Sustainability, mass consumption, and what he calls "our culture of waste" have long been the backbone of Seattle-based photographer Chris Jordan's work.
For the past four years his creative energy has been focused on a remote group of islands near Hawaii, 2,000 miles from the nearest continent. Yet there, on Midway Atoll, he has discovered a nightmare scenario that powerfully illustrates just how ruinous man's impact on nature can be: hundreds, thousands of dead albatross chicks choked to death on man's detritus, mostly shiny bits of plastic picked up from the nearby Pacific Ocean by their parents, and fed to them mistakenly as food.
The most prominent piece of waste? Disposable cigarette lighters, which float near the surface of the ocean. Glittering in the sun, they are seductive targets. When they are fed to infant birds and swallowed, none of the plastic disintegrates and instead eventually fills tiny stomachs.
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Recently, Jordan has turned from photographing the dead birds, and the waste plastic that fills their stomachs and slowly kills them, to videoing. A successful Kickstarter effort ($122,000 from more than 16,000 donors) is funding the documentary film, which he anticipates will require two more visits so that he can capture the entire birth-life-and-death continuum in full.
"For me, kneeling over their carcasses is like looking into a macabre mirror," he writes on his website. "These birds reflect back an appallingly emblematic result of the collective trance of our consumerism and runaway industrial growth. Like the albatross, we first-world humans find ourselves lacking the ability to discern anymore what is nourishing from what is toxic to our lives and our spirits. Choked to death on our waste, the mythical albatross calls upon us to recognize that our greatest challenge lies not out there, but in here."
Jordan's documentary—"Midway: Message From the Gyre"—is expected to be finished next year. Check out this powerful gallery of Jordan's photos here.
Readers: What are you doing to curb you and your family's plastic usage? Tell us in the comments.
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A six-time grantee of the National Geographic Expeditions Council, Jon Bowermaster has spent the past two decades circling the world’s ocean, studying both its health and the lives of the people who depend on it. He is the author of 11 books (his most recent, OCEANS, Threats to Our Seas and What You Can Do to Turn the Tide, was published by Participant Media) and producer of a dozen documentary films. His blog—Notes From Sea Level—reports daily on issues impacting the ocean and us. Follow Jon on Facebook. @jonbowermaster | Email Jon | TakePart.com