Running the Numbers

Maybe you’ve run across the imaginative, meticulous, numerically-oriented photographic works of Chris Jordan. But have you really SEEN them?

Here’s how he describes his site and project, Running the Numbers:

Running the Numbers 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 32,000 breast augmentation surgeries in the U.S. every month.

Click each image more than once. Go farther and farther into the picture. And farther into a relationship with the issues each reveals in the emulsion of your conscience. These images are not trivial gimmicks but true and valid “object lessons” about matters of consumption and health that matter. Or should.

Somehow this seems related. I had a conversation yesterday with someone I was getting to know. He spoke of an unearthly experience in the dessert that was for him a peak moment. I could tell it meant a great deal to him, that the sensory experience changed him, but he could not find the words to reproduce the experience in my mind. I understand.

Images can help us understand where words fail. Jordan’s photographs offer this translation that might move us closer to comprehension. And from time to time, a writer, too, will find the words that translate our own experiences into sentences we can share. There is, at least, that hope.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. “He spoke of an unearthly experience in the dessert that was for him a peak moment.”

    Off topic from this post; unEarthly?

    His experience was above the dirt or beyond the planent? Perhaps a different word would be a better choice. Supernatural, spiritual, enlightening, cosmic…

  2. Great example. The term doesn’t refer to “not from this topsoil” but according to the loose RULE where this astronomical body is referenced, you wouldn’t use unEarthly. So as the WiseGeeks and other opinions on this word usage state, it gets complicated.

  3. Thanks Fred for not busting on my misspellings and typos. The rules of language are not static. If everyone does it wrong (the current version of wrong) long enough, it becomes acceptable.

    Unearth also means to dig up, discover, or bring to light. I don’t know if adding an ly works or is proper.

    Sorry no letters after my title, not even MALB.