Photographer Chris Jordan featured here at the 2009 Gel Conference, an annual exploration into what is good about business, technology, art, society, and life. Jordan wants to expose "the behaviors that we all engage in unconsciously, on a collective level," especially "the ones that we are in denial about." Yikes! Sounds like our shrink is about to violate our doctor-patient confidentiality... So be it. Chris Jordan may not be a psychotherapist, but his mission to depict our external mess winds its way back to the internal messes roiling within millions of human beings: not merely disconnected from nature, but unconscious of their own feelings.Former corporate lawyer-turned-eco activist Jordan's obsession is our waste; or, more specifically, how unchecked tossing habits build into massive waste, unsustainable streams of physical detritus. He aims to show you what you rarely see: where your trash goes once it leaves the curb or your office bin.
Sound repulsive? It's not. Jordan combines high resolution photographs of garbage with a big dose of creativity to create visually stunning works of art that look nothing like garbage to the naked eye. For instance, Jordan has taken Seurat's Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte and built it out of aluminum cans instead of paintbrush tip points. In another photograph, plastic airline cups become a post-industrial cartoon-like labyrinth of factory pipes.
Why portray the "cumulative effect of our consumption" this way? The alternative - statistical data - falls terribly short of the impact images have, says Jordan. Moreover, Jordan wants to remind us of the importance of perspective, informing our understanding by reminding us that what looks good from afar may not look so good up close.
What does Jordan hope to accomplish by giving us images of phenomena "both fascinating and frightening"? Beyond raising awareness by connecting the benefits of consumption with the consequences of waste, he hopes to get people feeling again and create a visual language that will allow us to express discomfort with the status quo and find ways to change it. Steven Colbert, who showcased Jordan a few months ago, called it "refreshing".
Jordan's series "Intolerable Beauty" takes American consumer society as his focus, but the artist has also explored issues including mass incarceration, smoking, (prescription and other) drug use, and even breast augmentation. Perhaps his work will one day move outside the boundaries of the US, and examine other waste streams, like the increasing flotsam and jetsam being generated by developing countries like China and India.
In any event, the the lines are blurring, perhaps even a neologism may emerge from the blend of psychotherapist and photographer, we leave that to the witty wordsmiths who populate comment threads. It's clear however that the mind alone cannot tackle what we've managed to toss out into the natural world. We must integrate the mind and the emotions, build up our feeling stamina, and realize that within each of us at any given moment are as many colors of feelings as there are plastic bottles in a Chris Jordan photo.
Chris Jordan dot com