426 000 Discarded Cellphones

The Big Picture

2 min read

We live in a consumption society. The numbers are staggering, whether it’s how many cellphones and plastic bottles we discard, cigarettes we smoke, paper and plastic bags we use at the supermarket, or painkillers we pop. How can we imagine the quantities involved?

If you’re Seattle artist Chris Jordan, you pick a number, such as the number of cell phones that are retired in the United States every day, and figure out a way to show all 426 000 of them. Here, each speck of grey represents a phone, clearly visible in the original 150 cm x 275 cm picture.

Here’s how you build an image of 426 000 cellphones. (1) Get 400 actual phones. (2) Pour them into a wooden frame on your studio’s floor. (3) Photograph from directly above. (4) Stir, to make a similar but not identical photograph. (5) Repeat 198 times. (Each of the 200 images will be used 5 or 6 times.) (6) Spend the next two weeks manically trimming, by hand, around the edges of each of the 200 photographs, airbrushing out all the fractional phones. (7) Cut and paste 1065 times, moving the individual photographs around for the best visual effect and to keep the 5 or 6 identical copies as far away from one another as possible. Finally, (8) send a DVD with your 1 gigabyte file to a specialty shop in New York equipped with a Canon inkjet printer with a 60-inch wide roll for printing, mounting, and framing. (9) Ship the framed artwork to the Von Lintel Gallery in New York City.

Another of Jordan's works, Jet Trails, depicts 11 000 jet trails, equal to the number of U.S. commercial flights every eight hours.

Photo by Chris Jordan

CLICK HERE for a similar interactive scaled view of Jet Trails

Jordan's show, Running the Numbers, opens at the Paul Kopeikin Gallery, in Los Angeles, on 8 September. His website, https://www.chrisjordan.com/, contains more information and a complete set of images, including closeups. Among the other staggering statistics depicted are that 1.14 million brown paper supermarket bags are used in the United States every hour and that two million plastic beverage bottles are used used every five minutes.

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