A fishing net filled with a variety of different sized sports balls in a variety of colour
Credit: Eva Merritt

Review: Mandy Barker’s Our Plastic Ocean @ Street Level Photoworks

By Eva Merritt

8 million tonnes of plastic end up in the world’s oceans every year. If these trends continue, our oceans will contain more plastic than fish by 2050…

I first saw Mandy Barker’s Our Plastic Ocean at Stockholm’s Fotografiska and will never forget the impact those images had on me. Two years later, at Street Level Photoworks, I’m still just as impressed by the collection and believe Barker’s message is even more important now. 

The gallery displays four of Barker’s series alongside a map of the world highlighting areas where masses of plastic have been found in our oceans. I particularly liked the interactive section which encourages the public to make a “plastic pledge” and write down the ways they will cut their usage of single-use plastics. 

The exhibition starts strongly with the project Penalty, inspired by the 2014 FIFA World Cup, as it really sets the tone for the rest of the series and gets the viewer thinking and reflecting early on. The title creates this double meaning between footballs and their impact on marine plastic pollution. This project is small but powerful with a physical element; hanging from the ceiling are some of the footballs from the image itself which Barker collected. 

Next is Soup, which explores how plastics found in the sea affect sea creatures. Barker used plastic debris collected from beaches around the world and each image is made up of different groups of plastics. What stands out most from these images is the sense of juxtaposition between beauty and disgrace. The contrast of the black “ocean” and colourful plastics looks beautiful from afar which draws you in closer. However, upon a closer look, those rich pops of colour are merely bits of washed-up plastic, and that previous feeling of awe turns into one of sadness and concern for the sea creatures which are harmed by this plastic waste. 

The final series are Beyond Drifting and Indefinite. In terms of style, Beyond Drifting is different from the others, but it’s an especially intriguing collection. Inspired by the botanist John Vaughan Thompson, Barker took plastic objects from Cobh in Cork Harbour, Ireland, and photographed them as “pseudo-scientific specimens”. I found these images fascinating to look at, as Barker highlights the similarities between plastic and plankton underneath the microscope. 

Indefinite, like Soup, was created using plastics washed up on shores. Barker used this series to display the estimated time it takes for each plastic to degrade in the sea, therefore she photographed them as they were found washed up to highlight how much or how little the sea affected them. Seeing the individual lifespans in Indefinite certainly hammered home to me just how much our collective disposal of plastics has harmed the ocean. Overall, Our Plastic Ocean is an exceptional curation of images by Mandy Barker exposing the major issues our oceans face today. The images stay with you and spark a need to change daily habits to save our oceans. It is certainly eye opening and thought provoking. I urge anyone in Glasgow to see the exhibition before it closes on 10 October.


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