What happens when the lights go out inside a store? When the cash is counted, the floors are swept, and the employees lock the doors? We rarely glance inside these shops when our errands are done, but that’s when photographer Erik Holmberg presses up to the windows and takes a good, hard look.  

For the last few months, Holmberg has been working on Sorry, We’re Closed, a photography project that documents Charleston’s retail spaces after hours. The result is a collection of quiet, slightly eerie photographs with a post-Apocalyptic feel. It’s a klepto’s dream and an autophobic’s nightmare.

By treating these empty stores as still-life subjects, Holmberg encourages viewers to look a little closer at the places that we visit on a regular basis but rarely examine closely.

“If you take the whole shopping part out of the equation and look at the store, you start to see the surroundings: where things are located, different colors or textures, how something’s folded. It totally shifts your perspective,” Holmberg says.

At the Old Navy Outlet at Tanger, the company’s famous “supermodelquins” stand beneath bright fluorescent lights surrounded by racks of clothes. At a darkened Wonder Works in West Ashley, a toy giraffe stands next to a pile of boxes, looking dejected. Countless chandeliers hang from the ceiling at King Street’s Golden & Associates Antiques, glowing dully in the darkened room.

“That’s what I hope people get out of it, just slowing down and looking at things from a different perspective and starting to appreciate and realize there’s a whole lot more going on than your original intention and desires,” Holmberg says.

The self-taught photographer got the idea for the project while on a trip across the country. He often found himself awake at all hours of the night and started photographing empty spaces.  

“It’s sort of peaceful and interesting and very different from your standard photography experience. Nighttime landscapes I guess you’d call them,” Holmberg says.

He’s currently working his way up King Street, and he’s nearly three-quarters of the way done. He works from outside, pressing the camera to the glass and taking shots in different exposures. Each store takes about three to five minutes, after which he moves on to the next.

 “I started downtown because the architecture is beautiful and a lot of those buildings don’t allow the retailer to modify the interior as much as they would a mall or strip mall,” Holmberg says. “They have to work around what Charleston gives them.”

But even the cookie-cutter strip mall stores have their value. Holmberg sees them as documentation of our society at this point in time.
“It’s sort of a time capsule, like, ‘Oh, in that particular time period, this is what people wore. That’s what advertising was like. This is how people arranged things.’”

Holmberg is currently keeping track of the project on his website (sorryclosed.com), but he hopes to build an iPhone app and eventually a book out of the project. He also plans to have an art show, which he’d like to display in abandoned store buildings.

“I will have removed the context of a normal gallery showing,” he explains, “leaving only the prints to look at.” Hopefully, like Holmberg, viewers will stop for a few minutes to take a closer look.

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