Chris Jordan

Photographer, 44

In 2003, Chris Jordan realized he was on to something after photographing a pile of trash that he found strangely alluring. "When I made a big print of that and put it on the wall of my studio," the Seattle-based photographer says, "people would come over and look at it and they would start talking about consumerism." Jordan's garbage photo became the basis for a series called Intolerable Beauty and put him on the map as a commentator on our culture of disposability. "I started using beauty as a seduction," he says of his photos, which feature stacks of oil drums, junked cars, or massive piles of bottles and cans. Before turning seriously to art, Jordan spent a decade as a corporate lawyer trapped in what he calls the "consumer trance." "Whatever seemed cool, I would buy it," he says. As Jordan began to take his photography more seriously, he says, "I wanted my work to be relevant, but not ugly." His most recent series, Running the Numbers, includes "Cans Seurat," which from afar looks like a copy of a famous Seurat painting but actually, upon closer inspection, depicts 106,000 individual aluminum cans—representing 30 seconds of American consumption, according to Jordan. Still, somewhere behind the message of wastefulness, there is a cautious optimism to his work. "I have tremendous fear and sadness about where we are right now," says Jordan, whose prints have been seen everywhere from the Nobel Peace Center, in Oslo, to The Colbert Report, on Comedy Central. "But with something like a photograph, there's a chance we might feel enough to care enough about it to change our behavior."

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