A visualization aid for U.S. consumption

How many mobile phones does the world's richest country discard daily? An artists gives you a feel for the true magnitude.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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Stephen Shankland
2 min read

There's been a lot of teeth-gnashing of late about photojournalists for the Toledo Blade or Reuters doctoring photos, but photo manipulation is alive and well--not to mention perfectly legitimate--in artistic circles as a way to dramatize. One compelling message is delivered in a batch of photos is by Chris Jordan.

A portion of Cans Seurat by Chris Jordan shows U.S. can consumption Chris Jordan

Jordan created several images for an exhibit called Running the Numbers--An American Self-Portrait that could be considered a brute-force approach to the visual display of quantitative information. Each image is a montage of a gargantuan number of various objects that people in the United States consume.

One shows the 426,000 cell phones that are retired daily. Another, the 60,000 plastic bags used every five seconds. My favorite is the reconstruction of George Seurat's Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Le Grande Jatte made from the 106,000 aluminum cans the country uses every 30 seconds.

"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," he said. "

The real images can be up to 25 feet wide, though most are merely 6 or 8 feet. Johnson helpfully has included versions at various magnifications on his Web site. But the Web has its limits.

"The prints must be seen in person to be experienced the way they are intended. As with any large artwork, their scale carries a vital part of their substance which is lost in these little Web images," Jordan said.

The exhibit opens June 14 and runs through the end of July at the Von Lintel Gallery in New York.

(Via Mike Johnston)