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Perpetual plastic

Words: 5

Photos: Mandy Barker

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With images that are both stunning and surreal, award-winning photographer Mandy Barker evokes the unimaginable scale of rubbish adrift in our oceans. Designed to raise awareness and trigger action, this is where activism meets art.

Exotic bursts of colour populate the deep blue like tropical fish. But Mandy Barker’s images are not teeming with marine life. What we’re actually seeing are swirling masses of plastic, suspended in an ecosystem where it doesn’t belong. There it accumulates, year upon year. Nibbled by fish, decomposing into ever smaller particles, and washing up on beaches.

Having grown up collecting shells near her home along the east coast of England, Barker grew increasingly alarmed by the amount of rubbish she was finding along the shore. She decided to document the problem and has spent the last decade creating photo collages of her finds.

trapped by plastic title still

Trailer for Trapped in Plastic, a new film highlighting Mandy Barker’s photos. Watch the full nine-minute film for free on WaterBear now.

The serene beauty of her work draws us in before we consciously recognise all of the composite parts: the tiny toys, crisp packets, bits of balloons and bottle caps. The impact of the everyday is powerfully revealed by showing us where it all ends up – adrift in the ocean.

“I feel it is my responsibility as an artist to let people know about plastic pollution, that is what keeps me going,” Barker says in an introduction to her work. “I hope I can engage the world with my images, so people can understand what is going on in places they can’t visit.”

Discover more

  • Watch the short film Trapped by Plastic, highlighting Mandy Barker’s work, for free on WaterBear now.
  • See the full scope of Mandy Barker’s work here. Her book, Altered Ocean brings together an overview of her images of marine plastic.
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