Understanding our impact, one pixel at a time

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Chris Jordan’s digital images are simultaneously aesthetically pleasing and thematically disturbing. From a distance you detect a pattern, and colors. It’s only upon close inspection that you recognize the subject matter.

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Jordan was recently profiled on Bill Moyer’s Journal. He sees himself as half artist, half activist, always walking a fine line inbetween the two without veering too much to either side. His latest body of work, “Running the Numbers,” uses digitally manipulated images to tell the story of our daily consumption. He writes:

Exploring around our country’s shipping ports and industrial yards, where the accumulated detritus of our consumption is exposed to view like eroded layers in the Grand Canyon, I find evidence of a slow-motion apocalypse in progress. I am appalled by these scenes, and yet also drawn into them with awe and fascination. The immense scale of our consumption can appear desolate, macabre, oddly comical and ironic, and even darkly beautiful; for me its consistent feature is a staggering complexity.

The pervasiveness of our consumerism holds a seductive kind of mob mentality. Collectively we are committing a vast and unsustainable act of taking, but we each are anonymous and no one is in charge or accountable for the consequences. I fear that in this process we are doing irreparable harm to our planet and to our individual spirits.

As an American consumer myself, I am in no position to finger wag; but I do know that when we reflect on a difficult question in the absence of an answer, our attention can turn inward, and in that space may exist the possibility of some evolution of thought or action. So my hope is that these photographs can serve as portals to a kind of cultural self-inquiry. It may not be the most comfortable terrain, but I have heard it said that in risking self-awareness, at least we know that we are awake.

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Jordan doesn’t limit himself to consumption, he also takes on more social commentary. In this work, he depicts 2.3 million folded prison uniforms, equal to the number of Americans incarcerated in 2005.

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Other images depict the number of people who die from smoking, the number of elective breast surgeries performed monthly, and the number of emergency room visits each year related to misuse or abuse of prescription pain killers.

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