Chris Jordan was low on my list of priorities but this timely post by Mike Kelley at Change.org (a blog as impressive for its readers’ comments as it is for the straight forward presentation of Jordan’s work) compelled me to bump it up and champion the depressingly and unfathomable figures that arise when one simply runs the numbers.

Chris Jordan. Depicts 2.3 million folded prison uniforms, equal to the number of Americans incarcerated in 2005. The U.S. has the largest prison population of any country in the world.

Chris Jordan. Prison Uniforms, 2007. 10x23 feet in six vertical panels. Depicts 2.3 million folded prison uniforms, equal to the number of Americans incarcerated in 2005. The U.S. has the largest prison population of any country in the world.

In reading Change.org’s straight forward commentary on America’s broken criminal justice system, I signed up for Change.org and read a few of their older posts. In doing so I was presented with the catalyst to comment on Obama’s momentous inauguration without repeating the media-lovefest that has surrounded the 44th’s swearing in. This post will cover Jordan’s astounding artwork, Obama’s astounding tasks-at-hand and where they politically overlap.

Chris Jordan. Prison Uniforms, 2007. Partial zoom.

Chris Jordan. Prison Uniforms, 2007. Partial zoom.

Chris Jordan has spent his time making larger and larger photographic constructions to communicate the scale at which American society wastes its resources, its environmental future and its grasp on logic. In his effort to catalogue the linear and thoughtless waste of the US, he has progressed from crushed automobiles, to cell phone chargers, to polystyrene cups to American prisoners.

Jordan is a bright guy, now consumed by his photography (which to be quite frank is eco-hip and brilliantly executed). He talks passionately about a sea-change in our cultural consumption. He specialises in highlighting “the behaviours that we all engage in unconsciously on a collective level … the actions we are in denial about and the ones that operate below our daily awareness … like when you’re mean to you wife because you’re mad about something else or when you drink too much at a party because you’re nervous.” Jordan is no prophet, he just sees the necessary u-turn we must all make in our habits and thoughts to move toward sustainable existence.

Prison Uniforms, 2007. 10x23 feet in six vertical panels. Detail at half actual size.

Chris Jordan. Prison Uniforms, 2007. 10x23 feet in six vertical panels. Detail at half actual size.

I like to think the strength of Jordan’s visual framework that deals with soda cans to the landfill as it does with prisoners to the cell blocks is deliberate. As hard as it is to acknowledge, the majority of Americans have turned their back on a seven-figure-minority as if it were worth no more thought than discarded packaging. Mass imprisonment is the result of widespread apathy, denial and unpinnable responsibility. How unconscionable is this situation? We are all responsible. Barack Obama talked very little about criminal justice and prison policy during his electioneering. This is not surprising as helping the invisible incarcerated masses is on the electorate’s mind as much as the whereabouts of their last twinkie wrapper. But, Obama also made it very clear that this was the time for personal responsibility and accountability.

Chris Jordan. Prison Uniforms, 2007. Installed at the Von Lintel Gallery, NY, June 2007.

Chris Jordan. Prison Uniforms, 2007. Installed at the Von Lintel Gallery, NY, June 2007.

So after a week of photography gallery after gallery, the militarised eye vs. the personal touch, Gigapan-assisted user-generated snooping, faux controversy, minor mishaps, cult worship, sentimental clap-trap, unending debate, media catfights, nerdcore details, celeb fluff and even UFO’s isn’t it time we adopt the same realism that Obama trusted in for his inaugural speech?

A wonderful article from the Wall Street Journal lays out the realism and “the audacity of hope behind bars”. (Via Change.org). Angola prisoner, Mr. Dennis served up some REALISM: “He’s got his hands full: Two wars, the economy is going in the tank and the health-care costs are skyrocketing – I’d be surprised if he has time to brush his teeth in the next four years.” While another prisoner took care of the HOPE: “If the men here can have hope, then why can’t the rest of the country?”

Prisoners at Louisiana State Penitentiary ("Angola") were given the day off to watch Barack Obama inaugurated as America's 44th president.

Prisoners at Louisiana State Penitentiary ("Angola") were given the day off to watch Barack Obama inaugurated as America's 44th president.

So how does this all connect? Jordan and Obama share the same call to think, with serious intent, about the things invisible to us. Both call us to consider the reality of our society and accept our shared responsibility for its faults, weaknesses and injustices. Both men challenge conventional wisdom; the logic that just because we didn’t turn the key nor bring down the gavel, we are not complicit – by our silence – in America’s mass incarceration.

What can you do? You can start by signing this petition immediately and by using web2.0 to access Obama’s administration as his team reached you during the election.

If you’d like to know more about Chris Jordan you could do worse than starting with this interview, this interview and this interview.

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