Sunday, October 28, 2007

the beauty of our waste


I recently stumbled on the work of Chris Jordan, a Seattle-based photographer who specializes in environmental issues. Jordan's photographs are nothing short of mesmerizing.

His two latest series deal mostly with the magnitude of our waste. The photo above is just one example of various scenes he's scoped out of dumps for very specific items - this one being old cell phones. Many of the topics Jordan photographs are rather mundane - shards of glass, pieces of scrap metal - but his many shots of consumer electronics trash, such as an entire field of old circuit boards, are a sobering reminder of just how wasteful a lot we Americans have become.

Jordan's most recent series, which uses digitally enhanced photographs to show in a small space the grandiosity of many of our seemingly small actions, is a little more manipulated, but it works to great effect. The images are similar to those Chuck-Close-style photomosaics, where hundreds or thousands of different photographs are used to represent individual "pixels"... For instance, in one shot, Jordan uses exactly 106,000 aluminum soda cans to reproduce Georges Seurat's iconic Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. The 106,000 represents the number of soda cans used every 30 seconds in the United States. Most of the images in this series, though, look like white noise unless you're looking closely. But when you do look closely (Jordan provides three zooms for each shot in the series on his site), you can literally feel the enormity of the statistics his images visually convey.

Sadly, the Web isn't really the best place to view the largest of Jordan's images. To get the full scale, you have to see one of the pieces in person because most of them are actually 5 feet tall by 6 feet wide! (The second set of images here includes zooms of a 10' x 23' piece with 2.3 million prison uniforms, one for each person who was incarcerated in the U.S. in 2005.) Anyway, if you have a chance, go check out Chris Jordan's work in the flesh. But if not, his site is definitely worth a visit. In it, you'll also find some heartbreaking but astounding photos he shot of the devastation left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

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