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Mandy Barker (UK)

Soup, 1826, Penalty

Since I was a child, the sea has captivated me. Looking back then on my younger self collecting natural objects from the shoreline, I would never have imagined that now I would be picking up trash in the form of nearly every plastic object ever made, washed up on the shore. I feel it is my obligation and responsibility to pass on to others all I observe and experience in oceans and on beaches around the world. The motivation for my work is to raise awareness of plastics pollution in the Earth’s oceans and the detrimental effects this has on marine life and ecosystems.

Millions of tons of waste plastic enter the sea each year, ending up in marine habitats where plastic is currently harming 693 species through ingestion or entanglement. Micro-size plastic particles, which all plastic eventually becomes in the oceans, are ingested by organisms at the base of the food chain, making them of vital concern; they impact all marine life and terrestrial life, including ourselves. Through photography I want to show that marine plastic debris has no boundaries—whether it floats to the shoreline on your own doorstep or swirls in massive accumulations in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean. The disturbing issue of plastics pollution has led me to places I would never have gone otherwise, but I had an overwhelming desire to see the problem firsthand so I could then inform others. I see this as a vital and necessary part of my responsibility as a human being on this planet. Scientific research is used as the basis of my inspiration, and it underpins the integrity of my work.

While it is not possible to determine when or where each bit of plastic entered the sea or to whom it belonged , it is almost certain that plastic will remain a threat in the oceans for hundreds of years to come. I hope viewers of my work will feel a connection to the diverse collections of plastic my images show and start to question how their food packaging, hairbrush, computer, or shoe ended up in the ocean. If this shocks people—getting them to think and hopefully act— it will bring positive action to protect many species on our planet and ultimately the human race itself.

Mandy Barker


Mandy Barker is a British photographer working in the U.K. Since graduating in 2011 with a master’s degree in photography from De Montfort University, Leicester, England, she has received international recognition for her work involving plastic marine debris.Her series SOUP has been published in over twenty countries and has appeared in TIME, Smithsonian, The Guardian, Wired, and GEO, and on CNN. The motivation for her work is to raise awareness about plastic pollution in the world’s oceans while highlighting its harmful effect on marine life and ultimately ourselves.

In 2012 she received funds from the Royal Photographic Society’s Environmental bursary enabling her to join scientists in a research expedition to examine the accumulation of plastic marine debris in the Pacific Ocean from Japan to Hawaii. Barker speaks about her work at international gatherings and was invited as a guest speaker to the Plastic Free Seas Youth Conference 2013 in Hong Kong. In 2014 she was interviewed live for Connect the World on CNN News US, discussing her series PENALTY. She has exhibited globally and received many awards, including LensCulture Earth Award 2015 and the 2014 International Photography Award in the Editorial Environmental Professional category; she has also been nominated twice for the prestigious Prix Pictet, the world’s leading photographic award in sustainability.

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