Shortlisted for the 2017 Prix Pictet
Beyond Drifting: Imperfectly Known Animals encapsulates in miniature the much larger environmental problems of an imperfect world. This work presents a unique collection of plankton specimens related to the pioneering discoveries made by naturalist JV Thompson in Cork Harbour during the 1800s. These recently found specimens are deceptive, however, and mysteriously conceal their true origin.
Plankton form a diverse group of microscopic marine organisms that are unable to swim against powerful ocean currents; they exist in a drifting, floating state, enveloped in the black deep. As fragile as they are, current scientific research shows that plankton ingest microplastic particles, mistaking them for food. Plankton are a crucial source of food for larger creatures up the food chain – compounding the grave impact of plastics on marine life and, ultimately, humans. Plastic debris is now ubiquitous in the Anthropocene, the period since humanity has had a significant impact on our global environment, and today nearly all living creatures are affected by its widespread contamination.
The plankton specimens in this work are beautifully photographed objects of marine plastic debris, recovered from the same location as naturalist John Vaughan Thompson’s plankton samples from 200 years ago. Long-exposure photographs record movements of recovered plastic objects floating in a black void, captured on expired film and with faulty cameras. Film grain is intentionally visible, alluding to microplastic particles being ingested. Each specimen has a new scientific name reflecting early Latin origins and containing the word ‘plastic’ hidden within its title.
Mandy Barker (b.1964, UK) received her MA Photography at De Montfort University in 2011. Her work involving marine plastic debris has received global recognition and has been published in over 25 countries. Barker has exhibited internationally including Syngenta Photography Award Exhibition 2015 and at the FotoFest 2016 Biennale. In 2012, she was awarded the Royal Photographic Society Environmental Bursary to cross the Pacific Ocean and has since received numerous awards including winner of the LensCulture Earth Award 2015 and the International Photography Award (IPA) in 2014. She has also been nominated several times for the prestigious Prix Pictet Award.