A portrait of America in cans, bottles, and cell phones

Raw social statistics — did you know Americans discard 426,000 cell phones every day? — can benumb, and never quite convey the sheer amount of stuff the U.S. consumes. But photographer Chris Jordan has found a clever way to illustrate the scale of our appetites: By compiling thousands of small pictures into large, seamless images of disposable goods, he’s created elegant, monumental depictions of staggering excess.

At first, the pieces look like abstractions — an image of 2 million plastic beverage bottles, the number used in the U.S. every five minutes, resembles a teeming crowd — but on closer inspection, you can see that each image is made up of photographs of actual, individual objects. The further fact that each piece corresponds to a real-world statistic gives the items photographed a hypnotic, queasy power.

Because of the tsk-tsk agitprop, the images are both informative and stunning (our favorite: the imitation Seurat composed of aluminum cans). By visually interpreting the numbers behind our consumer culture, Jordan has managed to make waste beautiful.

VIEW Chris Jordan’s Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait

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A portrait of America in cans, bottles, and cell phones