Chris Jordan – Running the Numbers


Chris Jordan is an internationally acclaimed artist and cultural activist based in Seattle. His work explores contemporary mass culture from a variety of photographic and conceptual perspectives, connecting the viewer viscerally to the enormity and power of humanity’s collective will. Edge-walking the lines between art and activism, beauty and horror, abstraction and representation, the near and the far, the visible and the invisible, his work asks us to consider our own multi-layered roles in becoming more conscious stewards of our complex and embattled world. Jordan’s works are exhibited and published worldwide.

Chris explains his work by saying, “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.”

Chris Jordan with an image depicting 8 million toothpicks, equal to the number of trees harvested in the US every month to make the paper for mail order catalogs.

Seattle-based photographer and photographic artist Chris Jordan gave a great presentation today. He’s vibrant, well-spoken and, despite saying all sorts of do-gooder stuff, still somehow comes across as cool. We think he rules and we’ve covered his stuff here and here, but let’s give you a few highlights from his talk.

Chris Jordan – Running the Numbers
Depicts 60,000 plastic bags, the number used in the US every five seconds.
Make it Visual. Chris believes that we’re not hardwired to understand statistics. His mission is to transform statistics into compelling altered photographs to help us homo sapiens be able to relate to them, to truly feel them.

Big Stuff is Made of Little Stuff. His pictures are often composites of millions of small things; aluminum cans, cell phones, bottles, etc.. He hopes to help people understand that these big, scary phenomena are still composed of single units and as such, our small moves matter and can make both a positive and negative impact.

Through his photographs, he wants to help people face up to what is, to help them “feel” the American consumer system and understand that their actions truly matter, that these bigger problems are really simply a matter of millions of small moves made by you and I. Can you feel me here people?

Chris Jordan – Running the Numbers
Depicts 426,000 cell phones, equal to the number of cell phones retired in the US every day.

Three random-but-important points from his presentation:

1) He shows a picture of a car shredding place in Tacoma and talks about how we shred these cars, send them back to China, they make ships out of them, fill them full of plastic and head them back toward us.
2) Another picture shows a dump containing thousands of cell chargers (actual cell phones are pictured above), Chris noted that surprisingly many of them clearly had never been used as they still had the little twistie things on them. Sad.
3) Yet another is a Seurat painting created from many small pictures of aluminum cans. The picture is composed of 106,000 cans, which is what the U.S. uses in 30 seconds (yikes). This is a 70×100 foot wall. Chris quipped that it’s particularly sad as the contents of these are mostly sugared water and piss-poor beer.

Chris Jordan – Running the Numbers

Here are a few ways to help:

1) Chris wants to make a documentary film. If you can help, contact him.
2) He suggests reading two books: “New World, New Mind” by Robert Ornstein and Paul Ehrlich (for sale here and PDF version here) and “Blessed Unrest” by Paul Hawken.
3) Stop drinking them bottled liquids whenever you can; here’s a world of reasons to ditch bottled water. And if you do, recycle ’em or even upcycle ’em.
4) Check out his books at your local library (and if they don’t have one, buy one for them) and share with your friends.

Chris Jordan – Running the Numbers
Depicts two million plastic beverage bottles, the number used in the US every five minutes.

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