COOL was born in hope of becoming a bridge to let the art lovers all over the world inspire each other, link together as one, and create a new future in arts. The main contents consist of interviews of both New York-based and international artists and creators, special feature articles, art reports from around the world, reviews and column series. We contribute to the cultural exchange through arts and to the development of the art industry so that people in the world can enjoy arts casually and New York and major cities in the world can connect through the media COOL.
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60,000 every 5 seconds. 106,000 every 30 seconds. 2,000,000 every 5 minutes. 426,000 every day. Can you guess what these numbers represent? In the consumer’s country U.S.A., 60,000 plastic bags are being used every 5 seconds; 106,000 aluminum cans every 30 seconds and 2,000,000 plastic bottles every 5 minutes are being thrown away; and 626,000 cell phones end their life every day. This is the unbelievable truth that embodies American society. Photographer, Chris Jordan cuts out to frame the grim face of contemporary society humans have created. Lawyer turned Photographer, see this peculiar artist’s real world.

Handguns, 2007 © Chris Jordan

COOL: How did photography get introduced into your life first?

Chris Jordan(CJ): My parents were both artists for many years— Dad was a photographer and Mom was a watercolor painter, so in that way photography was natural for me. But it stayed as just a hobby until I was almost forty years old. For my profession I was a corporate lawyer, working long depressing hours doing work that had little personal meaning for me. Photography was my creative escape, but I was afraid to take the risk of trying it full time and failing. Finally when I was about to turn forty, I saw that I was not fully living— that I was going to become an old person filled with regret, so I decided to leave my law job and make a go of it as a full-time artist. What has happened to me since then— only five years ago—has been truly astonishing.

COOL: What does art mean to you?

CJ: Art can have many functions, but the one I am most interested in is art’s ability to hold up a mirror to society, to show people things they might not have known about themselves. Art can help us wake up to what is unconscious in our behavior, either as individuals or collectively; like a friend of an alcoholic who says “I think you have a drinking problem that you are not facing.”

Art can be a powerful tool that way, but it requires the artist to be self-reflective, to respect and honor the complexity of the issues, and not be preachy or hypocritical or one-dimensional. When I look at myself, I have to admit that I am an American consumer, with feelings of greed--and lots of nice belongings to prove it, so I am in no position to preach to anyone about these things. But at the same time, I can speak up. Maybe the alcoholic’s friend is also an alcoholic himself, but that doesn’t mean he has to remain silent.

  Cell Phones, 2007 © Chris Jordan

COOL: What are the attractions of photography?

CJ: I think the medium of color photography holds the unique position of being the most representational of all art forms. Many photographic artists have explored the edges of this issue, trying to show that photography can never be truly objective. But compared with all other art forms, color photography is the most representational. So in this way, color photography has the power to serve as the clearest mirror possible for what is going on the real world.

Lately I have wanted to depict the true scale of our mass culture, and I discovered that this is impossible with straight photography, because our consumption and waste is spread out across our country. There is nowhere you can go to see it all in one place and photograph it. In that way, the cumulative effects of our consumption are invisible; the only evidence we have of it comes in the form of statistics. So for my Running the Numbers series, I began using computers together with photography to create photographic images that could not be made in the real world.

I am not sure these images can still be called photographs in the traditional sense, but people still think of me as a photographer. A couple of my Running the Numbers images were not even made with a camera—they were made with small photos that I downloaded from the internet.

COOL: What do you want the audience to think or feel by seeing your work?

CJ: On one level, my work is about presenting visual evidence of some enormous and frightening problems we are facing a society. The scale of these issues is difficult to experience via statistics alone, so I try to depict the issues visually in a way that can be felt more directly.

On another level, I hope my work might help to affirm the viewers’ sense of their own place in the world. Each of my Running the Numbers images is made of many individual things that combine to make up a huge collective. When you stand back, you can see the collective, and then when you walk up close, you can see the individuals that make up the collective. The collective is nothing more than lots and lots of individuals. I know this might sound obvious, but there is an important truth in there: every individual matters. This is something that is hard for people to really feel in our society that is so incomprehensibly huge and complex. So the hope behind my work is to affirm for each viewer that they matter— they have a valuable place in the collective. This is a subtle way of attempting to influence others into looking at their own behaviors that may be contributing to the collective problems of our culture.

COOL: What initially got you interested in environmental problems?

CJ: That issue actually found me, quite by chance. I took my first picture of a pile of garbage for purely aesthetic reasons. I made a big print and hung it on my studio wall, and my friends who saw it would start talking about consumerism. At that time I was not interested in consumerism, only aesthetic photography, and so I was annoyed when people misinterpreted my photograph! But after awhile, I realized I could take my work in that direction, as a way of engaging more deeply with the contemporary world. Ever since then I have become more and more interested in consumerism and issues of mass culture. It was a kind of waking-up for me, to discover these enormously important issues that I didn’t care about previously. Now I know what it means to be an engaged citizen, but this is very recent for me; just a few years ago, I didn’t care at all about my consumerism, or my environmental impact, or even to vote in our elections.

COOL: What's your main focus right now?

CJ: I continue to work on new pieces for Running the Numbers, and I am also doing a lot of public speaking and traveling at the moment. I feel a bit overwhelmed lately, trying to expand my working capacity by hiring some people to help manage my studio. The response to my work has been wonderful, beyond my dreams, but also I am discovering that with each set of new experiences comes a new set of problems. Now I have a new respect for people who start small businesses and grow them into bigger companies-- I am having some growing pains.

COOL: What is the most exciting moment in your life?

CJ: I think maybe it was back in early 2007, when I posted my Running the Numbers series on my website for the first time, and within a few weeks the site began to receive hundreds of thousands of visits. It was thrilling to see my work spread virally across the web, reaching an enormous audience within a short time. I think the response to my work is the result of a craving that many people feel, for a more sensible and ethical way of being in the world. I think we all sense the insanity of what we are doing collectively, and yet we have trouble making the leap to changing our own individual behavior.

COOL: What is the most impressive work you've done?

CJ: One piece that shocks me every time I see it is the one called “Prison Uniforms.” That is a huge print that shows 2.3 million prison uniforms, equal to the number of Americans in prison in 2005. America has the largest prison population of any country in the world, measured two ways: by the absolute number (no other country has that many people in prison, including China and India, with four times our population), and also per capita, meaning that we have the largest percentage of our population in prison of any country in the world.

In the print of this piece, each prison uniform is tiny—a few millimeters tall by one centimeter wide. But even at that tiny size, to show 2.3 million of them requires a print that is three meters tall by eight meters wide. It is shocking to stand in front of that print and realize the enormity of this uniquely American version of “liberty.”

COOL: What is your future vision?

CJ: That is a scary question because it reminds me that I eventually will have to step back into the unknown again. This year I will be traveling and doing lots of public speaking and exhibition of my Running the Numbers series. But I also see the end of that series coming in the distance, and it will be time to move on to something new again. That is always a frightening time for me, when I wonder if I have run out of ideas, and if I will ever do anything creative again. But that is a risk that I prefer over the alternative: staying in the same place, repeating successes, fearing to try something new. I did that as a lawyer for ten years, so I know what security feels like. For me its price is too high.

COOL: Message to your fans, please.

CJ: I would love to exhibit my work in Japan! I hope there is a way for that to happen.
And thank you for reading this.With my warm regards from across the Pacific.

Interview by Sei Koike

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