When Mandy Barker, an English photographer with a love for the ocean, set out to gather objects from the beach, she didn’t think they’d be made of plastic.
“Initially, I was interested in collecting natural objects,” she says, “but I began to notice there was more and more man-made debris amongst them.”
Alarmed, Barker began researching the problem of plastic ocean trash, and has since made it the subject of her work. For her latest series of photographs, called Soup, Barker collected and photographed plastic debris from the U.K., Europe, and the U.S.
One image is of six layers of nurdles, the small plastic pellets that are melted and molded into everything from water bottles to clothing, but often escape the production process and are washed out to sea.
Another image is a composition of plastic turtles that washed ashore in the U.K. 15 years after they were dumped into the ocean in an enormous 1992 bath toy spill. Other pieces in the series focus on translucent trash, red trash, burned trash, and trash that was half-eaten by animals.
Her images are beautifully lit and carefully composed, but read like abstract expressionism or space photography. Unlike the work of Chris Jordan, another photographer who’s taken ocean trash as a cause, they are seductive. “The intention of my work is to visually attract the viewer to the image and for them to question what it represents,” she says.
Barker, who is currently looking for funding for her next project, doesn’t expect her work to turn viewers into passionate environmentalists overnight—she has more realistic goals. “Even if they just read this article and remember something about the cause,” she says, “that will have achieved my intention.”