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World Of Waste: America's Mass Consumption In Images

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Look at this image.
Chris Jordan

Pan out . . .
Chris Jordan

Pan out a little more . . .
Chris Jordan, Plastic Bottles, 2007, 60x120"

That right there is 2,000,000 plastic bottles, the number of plastic bottles Americans throw out every five minutes.

Welcome to the work of Chris Jordan, a Seattle-based photographer and environmental advocate. Jordan takes beautiful photographs of waste. His hope: to disgust us into change.

Look at this one, a 7-foot long image of 60,000 plastic bags. That's the number of plastic bags we use in the U.S. . . . every five seconds. Are you disgusted yet?

Chris Jordan. Plastic Bags, 2007, 60" x 72"

Disappointingly, the jpegs on your computer screen can barely do justice to Jordan's massive, high resolution photographs, most of which take up entire walls in galleries. Each image illustrates a grouping of America's waste. But, as Jordan so often prefaces, capturing dissipation in a single photograph is impossible. The true scale of our mass consumption's accumulation is invisible. Its magnitude is undetectable as it is spread throughout garbage dumps, storage units and landfills from Fort Wadsworth, Staten Island to a fermenting heap in Kenya.

Given the disconnect, Jordan uses "computer shenanigans" or PhotoShop to illustrate the true scale of our nation's waste. He starts out with a single image, multiplying it over and over and over again to reach the statistic of our consumption. This image, for example, represents the number of cell phones America discards every few minutes.

Chris Jordan

A few hours go by. We discard more cell phones. The heap grows larger.

Chris Jordan

A day goes by. 426,000 cell phones discarded in total.

Chris Jordan

To explain the shocking magnitude of our waste, Jordan has also released a video installation, "Intolerable Beauty and Running the Numbers." The video premiered at Ingeo Natureworks Creative Gallery in New York on Earth Day (Aprill 22nd) and will travel around the world in conjunction with Ingeo Earth Month ending on World Environment Day (June 5th). You can catch Jordan's video as it travels with Ingeo's Earth Month exhibit (popular stop off points include Paris and Tokyo) or you can find the film on Jordan's website.

I encourage you to watch this film. It is mind-blowing and depressing, but also inspiring. As Jordan says in his own words, "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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