The Haunting Art of Plastic Pollution

Using trash from the sea and birds’ stomachs, Mandy Barker’s work forces us to face our waste.

When photographer Mandy Barker returned to the English beach where she collected shells as a child, she found a baby’s car seat and a refrigerator among piles of plastic waste. She also noticed an air of indifference: It seemed to her that people weren’t fazed by seeing a beach strewn with litter.

So she changed the context. By collecting pieces of plastic waste and photographing them on a plain background, Barker found that the trash became shocking again. “I wanted to create something that would resonate,” she says.

That impulse has led to a series of photographic projects that illuminate plastic’s ubiquity as well as its reach—how printer cartridges that spilled off a ship in the Atlantic Ocean, for example, washed up on beaches from North Africa to Norway. Or how discarded bottle caps, from the hundreds of billions of plastic bottles that are manufactured each year, turn up on beaches—and in birds—around the world. Barker crowdsourced a global collection to show that.

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