From a distance, most of Chris Jordan's images of American consumerism are strikingly beautiful.

There's a picture that looks like an abstract pen-and-ink drawing of squares and boxes. Another image shows millions of dots of color arranged en masse as if waves of water.

But up close, these photographs depict what Jordan believes is the waste and excess of the U.S. society. The pen-and-ink picture is actually an image of discarded cell phones. The dots of color in the water-like picture are actually 2 million plastic beverage bottles — the number Americans use every five minutes, according to Jordan.

Earlier this month, he was in Utah to talk to the Utah League of Cities and Towns about consumerism. He hopes his artwork will help Americans become more aware of how their consumption affects the planet.

"Really, my concern is that there is a cultural anesthesia we are feeling right now toward this," Jordan said, gesturing to a photograph of waste displayed during his presentation to the league. "America has lost its ability to feel."

About 10 years ago, Jordan quit his job as a lawyer to pursue photography. His initial work was focused more on colorful landscapes (his "callow lily" period, Jordan said), but he began to look at consumerism after some artist friends told him an image of a stack of crushed cars was "actually relevant."

From there, he began visiting junkyards, shipping ports and other industrial waste sites to snap photos of cell phones, sawdust, shredded steel and container boxes. But the pictures weren't capturing the scale of how much stuff Americans use each day, Jordan said.

So he turned to a new medium and began using Photoshop to stitch together huge digital images that visually depicted actual statistics of waste and excess in the U.S.: 426,000 cell phones to represent the number discarded each day; 15 million sheets of office paper to show how much is used every five minutes; 384,000 Barbie dolls to represent the number of women who get elective breast augmentation each year.

"I feel like I'm a translator taking raw statistics and translating them into a visual arena," Jordan said. "We've got to face these issues and then feel our shame."

His work is featured in two collections with the most recent titled "Running the Numbers, An American Self-Portrait." This fall, Jordan will participate in the Prix Pictet, an international competition for photographers who tell stories about environmental sustainability through their art.

For more information about Jordan, log on to: www.chrisjordan.com. You can see a video of him speaking about consumerism at: www.ted.com/index.php/speakers/chris_jordan.html.


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