Beautifully Disgusting: Turning Statistics into Art.

Photo by Chris Jordan |

Normally when you hear the words garbage, waste and art together someone is either talking about a bad experience at an art museum or something strange out of the fashion world (Derelicte-esque for all you Zoolander fans). When Chris Jordan is the artist, neither of those stereotypes is the case.

Chris Jordan is a long-zoom photographic artist who has been making headlines in art, environment, consumerism and statistics. His pieces depict things like one million plastic cups or the amount used on airline flights in the United States every 6 hours and 320,000 light bulbs or the number of kilowatt hours of electricity wasted in the United States every minute from inefficient residential electricity usage (seen above).

The Seattle-based artist attempts to put the massive numbers involved in consumerism and mass culture into perspective through his images. His pieces are similar to photo-mosaics in that they are a main image made up of smaller image components. The major difference is that Jordan’s work isn’t picturing album covers of your favourite musician, it’s usually just garbage. Yet Jordan somehow manages to bring out the beauty in the waste and the horror in it, all at the same time.

Chris creates his pieces through a variety of different methods. Usually, it involves multiple shots of the image subject which can range from pop bottles to batteries to Barbie dolls and then there is a lot of photo editing. The logistics of creating these images behind mass numbers also involves some difficulties with printing. When Chris had to print his piece of 2.3 million prison uniforms to show the amount of Americans imprisoned in the United States, he shrunk each uniform down to the size of a nickel. Even with this size decreasing, the print was too large for any printer available and had to be broken up into six panels that were 10 feet tall by 25 feet wide.

Originally a lawyer, Chris opted to switch into a career of photography in 2003 and has steadily been making headlines ever since. Jordan has three published books, averages speaking at over 20 events a year including prestigious art museums and TED conferences, and is annually published in over 30 magazines, newspapers and journals.

The main goal of Chris Jordan’s work is to expose people and give context to the massive numbers involved with things like the garbage produced, the energy wasted and the people affected in the world. He believes that large numbers like those in the hundreds of thousands, millions and billions are hard to understand because we have no reference for them in our daily lives.

As said he said at TED, his work is about unconscious behaviours. They are not things that we all intend to do but when millions of people accidentally behave this way, it creates big consequences. Whether you take this message as activism towards the environment, consumerism or mass culture is up to you. The big question that Chris believes is, “How do we change? How do we each individually take responsibility for the one piece of the solution that we are in charge of? That is our own behaviour.”

So for whatever reason, the next time you elect to bypass the reusable option and think that just one time will not hurt, think about the impact of that choice. Now think about the impact of that choice if hundreds of millions of people think the same way. As Chris Jordan’s work shows, it’s small things that add up to make a big picture.