Saturday, March 1, 2008

Visual Perspective

I grew up with an appreciation for the outdoors -- tall tall trees without phone lines running through them, rivers with hoppable rocks, big warm solar-heated granite boulders, dirt paths with deer tracks, clean air. We'll never be mistaken for the Cleavers, but my family camped, backpacked a few times, took a horse-pack trip, and spent a lot of time at my grandparents' cabin near Donner Pass.

I carry a memory of a particular meadow -- we were on a backpack trip and took a day hike. I think we followed a creek that lead to a huge expanse of tall grass. I often conjure it in my mind when I need to escape. It's quite possible that the real meadow was far perfect than the memory photoshopping I've done. Part of that photo editing has included "installing" a huge flat granite rock where I can perch.

So every time I see someone flick a cigarette butt to the curb, I growl. What would happen if I offered to collect a week's worth of their butts and toss them on the living room rug? Guessing very few people would take me up on my offer.

Or when I think about the massive number of water bottles we use because they're oh-so-convenient. Why do we suddenly trust Dasani's tap more than our own? I'm not completely innocent (the buggers can be tricky to avoid), but I have a water filter in the fridge at home and use a Naglene bottle at work to fill with Building 8's finest tap vs. the ubiquitous Aquafina.

I traded my SUV for a hybrid, I recycle like crazy, use cloth grocery bags, and keep looking for more ways to retain a nice shade of green (minus the queasy feeling). I'm looking forward to mowing my long-overgrown lawn so I can put the clippings in my new compost bin! (My inner geek and I are quite happy together, thanks for asking.)

Sometimes it's hard to get perspective on what that Aquafina bottle means. A Seattle photographer named Chris Jordan has some amazing work. To me, it's pretty stunning. Statistics are easy. Look, a number! But what does that number really look like when you actually show those things you're counting out. And does your one little water bottle really make a difference? Simple math -- your one bottle is added to the equation, never subtracted.
Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait
"This series looks at contemporary American culture through the austere lens of statistics. Each image portrays a specific quantity of something: fifteen million sheets of office paper (five minutes of paper use); 106,000 aluminum cans (thirty seconds of can consumption) and so on.My hope is that images representing these quantities might have a different effect than the raw numbers alone, such as we find daily in articles and books. Statistics can feel abstract and anesthetizing, making it difficult to connect with and make meaning of 3.6 million SUV sales in one year, for example, or 2.3 million Americans in prison, or 410,000 paper cups used every fifteen minutes. This project visually examines these vast and bizarre measures of our society, in large intricately detailed prints assembled from thousands of smaller photographs. The underlying desire is to emphasize the role of the individual in a society that is increasingly enormous, incomprehensible, and overwhelming."
Check it out. No really. Then I dare you to look at another consumption statistic in the same way again. I dare ya!

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