Plastic and the Albatross

I have spent a couple of hours over the last week or two reading and viewing Chris Jordan’s video blog about his “Midway Journey.”  At www.midwayjourney.com, Chris shares photos and video clips as he journals his experience walking amid the decimation of young Albatross birds on the Midway Atoll.  As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, Chris has some truly exceptional insight into the current state of waste on our planet.  I’m going to come right out say that this guy is a true visionary, a rare genius of visual communication.  Given that I am a teacher of visual arts, that statement is not to be taken lightly.  Chris has an ability to allow us to see realities about our world that we simply cannot (or chose not to) see.  Chris’ works encourages us to break down the barriers that exist in an age in which we are bombarded with statistics and factual information.  Chris has an exceptional ability to use a visual media to inspire change. 

The Midway Atoll is an oasis of sand, coral (and now plastic waste) in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean, thousands of miles from the nearest continent.  Chris’ new photographic work documents the decimation of thousands of baby Albatross birds that occurs each year on the Midway Atoll.  Chris explains that, “The nesting babies are fed bellies-full of plastic by their parents, who soar out over the vast polluted ocean collecting what looks to them like food to bring back to their young. On this diet of human trash, every year tens of thousands of albatross chicks die on Midway from starvation, toxicity, and choking.”

Some may find the visuals that Chris has captured to be disturbing or disgusting.  Regardless, the images speak clearly – and very loudly – about the impact of our ways of life and mass consumption and waste.  Statistics and facts attempt to communicate that our human mass consumption is causing significant changes to our planet.  There is a plethora of information outlining that our ways of living are responsible for the destruction and extinction of exceeding species of life.  However, statistics and facts lack emotion and immediate connection to our reality.  This is where Chris’ work truly comes to life.  Chris’ images do what statistics and facts often cannot.  They make us feel our impact.  These images make these realities actually matter to us.  The message is extremely clear.

Chris Jordan – Picturing Excess

Chris Jordan is one of the most amazing visual artists working today.  If you haven’t been introduced to his photographic artwork, now is the time to become acquainted.  Check out his web-site at ChrisJordan.com.  His works are enormous, aesthetically beautiful, mind-boggling, and thought-provoking.  I was introduced to Chris’ works through a video of his presentation on TED Talks.  This may be a great starting point for anyone who is not yet familiar with what Chris is doing. 

Chris Jordan

Chris Jordan

Chris puts statistics into a visual format so that we can truly understand.  Facts and statistics are often provided to inform or to educate.  However, statistics and facts are overwhelming and often completely impossible to comprehend.  A problem arises when facts contain very large numbers.  What does 1 billion actually mean?  When statistics contain gigantic numbers, they lose their meaning because it is just too difficult to comprehend how big they really are.  Chris’ work attempts to break down the barriers between the language of statistics and facts that bombard us in an age of information overload, and to allow us to find meaning. 

Chris understands that seeing is believing, and he creates a visual portrait of our world today that allows us to see and understand just how wasteful we are.  Chris has created two series of works titled Running the Numbers.  The first series is An American Self-Portrait.  His second is A Portrait of Global Mass Culture.  The works in these series show us an arresting view of what Western culture looks like.  His supersized images picture some almost unimaginable statistics — like the astonishing number of paper cups we use every single day.

Running the Numbers

Running the Numbers

Chris creates these enormous images in order to help us feel more as a society; in order for issues to really matter to us.  He aims to break through the anesthetizing effect that most statistics have.  His main goal is to help us to wake up from our slumbering state of mass consumption, to face the facts, and to find ways to create change.  His artworks make us confront the real issues of our time, and they make us question how we are going to create change.  Perhaps this is why I love Chris’ work so much.  I feel where Chris is coming from.   Often I feel the need to scream WAKE UP.  I feel that too many of us need to wake up and take our heads out of the sand.  It is time for us to stop pretending that there is nothing wrong with our culture of global mass consumption.  It is time for us to stop many things.  It is time for us to wake up, and to demand change, create change, and to be the change that we want to see in this world.