I think the themes you try to tug out of this article are rich, but your reaction and analysis are stretched. You directly quote the opening paragraph of Jenna’s piece: “ ‘ugly’ by all conventional photography standards.” She (a) puts ‘ugly’ in scare quotes and (b) qualifies the frame of reference, which is photography. Given that opening and the fact that the article appears on a photography website, it is safe to read other adjectives such as “horrible” or “awful” as referring to the photographic merits of the Lowe’s. This is uncontroversial — the standard lighting at Lowe’s is not conducive to artful photography.
As to the conspicuous absence of Lowe’s employees — she said she stopped shooting if anyone was in the background in order to not raise problems (FYI, Lowe’s customer relations policies might cut more ways than you think). She also asked an employee for permission.
Would it have been more challenging to take humanizing photos of the workers at this Lowe’s? Certainly. And maybe it would be more challenging to write about that, instead of creating and burning down a straw woman.