Greening our lifestyles is a big trend right now. Photographer Chris Jordan is doing his part by raising a flag about the fact that America’s mass consumption of stuff, anything and everything, is in overdrive. Jordan’s love-hate relationship with trash started when he was in the port of south Seattle and took a picture of a compressed ton of garbage. He pinned it up on the wall of his studio and kept coming back to it, troubled by the fact that the picture couldn’t begin to show how much trash there really is in the country.
Jordan started going to landfills and junkyards, taking aerial views of these places to try and capture the scale of our rampant consumption. His series, Intolerable Beauty, tries to visually comprehend overwhelming statistics about consumption that can be really hard to envision—426,000 (the number of cell phones thrown away in America every day); 1.14 million (the amount of paper bags used in supermarkets every hour); and 60,000 (how many plastic bags are in the U.S. every five seconds). He does this by taking a relatively low number of these items, usually 200 or so, and making a digital photo of them. Then he splices the image together over and over until, mathematically, the photo shows the huge number he was shooting for.
Most concepts are more difficult to comprehend in the abstract. It is hard to make mass consumption meaningful because we can’t experience numbers and statistics in and of themselves. We can’t feel or see these amounts. But Jordan is trying to bridge that gap and get us to fess up to an addiction to stuff that, thanks to him, has been dragged into plain sight.