Lawless was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and briefly raised in Detroit, Michigan, before returning to Cleveland, where he now resides. His father was a longtime worker at Ford Motor Company; through him, Lawless witnessed the collapse of the once-thriving American auto industry.
In 2012 and 2013, Lawless photographed man-made desolation, forgotten landscapes and other symbols of industrial decline in the Rust Belt and across the rest of the United States. He took approximately 3,000 images and 17 hours of video footage that he used in in his 2014 book, Autopsy of America.
Lawless's follow-up collection, Black Friday: The Collapse of the American Shopping Mall, contains photos from late 2013 through April 2014, and documents the demise of old symbols of American commercialism, homing in on abandoned, decaying and boarded-up shopping malls. He photographed abandoned malls in Michigan and Ohio, focusing on the abandoned Rolling Acres Mall in Akron, Ohio, built in 1975 and closed in 2008, and the Randall Park Mall in North Randall, Ohio, which was the world's largest shopping center at the time of its opening in the 1970s and which closed in 2009.
In 2014, Lawless's photos of abandoned malls were featured in segments on CNNMoney, and he was also interviewed about the photos by Greta Van Susteren on Fox News. Cleveland Magazine named Lawless one of its Most Interesting People 2015. His work has been exhibited internationally in Munich.
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