Extraordinary photographs of our consumerist culture

A friend sent me this link to a website that contains some very unusual photographs by American artist Chris Jordan.

Each photograph depicts an item that is widely available in our culture (e.g. plastic cups, plastic bottles, barbie dolls, cigarette packets, toothpicks, cellphones, paper bags, cans, prison uniforms, children’s building blocks, pain killers, handguns, … ).

But it’s not just a snapshot of a single item, i.e. one plastic cup or one barbie doll. Instead, thousands or even millions of plastic cups or barbie dolls are all crammed into one single photograph. At normal resolution, you can see the individual items – but from a distance, you just see the pattern he has created with huge numbers of them.

It’s extraordinary.

And even more amazing is that he may be at the TED Africa Conference in Cape Town in September-October of 2008. For this exhibition he is compiling a series that relates to Africa. Gotta diarise that!

I’ll copy and paste in the artist’s own description.

Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait 

This series looks at contemporary American culture through the austere lens of statistics. Each image portrays a specific quantity of something: fifteen million sheets of office paper (five minutes of paper use); 106,000 aluminum cans (thirty seconds of can consumption) and so on. My hope is that images representing these quantities might have a different effect than the raw numbers alone, such as we find daily in articles and books. Statistics can feel abstract and anesthetizing, making it difficult to connect with and make meaning of 3.6 million SUV sales in one year, for example, or 2.3 million Americans in prison, or 410,000 paper cups used every fifteen minutes. This project visually examines these vast and bizarre measures of our society, in large intricately detailed prints assembled from thousands of smaller photographs. The underlying desire is to emphasize the role of the individual in a society that is increasingly enormous, incomprehensible, and overwhelming.

My only caveat about this series is that the prints must be seen in person to be experienced the way they are intended. As with any large artwork, their scale carries a vital part of their substance which is lost in these little web images. Hopefully the JPEGs displayed here might be enough to arouse your curiosity to attend an exhibition, or to arrange one if you are in a position to do so. The series is a work in progress, and new images will be posted as they are completed, so please stay tuned.

~chris jordan, Seattle, 2007

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