Plastic Debris Art by Mandy Barker


Mandy Barker is an international award-winning photographic artist whose work involving marine plastic debris for more than 13 years, has received global recognition. Working with scientists she aims to raise awareness about plastic pollution in the world’s oceans, highlighting the harmful affect on marine life, climate change and ultimately ourselves – leading the viewer to take action.

Barker’s work has been published in over 50 different countries including; National Geographic Magazine, TIME Magazine, The Guardian, The Financial Times, Smithsonian, The New Scientist, The Explorer’s Journal, UNESCO, The British Journal of Photography, VOGUE, the World Wildlife Fund, and also to illustrate key academic and scientific research papers about current plastic research. Her work has been exhibited world-wide from MoMA Museum of Modern Art, and the United Nations headquarters in New York, the Victoria & Albert Museum London, and the Science & Technology Park Hong Kong. Barker was shortlisted for the Prix Pictet Award SPACE 2017, the world’s leading photography award for sustainability, and nominated for the Magnum Foundation Fund, LOBA Award, and the Deutsche Börse Foundation Photography Prize 2020. She is a recipient of the 2018 National Geographic Society Grant for Research and Exploration. Her first book ‘Beyond Drifting: Imperfectly Known Animals’ was selected as one of the Ten Best Photography Books of 2017, by Smithsonian, and ‘Altered Ocean’ was chosen by The Royal Photographic Society as one of the most coveted titles and top 10 Photobooks of 2019. Barker is a member of the Union of Concerned Photographers UCP, which is dedicated to using the power of imagery to underline the urgency of environmental concerns.

In June 2019, invited by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and The Pew Charitable Trust, Barker took part in the ‘Henderson Island Plastic Pollution Expedition’ which was awarded the title of an ‘Explorers Club Flag Expedition’. Only 3 – 5 expeditions per year are recognised in this way with previous others having included the Apollo 11 Space Mission, and the dive to Challenger Deep. This significant achievement, which included recording data as well as photographing marine plastic pollution, has now become part of the archives, accessible to other modern day explorers and scholars.

In 2012 she was awarded The Royal Photographic Society’s Environmental Bursary enabling her to join scientists in a research expedition which sailed from Japan to Hawaii to examine the accumulation of marine plastic debris in the tsunami debris field in the Pacific Ocean. In June 2017 she was invited by Greenpeace to join the Beluga II Expedition which sailed around the remote and unique island locations of the Inner Hebrides, Scotland, to recover plastic debris in a commission for Greenpeace. Barker speaks internationally about her work to engage people with the plastic issue. She has been invited as a guest speaker at the National Geographic Photography Seminar 2018 Washington DC, Stanford University California, for the British Council, and on behalf of the British Embassy at the political festival Almedalen in Sweden, also as the opening keynote speaker for the EuroConference GlobalCapital Sustainable & Responsible Capital Markets Forum in Amsterdam, and on the panel for the Opening Session for EU Greenweek 2021 in Brussels with Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission. Throughout the COP26 Climate Change Conference 2021, hosted in the UK, Barker’s images were screened in a short film made about her working process by First Move Productions, presented by the British Council in the Pavilion, Glasgow. She also presented her work in 17 different countries during COP26 to engage the world with this critical climate change issue.

In 2019 Barker collaborated with Stanford University on the launch of the virtual reality experience, ‘Ripple: the unintended life of plastics in the sea’. Stanford’s Communication Programme in Journalism worked with several of Barker’s images to represent how ubiquitous plastic has now become part of our world, creating an experience available to everyone across all platforms, from a 360º headset to a mobile phone. Engaging the younger generation is an important part of Barker’s practise to inspire change. She has been committed to teaching workshops around the world for many years, with local communities, schools, and universities, from the Philippines to the Solomon Islands on behalf of the British High Commission and the British Council New Zealand & the Pacific, and with individual initiatives for ‘World Oceans Day’. She was part of a youth mentoring programme with First Exposures, an organisation that empowers youth through photography in San Francisco and freely gives her time to mentor others.

“The aim of my work is to engage with and stimulate an emotional response in the viewer by combining a contradiction between initial aesthetic attraction along with the subsequent message of awareness. The research process is a vital part of my development as the images I make are based on scientific fact, essential to the integrity of my work. The impact of marine plastic is an area I have documented for more than 10 years and am committed to pursuing through visual interpretation, and in collaboration with science I hope it will ultimately lead to positive action in tackling this increasing environmental problem, which is currently of global concern”.

“I hope your work does its job in raising an awareness of the cause we both care so much about.
With renewed wonder and best wishes”

Sir David Attenborough
(extract from personal handwritten letter).