Chris Jordan

February 28, 2019
The Great Hall

Reflection | Podcast | VideoPhotos

Finding the connection between activism, consumerism, and humanities collective will through photography. Chris Jordan's work explores the collective shadow of contemporary mass culture from a variety of photographic and conceptual perspectives. Edge-walking the lines between beauty and horror, abstraction and representation, the near and the far, the visible and the invisible, Jordan’s images confront the enormous power of humanity’s collective will. His works are exhibited and published worldwide.



On Thursday, February 28th photographer and Artist in Residence, Chris Jordan talked to students about his photographic work and his documentary film, Albatross, in which Chris and a crew visited Midway Island several times to photograph the legendary sea-bird bearing the same name. 

Chris began his talk by discussing how statistics gathered about the unconscious behaviors we all engage in have consequences most of us did not intend for, nor expect. He then demonstrated how that impact is understood more readily by showing a photographic representation of how many disposable paper cups are consumed by Americans in just fifteen minutes. He told the audience that there was not a canvas, nor a printer large enough for him to represent the number of cups used each day.

Continuing his theme of understanding the collective unconscious behavior, Chris showed a photograph of prison uniforms folded and stacked upon each other. He showed a series of photos that increasingly "zoomed" out, which revealed that it represented the over 2.3 million imprisoned people in America. He explained that there was not a printer large enough to accommodate the size of canvas he was seeking, so it was split into six-rectangular panels that ended up being 10 feet wide and 25 feet tall. Chris then showed a photograph of his parents standing in front of the installation with the rust colored canvases towering over them.

Chris Jordan believes that photographs can help illustrate statistics of the reality of the collective unconscious behavior through a visual language. It is through this visual language that we are allowed to consciously choice to be confronted with the reality, or we can choose to simply consume them as images. Throughout the making of his film, Albatross, Chris Jordan found he was confronted with the reality of the collective unconscious behaviors. Upon his arrival to Midway island during one trip, the crew had arrived to a beach with dozens of washed-up albatrosses who died during a recent typhoon. Chris says they had the "macabre privilege" of actually seeing if the plastic swirling around in the Pacific-Gyre was truly ending up in the stomachs of seabirds, as many climate and environmental professionals had previously claimed. Chris found the claims to be true. Bird after bird laid dead upon the beach with bellies full of plastic-- bottle caps, lids, lighters, cosmetics bottles, etc.

After viewing these images, Chris Jordan told the audience that he hoped that no one was saddened, but rather, that "we have the courage to face our reality." Documenting the tragedy that is occurring to these majestic seabirds was not done out of a passion to save the albatross, Jordan said, but to act as an alarm, or a confrontation. One that asks us when we are faced to choose—will we face our fear and carry the mantle of grief for the consequences we all unconsciously collectively caused, or will we ignore the alarm, the sacrifice of the albatross, that has been given to us?


Audio Transcript