Lawless grew up in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. He has stated that his father was a longtime worker at Ford Motor Company, and that he witnessed the collapse of the American auto industry and manufacturing jobs being shipped overseas.
In 2012 and 2013, Lawless photographed abandoned industrial infrastructure and other aspects of industrial decline in the Rust Belt and across the rest of the United States for his 2014 book, Autopsy of America: The Journal Entries of Seph Lawless.
A follow-up collection, Black Friday: The Collapse of the American Shopping Mall, contains photos from 2013 and 2014 documenting abandoned, decaying and boarded-up shopping malls. He photographed abandoned malls in Michigan and Ohio, including 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 said to be the world's largest shopping center at the time of its opening in the 1970s, and which closed in 2009. His photos of abandoned malls were subsequently featured in a variety of media outlets. In 2014, Lawless also released 13: An American Horror Story, with photos from "haunted" buildings in the United States. Cleveland Magazine named Lawless one of its Most Interesting People 2015.
In 2015, The Guardian commissioned Lawless to take photos documenting the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, for the 10th anniversary of the hurricane. In 2015 he also released his book, Bizarro: The World's Most Hauntingly Beautiful Abandoned Theme Parks, featuring photographs from 10 abandoned theme parks in the US and Germany.
In March 2016, his photographs of Disney's River Country, an abandoned section of Disney World, were published in various media outlets; he challenged Disney World to clean up the neglected property. He claimed to have been banned from entering Disney World after photographing and sharing his images to the press. In March 2016 Lawless also took photos in Picher, Oklahoma, a toxic abandoned town which the Environmental Protection Agency had mandated to be evacuated in 2006.
In 2017, he photographed houses in the Beachwood neighborhood of High River, Alberta, Canada that had been abandoned due to a floodplain relocation program after the 2013 Alberta floods. Lawless's Huffington Post article and photographs were criticized in local media by the High River mayor, who said, "When you do things like this and you enter homes, you stage it with teddy bears, you move lamp posts around and you do all of these things to try and sensationalize stuff, it hurts people."
As an urban explorer photographer, Lawless has recorded vast abandoned shopping malls and other developments, often in order to inform people of the depth and failures of capitalism, consumption, globalization, and national economic policies. In 2014 he stated that he wanted to show Americans "what was happening to their country from the comfort of their suburban homes and smartphones .... I knew if I portrayed these images creatively enough, they would have a very deep impact on the viewer." A large proportion of the abandoned malls, buildings, and amusement parks he photographs are in the Rust Belt, which has been hit hardest by the various business and economic changes in recent decades.
- Autopsy of America: The Journal Entries of Seph Lawless. Artivist Press (self-published), 2014. ISBN 9780615875781.
- Black Friday: The Collapse of the American Shopping Mall. Self-published, 2014. OCLC 889105593.
- 13: An American Horror Story. Self-published, 2014.
- The Last Lap: North Wilkesboro Speedway Is Losing a Race Against Time. Self-published, 2015.
- The Trolley Tragedy of 1957. Self-published, 2015.
- The Variety Theater: The Night Motörhead Brought Down the House. Self-published, 2015.
- Hauntingly Beautiful (13th Series). Self-published, 2015.
- Pet Cemetery...In Loving Memory. USA: Self-published, 2015.
- Bizarro: The World's Most Hauntingly Beautiful Abandoned Theme Parks. Self-published, 2015.
- The Prelude: The Deadliest City in America. Self-published, 2016.
- Black Friday: Seasons in the Size of Days. Self-published, 2016.
- Autopsy of America: Death of a Nation. UK: Carpet Bombing Culture, 2017. ISBN 9781908211491.
- Abandoned: Hauntingly Beautiful Deserted Theme Parks. New York City: Skyhorse, 2017. ISBN 9781510723351.
- The Autopsy of America, foyer, Amerika Haus, Munich, Germany, 2014
- Beachwood Library, Beachwood, Ohio, 2014
- Arkansas Literary Festival, Little Rock, Arkansas, 2015. A "mini exhibit".
- "About". SephLawless.com. Retrieved 28 November 2017.
- Sandy, Eric (August 7, 2013). "The Art of the Autopsy: Photographer Seph Lawless Spends his Days Documenting Decaying Ruins". Cleveland Scene. Retrieved November 28, 2017.
- "Photographer captures 'Hauntingly Beautiful' abandoned homes". 6ABC. October 30, 2015. Retrieved November 28, 2017.
- Uberti, David (June 19, 2014). "The death of the American mall". The Guardian. Retrieved November 28, 2017.
- Hannan, Sheehan (December 19, 2014). "Most Interesting People 2015: Seph Lawless". Cleveland Magazine. Retrieved November 28, 2017.
- Petkovic, John (October 7, 2017). "Cleveland photographer Seph Lawless chronicles left-for-dead America". The Plain Dealer. Retrieved 1 December 2017.
- Newton, Matthew (June 9, 2014). "Taking Pictures Of The Dead Shopping Malls Of Our Youth: Images From Suburban America". Thought Catalog. Retrieved November 28, 2017.
- Valera, Stephanie (June 9, 2014). "Ruins of the Rust Belt: Haunting Photos of Abandoned Buildings by Seph Lawless". The Weather Channel. Retrieved November 28, 2017.
- Van Susteren, Greta (May 2, 2014). "From bustling center of prosperity to ghost town". Fox News. Retrieved November 28, 2017.
- Teicher, Jordan G. (June 22, 2014). "A Haunting Look Inside Some of America's Abandoned Shopping Malls". Slate. Retrieved November 28, 2017.
- Smith, Aaron (June 30, 2014). "Autopsy of America: Photos of dead shopping malls". CNNMoney. Retrieved November 28, 2017.
- Valera, Stephanie (May 14, 2014). "Black Friday: Ghostly Images of Abandoned Malls by Seph Lawless". The Weather Channel. Retrieved November 28, 2017.
- Peters, Adele (April 21, 2014). "Eerie Photos Of Abandoned Shopping Malls Show The Changing Face Of Suburbia". Fast Company. Retrieved November 28, 2017.
- Walsh, Michael (April 30, 2014). "Creepy photos of abandoned shopping malls highlight crumbling communities of the Rust Belt". New York Daily News. Retrieved November 28, 2017.
- Chung, Frank (October 31, 2014). "Thirteen real life haunted houses and the horror stories that go with them". News.com.au. Retrieved November 28, 2017.
- Teicher, Jordan G. (October 31, 2014). "These Are America's Spookiest Homes". Slate. Retrieved November 28, 2017.
- "A tour of abandoned New Orleans, 10 years after Katrina - in pictures". The Guardian. July 30, 2015. Retrieved November 28, 2017.
- Cott, Allix (August 2, 2016). "10 Abandoned Theme Parks That Are Hauntingly Beautiful". Architectural Digest. Retrieved December 1, 2017.
- Zhang, Michael (August 28, 2015). "Photos of New Orleans Ruins on the 10th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina". PetaPixel. Retrieved December 1, 2017.
- Teicher, Jordan G. (July 4, 2015). "You Won't Be Visiting These Abandoned Amusement Parks This July Fourth". Slate. Retrieved July 12, 2016.
- Smith, Aaron (June 25, 2015). "Scenes from abandoned amusement parks". CNNMoney. Retrieved July 12, 2016.
- "Abandoned Amusement Parks From Seph Lawless". ABC News. 2015. Retrieved July 29, 2016.
- "The dead water parks at the heart of Disney World Florida". BBC Newsbeat. March 22, 2016. Retrieved November 28, 2017.
- Morona, Joey (May 11, 2016). "Seph Lawless: Q&A with photographer behind those viral images of abandoned places". Cleveland.com. Retrieved December 13, 2016.
- Walker, Alissa (March 5, 2016). "Photos Of America's Most Toxic City Are An Ominous Warning". Gizmodo. Retrieved March 10, 2017.
- Ferreras, Jesse (March 3, 2016). "Picher, Oklahoma Is America's 'Most Toxic City.' Seph Lawless' Photos Show Us Why". Huffington Post. Retrieved March 10, 2017.
- Koukoulas, Sam (October 1, 2016). "A look inside America's most toxic city". AOL. Retrieved March 10, 2017.
- Ferreras, Jesse (May 16, 2017). "How an Alberta neighbourhood of $1M homes became the 'creepiest in the world'". Global News. Retrieved December 1, 2017.
- "Post-apocalypse photographer captures abandoned High River homes". CBC News. May 18, 2017. Retrieved December 1, 2017.
- Nicodemus, Kelci (June 1, 2017). "Beachwood trespassing falls into loophole". High River Times. Retrieved December 19, 2017.
- Stones, Samantha (2016). "The value of heritage: urban exploration and the historic environment". The Historic Environment: Policy & Practice. 7 (4): 301–320. doi:10.1080/17567505.2016.1252490.
Similarly, North American explorers access and record vast abandoned shopping complexes to inform people of the depth and failures of capitalism and consumption. This work is exemplified by Seph Lawless’ photographic documentation of abandoned shopping malls. He explained in a newspaper article that he 'wanted Americans to see what was happening to their country from the comfort of their suburban homes and smartphones ... I knew if I portrayed these images creatively enough, they would have a very deep impact on the viewer'.
- "Can Post-Apocalyptic Art Be a Force for Social Change?". Pacific Standard. December 16, 2016. Retrieved December 1, 2017.
- Killalea, Debra (November 20, 2016). "Donald Trump's America: Abandoned shopping mall photos tell a story". News.com.au. Retrieved November 28, 2017.
- Piorkowski, Jeff (December 18, 2014). "Beachwood Library hosts Seph Lawless photo exhibit on decay of American structures, institutions; Cleveland artist gains worldwide recognition". Cleveland.com. Retrieved January 11, 2015.
- Horaczek, Stan (April 29, 2014). "Interview: Seph Lawless' 'Black Friday'". American Photo. Retrieved November 28, 2017.
- Cade, DL (April 28, 2014). "Black Friday: Haunting Documentary Photo Series Captures Abandoned Malls in the US". PetaPixel. Retrieved December 1, 2017.
- Smith, Aaron (November 16, 2016). "Ghostly images of a dead mall tell an American story". CNNMoney. Retrieved November 28, 2017.
- Malik, Renaud (May 17, 2017). "L'artiste Seph Lawless immortalise les centres commerciaux désaffectés". RTS (in French). Retrieved 28 November 2017.
- "The Autopsy of America: Photography by Seph Lawless", Amerika Haus. Accessed 2 December 2017
- "John Waters Headlines Arkansas Literary Festival Special Events". Arkansas Free Press. April 2015. Retrieved November 28, 2017.
- McGrew, Sandra (January 27, 2015). "Dates Set for Arkansas Literary Festival". Little Rock Soirée. Retrieved November 28, 2017.