30 September 2007

Chris Jordan

"Talking to Americans about consumerism is like talking to someone
with an alcohol problem. Our culture is in deep denial about what we
are doing to our planet, to the people of other nations, and the
people of the future. And maybe the biggest tragedy of all is that we
are in denial about how our consumer lifestyle is sapping
our own spirits. We are slowly killing ourselves, and we all feel it.
We know we are somehow getting screwed, that all this stuff
isn’t really satisfying, that we have lost something sacred that
is related to the very core of our selves. But still we don’t act."
~ Chris Jordan

"Prison Uniforms, 2007"*

My friend Susan pointed out that while I was in England last week, Bill Moyers ran a brief, interesting segment on Chris Jordan. Among the links on the Moyers page is one to this terrific interview from earlier this year, conducted by Joerg Colberg and subsequently published in Orion. I lifted the opening quote for Joerg's interview.

"Prison Uniforms, 2007" (Detail)

Several things struck me as extremely interesting about Jordan's comments on the increasingly "critical" stance he adopts in his work.

The first is that he came to recognize and indeed embrace (at one point he refers to himself as an "activist") this critical perspective only slowly and, at least initially, somewhat reluctantly. I have to say that the Moyers interview reveals a quite striking transformation in Jordan's self-conception.

Second, in this respect it seems Jordan affords a useful comparison to, say, Ed Burtynsky, about whom I have posted before (e.g., [1] [2] [3]). This is true too, it seems to me, in terms of their overlapping themes and styles (i.e., large print size, striking colors, etc.).

Finally, and this is something that I find intriguing, is his contrast between the aggregates he shows in his photographs and those we might capture in statistics. This contrast s a fairly common but typically under-argued theme (see, for instance the running contrast in David Levi Strauss's Between the Eyes) in discussions of photography. I am not prepared here to explore it at length, but will put it on my agenda and start keeping track of citations.

Having say all that, the piece I have lifted here makes a nice commentary on the way we dispose not simply of cell phones or circuit boards and other consumer waste, but how we dispose (or seek to) of human lives. It is part of an exhibition entitled "Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait" showing in Los Angeles through late October.


*According to Jordan's web site work is "10x23 feet in six vertical panels. Depicts 2.3 million folded prison uniforms, equal to the number of Americans incarcerated in 2005." In the Moyers interview he is quite clear that this number is outrageous and that it far outstrips (both in absolute and relative terms) the comparative numbers from even those repressive regimes that we in the U.S. constantly criticize. For more on this matter see this earlier post.

P.S.: It seems to me that Jordan's work stands as something of an indictment of the recent preoccupation in the American media regarding the environmental degradation occurring in China. Of course, we whould not let the Chinese off the hook. But Jordan's various pieces bring home the extent to which we are creating envornmanetal mayhem ourselves. But we should also follow Jordan and start loking at home too. (I have in mind the multi-part story ~"Choking on Growth " [1] [2] ~ that The New York Times has run recently.)

[Both images in this post © Chris Jordan.]



Blogger Stan B. said...

The opening quote by Jordan in this post immediately brought to mind the madness that is imaging technology (eg- digital photography) these days with new and improved software, megapixels and printers being introduced every other month (often so that the ultmate result can best mimic film), and I'm betting at no small cost to said environment.

30 September, 2007 21:19  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

Stan, In one of the interviews (I cannot recall which) Jordan is quite explicit about how the technical processes he rellies on leave a massive environmental "footprint." He seems to grasp the irony of using these processses to make images that he hopes will prompt viewers to ponder environmental issues. I suspect that irony is not lost on Burtynsky either (as I understand it, he developed several unique production techniques for making his lare color images).

01 October, 2007 09:42  
Anonymous Anonymous said...



Oooh, care to explain WHAT, EXACTLY, thats supposed to mean Jimbo considering that action ie. psychological/cultural/physical activity happens every day in myriad ways all around the world at every strata.

Grow up, boy.

04 October, 2007 16:02  
Blogger tim atherton said...

Chris let me know he is supposed to be on The Colbert Report on October 10th (all other things beign equal).

I think he's expecting to get his ass whooped one way or another...

09 October, 2007 10:33  

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