Cigarettes, chewing gum, candy bars, and coffee are the staples of the convenience store, but it’s the lottery tickets that draw people back, like moths to a flame, hoping for a change in their fortunes. And once in a blue moon, it happens. A winning ticket is sold. Rather than focusing on that rare breed, the winners, Edie Bresler, photographer and (full disclosure) an occasional contributor to this magazine, spent the last six years traveling around the country photographing the liquor stores, bodegas, mini marts, and mom-and-pop convenience stores where winning tickets were sold, and the people who run those stores. Her photographs are a colorful, clear-eyed portrait of the American consumerism and optimism, not to mention the hard work, that keeps the state lottery industry running.
Shortly after the economic meltdown of 2008, Bresler, who lives in Boston, began noticing lottery tickets littering the ground. She wondered who bought them, but also who sold them, and how it all worked. What she discovered was an invisible economy kept afloat by mom and pop stores across the country. “The lottery is complicated,” says Bresler, “but at the heart of it are these resilient, middle-class workers.”
Her series We Sold A Winner, on view at Gallery Kayafas through January 14, includes Gursky-esque photographs of row upon row of brightly colored confections and snacks, cigarettes and scratch cards; portraits of store owners, like the Patel family in Lowell, Massachusetts, parents with their two young children posing in front of the cash register of their liquor store; and Stephen Shore-like American road trip pictures of a Discount Market in DeLand, Florida, a Food Mart in Somerville, Massachusetts, or Toni’s bait shop, in Raymond, Nebraska, all taken around dusk, when the fading light has a melancholy, wistful quality.
A few conceptual pieces give voice to the buyer’s hopes and dreams, which fuel this industry. In order to “reintegrate the players’ voices,” as she puts it, Bresler hand cut
letters made from discarded scratch cards and used them to form phrases, such as “If I won, I wouldn’t have to struggle.” These float, like prayers sent up to heaven, against a cloudy sky.