We recently launched the LensCulture Network with the idea of offering talented, accomplished photographers a place to showcase their work on a global stage while also giving them a place to share, learn and engage with one another. The LensCulture Network began with a small number of hand-picked members, and we are very excited to watch it grow and evolve as new photographers apply and are invited to participate as members.

Each week, we will highlight a project from the members of our Network and publish their work on the front page of LensCulture. We hope you enjoy!


Introduction

Enough plastic has been manufactured since the end of the Second World War to coat the entire earth in plastic wrap. No part of the planet is free of plastic waste; the total amount of plastic produced since 1950 is around 5 billion tons (close to the weight of the entire human population at this moment). This amount is very likely to reach 30 billion tons by the end of the century.

Current scientific research has found that plankton ingest micro-plastic particles, mistaking them for food. As these tiny animals rest at the base of the food chain, they are themselves a crucial source of food for many larger creatures. The potential impact of plankton’s plastic ingestion and the resulting effect on marine life and, ultimately, man itself, is of vital concern.

In 2012, photographer Mandy Barker was awarded The Royal Photographic Society’s Environmental bursary, which enabled her to join scientists in a research expedition to examine the accumulation of marine plastic debris. She began her investigations in the Pacific Ocean but has subsequently widened her focus to different bodies of water (and bodies within the water) around the world. More recently, she was awarded a cash grant to continue her work thanks to the LensCulture Earth Awards 2015.

Her latest series, “Beyond Drifting: Imperfectly Known Animals” was presented at the Unseen Photo Fair in 2016 by East Wing Gallery.

Artist Statement

Plankton form a diverse group of microscopic marine organisms living in the water column, not able to swim against the current; rather, they exist in a drifting state. In this series, unique specimens of this animal species are related to the pioneering discoveries made by the marine biologist John Vaughn Thompson in Cobh, Cork harbour in the 1800s.

Presented as microscopic samples, objects of marine plastic debris mimic Thompson’s early scientific discoveries of plankton. The series is conveyed through an antique-like science book—mimicking the past while reflecting on the current situation regarding organisms’ intake of plastic. The book subtly includes the original writing, descriptions, and figures recorded by Thompson in his research memoirs from 1830, entitled Imperfectly Known Animals.

The work examines the degradation and contamination of plastic particles in the natural environment through the lens of scientific discovery, while also looking at the organisms when they were free from plastic (and when we, as humans, were free of plastic as well). The images, shot in an enveloping black space, evoke the deep oceans beneath. These new “specimens” created from recovered debris—a Barbie doll arm; a tricycle wheel—serve as a metaphor to the ubiquity of plastic in the Anthropocene era we are currently living in.

Today, unlike the plankton, we are beyond drifting. We must take action, both on the behalf of these “imperfectly known animals” and for the good of our entire planet.

—Mandy Barker