January 7, 2013

Chris Jordan

Jordan grew up in Connecticut, but now works in Seattle, WA. After studying to be a lawyer, Jordan decided to devote his time and energy to being an artist. His main medium is photography and digital photographic collage.

Jordan focuses on themes in our society that stem from subconscious habits, cultural norms and trends such as mass consumption, high school dropout rates, plastic pollution in the oceans, and environmental destruction.

In his collage work, Jordan visually illustrates statistics so that the viewer can more fully understand and feel the magnitude of the information. Piecing together thousands of small images, he creates composite images that are both beautiful and powerful.

The statistics often focus on habits or norms that when done individually seem inconsequential, but collectively have incredible consequences on our society and our environment. These may be habits that we do individually, like get a fist full of plastic bags at the grocery store; or we do culturally, such as incarcerate a larger percentage of our population than any other country; and often have environmental implications, like over-fish the oceans.

I have transcribed a section of Jordan’s TED talk from 2008 (find the link below). His own words say it all:

“…the reason that I do this is it’s because I have this fear that we aren’t feeling enough as a culture right now. There’s this kind of anesthesia in America at the moment. We’ve lost our sense of outrage, our anger, and our grief about what’s going on in our culture right now, what’s going on in our country, the atrocities that are being committed in our names around the world. They’ve gone missing; these feelings have gone missing. Our cultural joy, our national joy is nowhere to be seen. And one of the causes of this I think is that as each of us attempts of build this new kind of world view, this whole optical world view, the holographic image that we are all trying to create in our mind of the interconnection of things, the environmental footprints a thousand miles away of the things that we buy the social consequences ten thousand miles away of the daily decisions that we make as consumers as we try to build this view and try to educate ourselves about the enormity of our culture, the information that we have to work with, is these gigantic numbers, things in, numbers in the millions, in the hundreds of millions and in the billions, and now the trillions, Bush’s new budget is in the trillions. These are numbers that our brains don’t have the ability to comprehend. We can’t make meaning out of these enormous statistics. And so that’s what I am trying to do with my work, is to take these numbers, these statistics from the raw language of data and to translate them into a more universal visual language that can be felt. Because my belief is that if we can feel these issues, if we can feel these things more deeply, then they’ll matter to us more than they do now. And if we can find that, then we will be able to find within each one of us, what it is that we need to find to face the big question, which is how do we change. That to me is the big question that we face as a people right now, is how do we change…”

Environmental issues in particular are extremely complex and often measured in very large numbers. I am sure that some of the brush-off and complacent attitudes towards environmental issues stem from a lack of true understanding and comprehension. Without understanding the seriousness of environmental destruction, climate change and their effects, it is silly to assume people will feel compassionate and/or be inspired to change the status quo. The key in Jordan’s work is making the viewer feel the numbers, feel the statistics, and feel their implications so that we can work on changing for a better world.  

Chris Jordan's website:

Chris Jordan: Turning powerful stats into art, a TED Talk

Intolerable Beauty: Portraits of American Mass Consumption
Cell phones #2, Atlanta 2005 44 x 90"
Running the Numbers II: Portraits of global mass culture
Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait

Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait

Midway: Message from the Gyre