Mandy Barker on the documentation of an ocean made from plastic

Mandy Barker creates beautiful pictures of discarded objects. For the past decade, the UK-based photographer has traveled the world collecting everyday items washed up on beaches and coastlines – from bottle caps and balloons to plastic bags and packaging. Scattered across dark black backdrops, this household garbage takes on a strange beauty, like stars shining in the night sky or sea creatures floating in the current.

While her work is playful, Barker's paintings have one serious goal: to raise awareness about plastic pollution and its effects on the environment. Of the 8.3 billion tons of plastic produced since the early 1950s, less than 10% has been recycled, and most of it has ended up in landfills or waterways, clogging the oceans, killing birds and marine life at an alarming rate.

Barker started taking photos of plastic waste in 2010 while studying photography at De Montfort University. Since then, she has worked on numerous projects addressing this issue. In recent years she has participated in research expeditions to remote islands in the North and South Pacific and the Tasman Sea and, together with scientists, understood the effects of plastic pollution on oceans and wildlife. Her images have appeared in science magazines, newspapers and lifestyle magazines, as well as museums and galleries around the world.

She has also worked on assignments for Ikea, National Geographic and Greenpeace and recently created a series of images for WeTransfer's Planet in Crisis campaign. Her work was shortlisted and nominated for numerous photo awards, including the renowned Deutsche Börse photo award and the award for nature photographer of the year.

Above: Where … Am I Going ?, a project involving balloons and related litter collected from beaches around the world; Above: From Shelf-Life, a series documenting plastic that washed up on Henderson Island

Barker, who grew up in Hull, has been fascinated by sea debris for as long as she can remember. “In my childhood I always enjoyed being by the sea and collecting natural objects like driftwood and shells,” she tells CR. “Over the years, these natural objects have been taken over by man-made waste. I noticed household appliances like fridges and freezers, computers and televisions on the beach and wondered how they got there. "