Roving thoughts and provocations

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Midway: Message from the Gyre

An albatross chick on Midway Atoll, raised on plastic that its parents mistook for food from the polluted Pacific Ocean, September 2009; photographs by Chris Jordan

These photographs of albatross chicks, the first of which appeared in a recent New York Review article by Tim Flannery, were made just a few weeks ago on Midway Atoll, a tiny stretch of sand and coral near the middle of the North Pacific that was the site of the Battle of Midway in World War II and is now one of the world’s most remote marine sanctuaries.

The nesting babies are fed bellies-full of plastic by their parents, who soar over the vast ocean polluted by plastic debris and other waste 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 more than two thousand miles from the nearest continent.

Chris Jordan discusses his work on Midway Atoll in a New York Review podcast. To see more of his photographs from Midway, readers can visit chrisjordan.com. A collection of his large-scale conceptual photographs, Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait, was published earlier this year by Prestel.

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