulling together the money, time and energy required for projects, getting the work done can be a struggle. But what makes it all worthwhile is that somehow, everything seems to work out, often belatedly.
“When we were making ‘Half-Cocked,’ I remember telling Suki, ‘In 10 years people will get this,’” Galinsky says. “It took more like 20, but they did. Once something has left present memory, when it’s 20 or 25 years old, it can spark in different parts of your brain with profound effects. The mall stuff and a lot of band photos I took during the ’90s are interesting to go back to now because enough time has gone by for meanings to change. The reaction to the mall photos has been vindication for having taken them, and it took a long time. So I’ll just keep trying to make cool things, I guess because I don’t know what else to do.”
Michael Galinsky’s band Elvis Division is on the bill for EddieFest 2019, which is Nov. 17 at the Back Room of Carrboro’s Cat’s Cradle. Hammer No More the Fingers, John Howie Jr. and other acts are also featured. Tickets are $10. Details at catscradle.com.
Galinsky will also have a book-signing event at Chapel Hill’s Flyleaf Books on Nov. 26. Details at flyleafbooks.com.
For more about Galinsky’s work in music, film and photography, see rumur.com.