Contributing Monkie G Living Staff Monkies
Published on December 11, 2009
My favorite photo from Chris Jordan’s show, Running the Numbers, is the first one I saw: Jet Trails. 11,000 white jet trails set against a soft blue sky gave off an ethereal feel while evoking a sense of childhood adventure and freedom something similar to staring at airplanes and cloud formations in the sky at seven. Impulsively, I wanted to melt into the photograph and experience flight, take me into it and away from the mess of life on earth.
But regardless of my reaction to the photo, Chris Jordan’s 11,000 jet trails are a visual representation of the number of commercial flights in the U.S. every eight hours. Of course, the real meaning behind the pretty picture is the effect these thousands of jet trails have on our environment. Jordan is reminding dreamers like me that the mess is also being created in air.
Beautiful Photo, Ugly Reality
All of Jordan’s photo titles exhibited in Running the Numbers are as straightforward as the U.S. waste statistics that each picture brings to life. Other photos in the exhibit at L.A.’s Paul Kopeikin Gallery included Paper Bags, which depicts 1.14 million brown paper supermarket bags, the number used in the U.S. every hour, and Cell Phones — which is, yes, a photo of 426,000 cell phones, the number retired in this country every day.
Then there’s Plastic Bottles two million plastic beverage bottles, the number used in the U.S. every five minutes, which could fill 8 football fields.
Cans Seurat, based on the famous painting by Georges Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon at the Grande Jatte, illustrates 106,000 aluminum cans, the number used by the American people every thirty seconds.
While the statistics alone are sickening, you would think Jordan’s visuals would come off equally disgusting, but somehow his large scale photographs are both awesome and attractive.
Jordan has said that while his past work has been about finding beauty, he’s currently focused on the notion that “there is no public out there who needs to change… it’s each one of us.” So, when his simple process of assembling tons of smaller photographs in Photoshop to create the overall image is criticized, he doesn’t flinch. The technique he’s using is ideal for this project series and goes along with the meaning. Jordan wants onlookers to recognize the incremental destruction that every consumer on our planet is doing when they make impulsive decisions. I doubt that Jordan expects his audience to stop getting on commercial flights, but I do think if the average person experienced Running in Numbers firsthand, it’s possible they would never again buy a can of soda or bottled thirst quenchers. The heaps of Propel, Gatorade, Dasani, and on and on, are darn hard to forget.
Like a lot of us, Jordan admits to having given in to the seduction of consumer culture. He’s not too proud to call himself an American consumer, but it’s apparent through his art that he’s now reflecting heavily on his own responsibility to the earth. He has said that what brings him the most joy now is the creative process of making and printing new photographs. I think its fair to say that creating art of some kind is a way to find fulfillment and keep anyone from excessive consumerism. But the stinker is eliminating all of the tiny things purchased that will go to waste in a matter of minutes when adding self, plus a thousand and more. We are not alone.
Depicts 2.3 million folded prison uniforms, equal to the number of Americans incarcerated in 2005.