Swim Down Through a Sea of Trash With Dramatic, Eerily Beautiful Photos by Mandy Barker

© Mandy Barker
SOUP: Bird's Nest. Ingredients: discarded fishing lines that have formed nest-like balls due to tidal and oceanic movement. Additives: other debris collected in its path.

What would it be like to swim down through the estimated 100 million tons of trash swirling around in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? Mandy Barker's photographs bring viewers probably as close as they'd ever want to come to finding out.

Looking at the images in the U.K.-based artist's "SOUP" series creates the vertiginous feeling of sinking into the ocean, watching colorful -- but deadly -- bits of plastic in all shapes, sizes, and hues rise through the blackness of the deep sea.

© Mandy Barker
SOUP: Refused. Ingredients: plastic oceanic debris affected by the chewing and attempted ingestion by animals. Includes a toothpaste tube. Additives: teeth from animals.

"I have always been interested in collecting natural objects from the beach but began to notice that there was more and more man-made materials debris amongst them," Barker told TreeHugger in an email this week. In an earlier series, "Indefinite," she photographed individual pieces or clusters of beach trash, abstracted to resemble the strange sea creatures such debris is threatening, with captions indicating the number of years it takes each material to decompose.

Inspired By Photographer Chris Jordan
The visually striking, even beautiful "SOUP" photographs were inspired, Barker says, by TreeHugger favorite Chris Jordan, who famously photographed the extensive collection of plastic pieces found inside albatross chicks after they died. Seeking to show the vast scale of the problem in her photographs, the artist collected bits of plastic from beaches in the U.K. and elsewhere in Europe, and contacted researchers in other parts of the world, asking them to send her specific garbage finds.

© Mandy Barker
SOUP: Translucent. Ingredients: translucent plastic debris.

Barker, a former graphic designer, also previously created a Silent Spring-inspired series of haunting multiple-exposure photographs combining images of birds, eggs, and diagrams of chemical structures to bring attention to the impact of pesticides on bird populations. She is currently trying to find funding to expand the "SOUP" project and continue the artistic exploration of the impact of oceanic plastic that she has been working on for the past two years.

"My intention aesthetically was to visually attract the viewer to the image and for them to question what it represented," Barker told the website London Independent Photography in an earlier interview. "I felt by enticing the viewer to discover the meaning in this way would create a more lasting impact and message of awareness... All the images are created to represent the disturbing statistics of dispersed plastics having 
no boundaries."

Tags: Artists | Arts | Oceans | Photography | Pollution