The Birds of Midway Atoll

I wish the bird in this photo were part of some shamanic ritual, or failing that, an art piece by a hermit who lives on the coast of Novia Scotia. Unfortunately, this is not the case. It, and the other photos below, were taken by Chris Jordan a month ago on Midway Atoll.

These photographs of albatross chicks were made just a few weeks ago on Midway Atoll, a tiny stretch of sand and coral near the middle of the North Pacific. The nesting babies are fed bellies-full of plastic by their parents, who soar out over the vast polluted ocean collecting what looks to them like food to bring back to their young. On this diet of human trash, every year tens of thousands of albatross chicks die on Midway from starvation, toxicity, and choking.

To document this phenomenon as faithfully as possible, not a single piece of plastic in any of these photographs was moved, placed, manipulated, arranged, or altered in any way. These images depict the actual stomach contents of baby birds in one of the world’s most remote marine sanctuaries, more than 2000 miles from the nearest continent.

There’s something about these pictures, and also Lu Guang’s, which troubles me, and not just because they starkly demonstrate the degree to which we have devastated our environment. What I find equally upsetting is how beautiful they are- as if even pollution now has its own aesthetic. Even as we push species into extinction, and ecosystems into radical change, we are making art from these actions. The fault, of course, is not in the photographers, but in those who provide subjects for them.

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One response

  1. This is a tragic example of the mess that humans have made in the world. Greenhouse gases are part of the mess too – but unfortunately they’re invisible – so people can ignore them or pretend they’re not a problem.

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