Did you know that in the United States we consume:

  • 60,000 plastic bags every five seconds?
  • 106,000 aluminum cans every thirty seconds?
  • two million plastic beverage bottles every five minutes?

Sounds like a lot. But sometimes big numbers are too abstract to fully fathom. We need ways to visualize them.

That’s exactly what Seattle artist Chris Jordan does with his manipulated photographs depicting, well, stuff. Stuff in massive quantities—stuff in the quantities that we routinely produce, use, and toss it away.

Barbie Dolls by Chris Jordan

It sounds cliche, but the result is that his photographs tiptoe a fine line between beautiful and grotesque. It’s consumer waste displayed in gorgeous patterns of color and texture. It’s pleasing to the eye. But the photos are jarring to the mind. This is consumption—wastefulness and pollution—spelled out in undeniable visual strokes. The trail of garbage we leave behind defines us, defines our culture.

Many of Jordan’s images portray a specific quantity of something: 426,000 cell phones (the number retired every day); 2.3 million orange prison uniforms (the number of Americans incarcerated annually); 106,000 aluminum cans (the number used in the US every 30 seconds).

If you’re in Seattle between now and January 3, 2010, you can see Jordan’s large-scale photos in person, in all their haunting and sobering glory at the Pacific Science Center.


Photo courtesy: Chris Jordan and Pacific Science Center. Barbies, detail.