Though very beautiful, British photographer Mandy Barker's hypnotising photographs highlight the sinister reality of society's reliance on plastic and the damage it causes to the natural world. Working alongside scientists, Barker photographed real plastic rubbish collected on the pristine beaches of a remote island and transformed it into an evocative series of works with a simple message: we must act now.

SHELF-LIFE, a series of 10 photographs by British photographer Mandy Barker, went on display in the Grand Foyer to draw attention to the plight of the world's oceans and the impact of pollution on marine life and, ultimately, ourselves. 

The remote Henderson Island, part of the Pitcairn Islands, has been uninhabited by humans for centuries. Given its isolation, it should be a pristine haven for flora and fauna to thrive. But when a team of scientists arrived in June 2019, they found Henderson’s coastline littered with huge quantities of plastic rubbish. 

Often starting life on the supermarket shelf, the plastic items the team documented had to travel vast distances to end up on the coral shelf surrounding Henderson Island. Simply using barcodes as titles, Barker traces the journey of these supposedly disposable objects from one shelf to another, and calls on us all to end our reliance on plastic. 

About Mandy Barker

About Mandy Barker

UK-based photographer Mandy Barker has used her award-winning photographs to record the environmental impacts of plastic for more than 10 years.  

Barker began by photographing debris on her own local beach before aiming her lens internationally and working alongside scientists. She hopes her images shock people: ‘not in a negative or helpless way, but by feeling informed about the crisis to want to make change and take action.’ 

Barker's photographs have been published by TIME Magazine, The Guardian, The Financial Times, Smithsonian, The New Scientist, The Explorer's Journal, UNESCO, The British Journal of Photography, VOGUE, the World Wildlife Fund, and are also used in academic research papers.

She has exhibited world-wide in New York's MoMA Museum of Modern Art and London's Victoria & Albert Museum London, and now, Tāmaki Paenga Hira Auckland War Memorial Museum.

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Mandy Barker with a massive piece of plastic, melted by extreme heat and found on a beach on the west coast of Scotland.
The voyage to Henderson Island

The voyage to Henderson Island

The team of scientists that sailed to Henderson Island in search of the famed rubbish hoard were accompanied by not just Mandy Barker, but also two journalists, Andrea Vance and Iain McGregor. This four-part interactive article chronicles the hair-raising arrival on the island and plastic pollution they found there.

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Iain McGregor/Stuff

Shocked into action

Mandy Barker's process, considerations, and campaigning are the subject of a short documentary by First Move Productions. See how she makes her layered images as she describes her motivations for making them.


Further reading

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