Chris Jordan's America by the Numbers

Chris Jordan is an artist of the future because of the powerful linkage he makes between planetary consequences and the individual decisions of consumers. Jordan’s work bears a kinship with the film, American Beauty, which presents the delicate dance of a plastic shopping bag as high art, reminding us that much of what we see is in how we see it. Jordan has turned a cliche on its head by demonstrating that art really is trash!

Cans Seurat, 2007
Depicts 106,000 aluminum cans, the number used in the US every thirty seconds.

Running the Numbers
An American Self-Portrait

This new 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 426,000 cell phones retired every day. This project visually examines these vast and bizarre measures of our society, in large intricately detailed prints assembled from thousands of smaller photographs. My 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

Other Works by Jordan

Cell Phones, 2007
Depicts 426,000 cell phones, equal to the number of cell phones retired in the US every day.

Systemic thinking will characterize the future of civilized humanity, if there is to be one. Jordan has organized the chaotic and stepped just far enough back from it to reveal a possibility few could imagine. Just as gooey algae is becoming a potent fuel of the future, so may garbage be reconstructed to create unexpected delights. The future is a place in which what we thought we saw we may not have seen. The sheer magnitude of our waste is too large for the imagination; too large to be made visible. Chris Jordan gives us beautiful and startling images of our consumption and waste day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute.

Skull With Cigarette, 2007 [based on a painting by Van Gogh]
Depicts 200,000 packs of cigarettes, equal to the number of Americans who die from cigarrette smoking every six months.

Chris Jordan

Studio address:
6711 10th Ave NW, Seattle, WA 98117
Phone: (206) 706-1550

Former corporate attorney turned photographic artist, Chris Jordan explains that he never used to be focused upon making a social statement with his work. ‘All I was interested in about photography was aesthetic beauty…places where color appears inadvertently.

Yet after photographing a large pile of garbage that he deemed ‘really beautiful,’ friends began to point him toward the social repercussions inherent in his work regarding waste and American consumerism. ‘It’s something that I truly cannot take credit for, is finding my way to consumerism as my subject. Becauseit found me.


Bill Moyers’ Journal September 21, 2007