Monday, May 25, 2009

"Running the Numbers"

If you haven't seen Chris Jordan's art, you're in for a powerful experience. If you've seen it, you no doubt remember it. Jordan puts American statistics into a visual form - one that enables us to "see" the actual numbers. For instance, what does 60,000 plastic bags - the amount Jordan says is used every five seconds in 2007 - look like? What does 2,000,000 plastic drink bottles - the number used every five minutes in 2007 - look like? Jordan shows us.

From Jordan's website:
Running the Numbers looks at contemporary American culture through the austere lens of statistics. Each image portrays a specific quantity of something: fifteen million sheets of office paper (five minutes of paper use); 106,000 aluminum cans (thirty seconds of can consumption) and so on. My hope is that images representing these quantities might have a different effect than the raw numbers alone, such as we find daily in articles and books. Statistics can feel abstract and anesthetizing, making it difficult to connect with and make meaning of 3.6 million SUV sales in one year, for example, or 2.3 million Americans in prison, or 32,000 breast augmentation surgeries in the U.S. every month. 

This project visually examines these vast and bizarre measures of our society, in large intricately detailed prints assembled from thousands of smaller photographs. Employing themes such as the near versus the far, and the one versus the many, I hope to raise some questions about the roles and responsibilities we each play as individuals in a society that is increasingly enormous, incomprehensible, and overwhelming. 

~chris jordan, Seattle, 2008 

I'm not sure I believe every statistic (the cell phone and plastic bag numbers seem way off to me), but whether or not you believe his statistics, it's a fascinating way of looking at large numbers. 

Thanks, Era, for reminding me of this artist. (She posted about this on her blog, Today's Thought.) I had been planning on digging up this website so that I could put some pictures to numbers for my kids. We had been putting together a proposal for a grant for eco-solutions, and I wanted to make a visual impact about our topic. (Perhaps, Era, you should have named it "Camille's Thought" that day, since you read my mind!)


  1. Very cool. And hey, you're writing a grant proposal?! Impressive! Hope to hear more about this.

  2. Grant proposal, huh. I love having proactive friends! Good luck with that. You're inspiring me to be more involved.