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An empty set: Ghost Shops photographed

Irelantis and What’s Wrong? artist Sean Hillen turns his lens on the poignant phenomenon of retail spaces left deserted by the recession.
Jul 28th 2011, 8:30 PM 2,253 7

WHAT HAPPENS TO shops when they ‘die’? That’s what artist Seán Hillen has been exploring in a photography project currently on show in Dublin.

He told that he began taking the photographs over the last year or two, at first wanting just a simple record of what you see when you look in the window of a shop just at the point when it closes down.

The images in his project, Ghost Shops, are eerie and poignant, the empty retail spaces – “like a stage set without actors” – in contrast to the activity of the street reflected in the shop windows. He said: “I realised that the complex reflection was often of great potential interest, and that the mixture could tell a story”.

The deserted spaces reminded Hillen of stage sets:

In front we have glamour and dreams and behind we see breeze blocks and hanging wires… There is a sort of message – I can’t believe that it’s necessary that all these small businesses have to die and I think we should be paying more attention to this phenomenon which has become a political issue in Britain as 30 per cent of many regional high streets lie empty.

I have found photographing them very sad but felt the need to make some sort of memorial at least to these many working lives.

Hillen is the artist behind the hugely successful Irelantis collage series as well as the more recent politically-charged What’s Wrong? photomontage projects.

Ghost Shops has had its showing extended until 14 August on the top floor of Basecamp, at 108-109 Middle Abbey Street, Dublin. It is just one of scores of photographic exhibitions and events which are part of the PhotoIreland Festival, which is finishing up this week.

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This is a slideshow of some of the images in Ghost Shop, with descriptions from Sean Hillen:

All photographs copyright Sean Hillen. For more, see, and

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