David Winton Bell Gallery at Brown University
For more than a decade Chris Jordan has focused his and our attention on the consequences of mass consumerism—photographing mountains of discarded electronics in landfills and, more recently, the decomposing carcasses of Laysan albatross that have died from ingesting plastic. The latter images, exhibited here, present a shocking reality, difficult but important to view. Translating inconceivable statistics — 299 million tons of plastics produced a year; 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean; a million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals killed annually from plastic in our oceans — into intimate images of life and death, Jordan confronts us with the consequences of our lifestyle and calls on us to take action toward change.
Jordan’s images were taken on Midway Atoll. This small ring of volcanic islands, recognized as the site of an important battle in WWII, is now, tragically, better known for an ongoing ecological struggle. Located 2000 miles from any major landmass, Midway is home to millions of birds and is the breeding ground of the world’s largest Laysan albatross colony. It also lies in proximity to the North Pacific Gyre, alternately know as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Circulated by ocean currents, plastics and other debris gather in the gyre where they float on the surface or break down into smaller and smaller pieces that eventually come to rest on the ocean floor.
Skimming the ocean’s surface for food, albatross pick up plastic refuse and feed both to their young chicks. Over time, the chicks’ bodies become clogged with plastic and they die — of starvation, suffocation, or injuries to their internal organs. More than 200 pieces of plastic have been found in a single albatross carcass, and it is estimated that one-third of chicks born each year suffer premature death from plastic ingestion.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website.