Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Picturing American Waste

Posted October 19, 2007
Chris Jordan: Picturing American Waste
by Solvie Karlstrom

Filed under: Recycling, Waste reduction, Waste management, Recycling, reuse, reduction, electronic waste

Every thirty seconds in the U.S., 106,000 aluminum soda cans are tossed out. That's more soft drink than we can imagine, much less swallow, and yet, every time we drink a Coke we add one more can to that number. For the photographer Chris Jordan, making these numbers tangible has become an artistic challenge, even an obsession. "I'm trying to get at the scale of our consumer society," Jordan says. "When you hear numbers like the 130 million cell phones that we throw out every year, it's difficult to comprehend." It may be no coincidence that Jordan is a former corporate lawyer, for he approaches waste with a legal eye for detail, creating photographs that serve as forensic evidence. Each field of plastic bottles, column of paper bags or sky full of jet contrails takes its place in an argument about the role we all play in harming the environment.

Jordan's process is meticulous, to say the least. Working with a batch of bottles, cell phones or plastic bags, he takes hundreds of photos of the items in different arrangements, then stitches them together on a computer before making his print. In one striking example, an image of 2.3 million folded prison uniforms to represent each person in a U.S. jail, he was staggered to realize he needed to print an image ten feet tall by twenty-three feet wide. To make these sizes more manageable, though, Jordan generally works with smaller amounts, creating an image of 60,000 plastic bags, the number used in the U.S. every five seconds, which still stands an impressive 5 feet tall and six feet wide.

Making all this waste visible isn't only a technical challenge—once our trash is collected, it's shifted so well out of sight that even to photograph it forced Jordan on at least one occasion to sneak into a recycling yard in the thick of a foggy Seattle morning. Unfortunately, he found himself locked in and had to escape through a gap in the bottom of a fence, slipping his camera through piecemeal. He emerged covered in mud and shaken, but with a set of photographs that inspired other recycling centers to open their doors to him.

It takes such efforts to make the connection between the numbers and our own consumption. "Everybody has this sense that there is some other bad entity out there that's doing all the consuming," Jordan says, "because, none of our consumption looks that bad. I just bought a new iPod, and it didn't destroy the world." It was only recently that Jordan himself made that connection. During his ten-year legal stint in Seattle, Jordan says he felt that he was doing work that was fundamentally contrary to his principles. "I was living a pretty disengaged life. I didn't care about consumerism; I didn't vote. I was a free rider. I thought, everyone else will take care of the environment."

Yet Jordan says that turning his photography into a full-time pursuit has accompanied a shift in perspective, allowing him to see the worth of individual actions. "All of a sudden, the plastic bottle that I'm holding in my hand has to be recycled," he says. "I'll pack it wherever I have to to get it recycled, because this bottle matters. And that's the thing I'm trying to get to with this work." For more images, see www.chrisjordan.com.

Responsible Electronics Recycling by Jemilah Magnusson
Tapped Out: The True Cost of Bottled Water by Solvie Karlstrom
Picking the Right Milk Container by P.W. McRandle

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Its thundering news about me. Because recently Mr.George Bush released a word like... Americans are not wasting anything like food. Only third countries are having too much Food wastage. So in this case this message is very inform for me.
mobile phone recycling