Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Intolerable beauty 

Today one of my coworkers in California sent me a link to the website of photographer Chris Jordan, whose work is currently on exhibit at the Paul Kopeikin Gallery in Los Angeles. As I began to look through the images on these sites, I realized that I recognized many of the scenes that Jordan had captured. The captions showed that most of the photos were taken in Washington state. As it turns out, Jordan's studio is not far from my house.

This is not the Pacific Northwest of the tourist's imagination, a place of mountain and ocean and deep green forest. This is, however, the Seattle, Tacoma and beyond that many residents see on a daily basis. During the year in which I drove from Seattle to Tacoma twice weekly to oversee a construction project, I often took to the back roads to avoid traffic on I-5. At some time during those drives, I saw some variant of each of these scenes. I have always found them disturbing, and occasionally visually compelling. Never before have I been so aware of their strange beauty. I'll turn this over to Mr. Jordan now; the words below are from his website and that of the Los Angeles gallery.

Intolerable Beauty: Portraits of American Mass Consumption

Log Yard, Tacoma 2004 12"x83" ©Chris Jordan

This body of work examines the phenomenon of American consumerism. In large-format color, these images take the viewer on a tour behind the façade of the American Dream into the underbelly of our consumer society, where the vast cumulative effects of our individual consumer choices are visible. These images invite viewers to consider the complexity and scale of the consumerism issue, and to evaluate their own role in the consumptive process.

Our consumerism holds an anesthetizing kind of mob mentality; collectively we are committing a vast and unsustainable act of taking, but we each are anonymous and no one is in charge or accountable for the consequences. So perhaps my photographs can serve as portals to a kind of cultural self-reflection. It may not be the most comfortable terrain, but I have heard it said that in risking self-awareness, at least we know we are awake.