UK-based photographer Mandy Barker is an internationally-acclaimed photographer, receiving the 2018 National Geographic Society Grant for Research and Exploration for her work involving marine plastic debris. Her work has been published in over 40 countries by the likes of Time Magazine, Unesco and The Guardian and her first book Beyond Drifting was named one of the Ten Best Photography Books of 2017 by Smithsonian. Mandy collaborates with scientists and the general public to raise awareness about the effects of plastic pollution in the world, a costly detriment on marine life, not to mention human welfare. Next month, Mandy is exhibiting her internationally-acclaimed photography series Hong Kong Soup at Manchester’s Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art, on til January next year.
Hong Kong Soup took shape in 2012 when Mandy was awarded The Royal Photographic Society’s Environmental Bursary. The cash enabled her to take part in the Japanese Tsunami Debris Field Expedition, a month long research trip which took place on a yacht sailing across the Pacific Ocean.
During the trip, Mandy became exposed to the relentless efforts to clean up the plastic that covers the beaches in Hong Kong. She tells It’s Nice That, “the amount of debris was on a scale I’d never seen before”. During the voyage, scientists recorded the disturbing amounts of plastic disposed in the ocean; plastic pellets were detected in every single sample collected. “The voyage lasted 38 days without seeing land or another vessel, it gave me the time to contemplate the state of the oceans and the reason I was taking part in the project. I want to pass on my experience of this critical issue to those who don’t have the opportunity to see it for themselves”, explains Mandy.
Penalty is another photographic series raising awareness around marine pollution through the documentation of discarded footballs. The series title is a pun on “penalty” being a punishment for rule-breaking as well as “penalty” referring to the price we will all pay if we do not look after our ecology, particularly, our plastic consumption. Members of the worldwide public were invited to take part in the project via social media, Mandy requested the collection of abandoned balls from the sea or on beaches to be sent back to her in the UK.
Consequently, 992 debris balls were sent to Mandy over four months. 769 footballs and bits of 223 other types of balls were recovered from 41 different countries and islands including 144 different beaches, by just 89 members of the public.
The photographs reveal the footballs in a stark and beautiful light, nakedly exposing their battered textures as well as their environmental impact on the world. Mandy’s photographic style sees the objects delicately suspended in a celestial blackness reminiscent of the blackness of the deep sea representing “the fact that plastic debris has no boundaries, plastic is found from the sea bed to the sea surface, from the polar regions to the equator”, says Mandy.
“Creating these compositions visually portrays infinity suggesting there is unlimited waste being created. Time serves as a metaphor in that stars in the universe can take several years for their light to reach us, but plastic items that go unseen floating in the ocean do not biodegrade for hundreds of years.”
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