In Chris Jordan’s series Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait, begun in 2005, the artist represented the staggering statistics of American consumption. Two million bottles were depicted in a larger-than-human-scale digital photograph entitled Plastic Bottles, 2007, literally representing the number of plastic beverage bottles used in the United States every five minutes. In Oil Barrels, 2008, 28,000 barrels were presented in a mandala-like formation of concentric circles, recalling the volume of oil burned in the United States every two minutes.
From a distance, many of Jordan’s images appeared as reductive color fields, minimal landscapes or geometric patterns, while others coalesced into recognizable imagery such as a school of fish in Tuna, 2009, Hokusai’s famous woodcut image of a wave in Gyre, 2009 and a pair of sharks in Shark Teeth, 2008. Up close, however, it became clear that these images were enormous composites of thousands of individual objects. Jordan masterfully stitched together hundreds or thousands of photographs using digital technology to create each seamless composition. Accompanying captions reveal the disturbing statistics on which the images are based. With these aesthetically seductive, spectacularly large photographs, Jordan reminded us that our individual lifestyles contribute to a shockingly great cumulative impact on the planet. While the artist admits he himself is not outside the consumption habits of most Americans, he hopes “that these photographs can serve as portals to a kind of cultural self-inquiry” that is necessary for us to even consider what to do next.
About the Artist
Chris Jordan’s work has garnered an impressive amount of recognition in the time since he left the law profession by resigning from the bar to focus on making art in 2003. Since then, he has exhibited in museums and galleries in at least 20 states and eight countries. Perhaps more significant, though, is his exposure via the Internet. His website receives over 75,000 individual visitors per month, and through the viral popularity of his work he has been invited to appear on television shows such as Bill Moyers Journal, The Colbert Report and the Rachel Ray Show. Several books of Jordan’s photographs have been published, including Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait, In Katrina’s Wake: Portraits of Loss from an Unnatural Disaster andIntolerable Beauty: Portraits of American Mass Consumption.