Scientific Documentary Photography – Mandy Barker

Mandy Barker – Plastic waste in our ocean – Aims to raise awareness about plastic pollution in the world’s oceans whilst highlighting the harmful affect on marine life and ultimately ourselves. “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…I 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.”

Barker uses knowledge as a key part of her practice, having accurate and modern data is also key so Barker works closely with oceanographers and ecologists who are studying the problem first hand. Highlighting the ethical responsibilities is essential in strengthening Barkers work. Creating something sublime is still important though, the blackness of the series ‘Indefinite’ became a metaphor to the deep sea and created a paradox of harmful objects into something aesthetically interesting.

Figure 1 –

Mandy Barker – Notes from Photographers and Research – The role of research in contemporary photographic practice

Motivation for my work is to raise awareness of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans and the harmful effect this has on marine life. Because the ideas for my work are drawn from quantitative scientific data, it is important that I have a sound understanding of the facts: so knowledge gathering prior to developing a body of work forms an essential part of my practice.

Working directly with oceanographers and ecologists who are studying the problem first hand is a key aspect of the research process.

Dealing with factual information brings with it a keen sense of responsibility. Representing something that wasn’t happening or real would be out of the question. Bring alert to my ethical responsibilities is essential to the integrity of my work and something I feels very strongly about.

Although aesthetics are important to the work I create, it has to do something more than simply look good; it has to be grounded in facts.

My commitment as an artist is to transform the science into something visual and create artwork that is accessible and relevant.

Crucially through looking at the work of other photographers to identify what I was attracted to or what made me think and why it did so. The way that the photograph can transform the way we see and understand things became a crucial part of the contextual research that informed the early development of my work.

Edward Weston and Irving Penn, and the way that a simple pepper or a discarded cigarette could become something sensuous or sublime…It was the isolation of the subject that became important, and the idea that if you remove the subject from its context you might see things very differently.

The series Indefinite grew out of the idea of decontextualizing and reframing the debris found along the shore…The enveloping black space became a metaphor to evoke a sense of the deep sea and the objects became strange sea creatures emerging from the deep ocean. The paradox of transforming a discarded and harmful object into something aesthetically interesting became an important characteristic of the work.

Cornelia Parker, who had created a photogram of a single feather, and the first was of a simple yet stunningly beautiful image. But alongside the image text added another interesting dimension. The text stated that this feather had been to the top of Everest and that just brought so many different questions to my mind…but I was thinking, and it was the text that had altered my experience and understanding of the image.  (50ft fall, height of the fall of the waterfall – Something to make the viewer think) Its was not that the image illustrated the text or that the text described what was seen, but that together they created something far more engaging and opened my mind up to other possibilities, and that individual connection made it personally relevant.

Short captions that get straight to the point in a few words can be far more compelling than a whole paragraph written about an issue. The text I used for Indefinite states simply the number of years it takes each plastic material to decompose in the sea. These simple statements juxtaposed with images of different types of plastic, presented a narrative in time culminating with an image of a piece of polystyrene, which stays in the seas indefinitely and gives the series its title.

The more research I carry out about plastic debris in the oceans the more it feeds my imagination and my determination to try and raise awareness through my work.

Constructing images that represent what is out in the oceans is the only way to achieve the desired results.

The starting point for this new work was to create something that related to the depth and extensiveness of the way that the ocean currents bring together plastics on such a vast scale. I made many practical experiments initially using a large format studio camera and film and trying many different ways of floating plastics on water, hanging pieces of debris from fishing wires and using layers of glass. But it just wasn’t possible to achieve the depth or scale necessary to duplicate the random way that plastics come together in the sea and create the feeling of floating rather than being static in one fixed position.

The way he (Andreas Gursky) manipulates foreground, middle ground and background in linear layers was something I found interesting and valuable, and this fed into the way I began to approach my work.

It was also important to me that the plastics I photographed were salvaged from beaches around the world, to replicate the way that plastics become dispersed naturally through the oceans’ currents.

Keeping my work fresh is something that I need to be aware of if I am to connect more people to the problems of marine pollution. This means that as part of my research process I have to think and plan ahead, so being alert to the possibilities and looking for potential new ideas is an essential activity. 2014 was the year of the football World Cup and this became the catalyst for the series Penalty. Rather than concentrating on different types of plastic I decided to focus attention on one single plastic object, the football, as a global symbol and one that would potentially reach a global audience.

I see my role as an interpreter, to be aware of the facts about the harmful effects of marine plastics and to understand the science and to present it in an accessible way through my work and help to connect this global problem to a wider audience and hopefully in some way change things for the better.

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