Ulrich focuses on themes
of consumer culture in his works. He describes the background behind his Copia
project (2002-2006), stating:
"In 2001 citizens were encouraged to take to the malls to boost the U.S. economy through shopping, thereby equating consumerism with patriotism. The Copia project, a direct response to that advice, is a long-term photographic examination of the peculiarities and complexities of the consumer-dominated culture in which we live. Through large scale photographs taken within both the big-box retail stores, and the thrift shops that house our recycled goods, Copia explores not only the everyday activities of shopping, but the economic, cultural, social, and political implications of commercialism and the roles we play in self-destruction, over consumption, and as targets of marketing and advertising. By scrutinizing these rituals and their environments, I hope that viewers will evaluate the increasing complexities of the modern world and their role within it".
Since we ultimately see ourselves in these images, I aim to elicit compassion and empathy for those depicted by creating formal images that are elegant and beautiful. By combined photographs taken candidly with a medium-format film camera outfitted with a waist-level viewfinder and available light, and the large format studied compositions in thrift shops, I can capture lost excitement and overwhelmed, subsumed moments. The large-scale prints allow the viewer to stop and notice with a distanced perspective familiar places and things. Over time these images take on new meaning, ones anthropological and historical of an affluent society at the dawn of the 21st century. Our experience and history of this time is evidenced in what we buy and what we use up."
Ulrich continues to explore themes of consumer culture in the U.S. in his later projects Thrift (2005-2007) and Dark Stores (2008-2009). These two series address the hardships of the downturned economy and the failure of consumerism to prevent the closing of many large retail establishments. Together they form a decade-long project under the Copia umbrella. A survey show is on exhibition at the Cleveland Museum of Art through January 2012 with an accompanying monograph, "Is This Place Great or What".