FMP Week 28: Altered Ocean Mandy Barker ARPS Exhibition at The Royal Photographic Society Paintworks Bristol 4 April-23 June 2019

By an amazing coincidence just as my exhibition Out-Sight-In at The Clay Factory was closing Mandy Barker’s Altered Ocean exhibition at the new RPS HQ was opening. Not able to go to the opening event I visited on 5th April and attended ‘When Art and Science Meets Plastics’ presentations and discussion with Mandy Barker ARPS and Professor Richard Thompson OBE Director of the International Marine Litter Research Unit at the Marine Institute, Plymouth University.

Sarah Newton 2019, Outside The Royal Photographic Society Headquarters in Bristol
Sarah Newton 2019, Exhibition introduction to Altered Ocean by Mandy Barker ARPS
Sarah Newton 2019, Pre-release copy of Altered Ocean by Mandy Barker ARPS
Sarah Newton 2019, Pre-release copy of Altered Ocean by Mandy Barker ARPS

I have written about Mandy Barker’s excellent work on marine plastics previously (…ice-mandy-barker/ ). I have seen Mandy’s work in online posts and have her book Beyond Drifting. Imperfectly Known Animals published in 2017. She has also published a miniature pocket sized edition of this book and published Altered Ocean on 16 April 2019. The new book promises to look back at her work over the past 10 years as shown in the exhibition.

Sarah Newton 2019, Six images from Altered Ocean by Mandy Barker ARPS








The exhibition was impressive. With small framed images of individual items showing the lack of deterioration of plastics leading to large prints of her collections of specific found items the images were stunning in their beauty and at the same time horrific in their truth. Complimented with a video and glass display cases of found items and sketchbooks as well as information about marine plastics and their found locations across the world the experience was immersive, interactive and for those not already aware of the scale of this global issue, left no doubts about the importance of awareness raising and finding solutions.

Sarah Newton 2019, Slide from the presentation by Professor Richard Thompson OBE
Sarah Newton 2019, Slide from the presentation by Professor Richard Thompson OBE
Sarah Newton 2019, Slide from the presentation by Professor Richard Thompson OBE

Professor Thompson OBE gave an excellent presentation explaining the size of the problem and the how science is contributing to ways of addressing the challenges faced in managing something which takes thousands of years to deteriorate. Passing round examples of tubes with minute powdery pieces of deteriorated plastics it was easy to see how they must have already entered the food chain and will be affecting human health as well as that of marine and land based creatures. Developing circularity in our approaches to energy use and production through designing for end of useful life offers one way of stemming the increasing flow of plastic into our lives.

Mandy Barker, internationally acclaimed photographic artist, spoke of the work she has been doing for 10 years. She received an Environmental Bursary from the Royal Photographic Society in 2012. Illustrated with photographs of her explorations abroad and the beach finds sent to her from across the world (e.g. thousand of footballs) she described how she made the images. Due to embark on photographing another scientific exploration in the near future her work in this area is guaranteed to continue for some years to come.

Sarah Newton 2019, Amoeba digesting micro plastics by Mandy Barker ARPS








Bringing science and art together made for an informative and truly inspirational event, sadly a one off on this occasion. Mandy Barker spoke about her work on 18th April (‘Meet the Artist’) and on 26th April Jo Ruxton will screen and talk about ‘A Plastic Ocean’, her multi-award winning documentary.

Since attending this event I have received a review of my work from Mandy Barker and visited Professor Thompson (he first coined the term microplastics) at the Marine Institute at Plymouth University to learn more about the research activities he and his colleagues are engaged in ( Although coming to the close of the MA Photography course my journey with Out-Sight-In is starting to open up with endless possibilities for the future.

One slight mar to the day was receiving my RPS Journal in the post as I was about to leave. The cover featured Soup by Mandy Barker, however the outer wrapping was plastic! Having drawn this to attention at the meeting I was assured this was a publication error for which the RPS potentially be developing another environmental bursary; a fitting solution.

Sarah Newton 2019, My RPS Journal and the offending plastic wrapper

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