A Picture is Worth a Thousand Statistics

Large-scale photgraphs symbolize the environmental excesses and inequities of consumer culture

This image depicts eight million toothpicks. According to Seattle artist Chris Jordan, that's how many trees are harvested in the U.S. each month to make paper for mail-order catalogs.

The images are part of Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait, a series depicting the excesses and inequities of contemporary American culture. Each image portrays a specific quantity of something, such as the number of American children without health insurance, or the number of disposable batteries produced every 15 minutes. Many of the images are mosaics of common objects.

"My hope is that images representing these quantities might have a different effect than the raw numbers alone," Jordan writes. "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 426,000 cell phones retired every day."

We can't vouch for all of Jordan's statistics, but his pictures certainly help put them in perspective. Although the images can be viewed on Jordan's website, they are best experienced in person, where their sheer size helps to convey the enormous quantities represented.—Dawn Stover