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

Chris Jordan‘s populist brand of socio-enviro-photography deserves our respect. The skills necessary to direct (what I presume) is a team to composite his images, is small fries compared to his ability to sell his brand. He brings to surface issues as varied as breast augmentation for teenagers, deaths by smoking, prescription drug overdoses and airline plastic cup wastage.

Jordan argues that all these issues are tied together by our collective denial and connected by our search for a global view obscured by the massive numbers (billions, trillions) which we cannot realistically fathom. Jordan reckons his illustrations help us feel, and thus have us consider and alter own behaviours.

Critics would say that Jordan plucks issues at will, and given their variance, he might just be a fraud. Aren’t we supposed to specialise in our advocacy? Don’t we pick one topic?

I’d be sympathetic to this view if I thought Jordan was picking the latest cause célèbre, but he isn’t. Jordan represented the 2.3million US prisoners with 2.3million prison uniforms (I discussed this before).

Prison reform has never been sexy. Prisoners rights are rarely considered and that is because many of us suspend our emotions toward those put behind bars. Heck, even rape is considered humorous when it is put in a prison setting.

Whatever your take on Jordan’s craft and motives, his research and discussion of issues is passionately informed. For me, most of the time Jordan trumps my cynical view that he’s just selling a cute visual idea.

The closing two minutes of this well-circulated TEDtalk is convincing enough. Yet, I’d forgive people who thought of him as a sellout.

Jordan’s assertion that US citizens are in denial about their prison system is dead on.

Thanks to Stephen Sidlo for the reminder of Jordan’s work.