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Photography graduate's powerful images published in first book

A De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) graduate who has recently been shortlisted for a well-regarded international prize has seen those images published in her first book today.

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Mandy Barker graduated from DMU with a distinction in Photography MA in 2011 and has just been nominated for the much-heralded Prix Pictet award. Her first book Beyond Drifting: Imperfectly Known Animals is published by Overlapse.

The images within have been shortlisted for the 100,000 Swiss-franc Prix award and Mandy is just the seventh Brit to make the shortlist in its nine-year history.

Mandy’s 104-page book features 59 colour photographs and illustrations in a beautifully-designed hardcover with hand-finished touches, made to look like an antique science book.

A dummy version of the book was first shown with the help of the East Wing Gallery, Dubai, at an exhibition in Amsterdam last September.

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She explained: “It received a lot of interest there so it made sense to publish it. Because the book is a replica of an antique science book from the 1800s, a lot of consideration went into the aesthetics in terms of the paper and finishing.

“I was approached by a few publishers but chose Overlapse because of its full understanding of what was needed for the book, its attention to detail and willingness to experiment and push boundaries.”

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For several years Mandy has been using her photography to raise awareness about plastic pollution in the world’s oceans to expose the harm it is causing to marine life and it was while at DMU that Mandy first began to photograph plastic debris.

She said: “The Beyond Drifting: Imperfectly Known Animals series highlights scientific research that plankton are ingesting microplastic particles, mistaking them for food. At the base of the food chain, plankton are a crucial source of sustenance for larger creatures. The harmful impact of plastic on marine and human life is a vital concern.

“The issue of marine plastic is something I am dedicated to and will represent for as long as I can.”

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Mandy’s images hark back to the pioneering observations made by marine biologist John Vaughan Thompson in Ireland in the 1800s and show scavenged plastic debris in a form that mimic samples under a microscope.

Mandy gave the ‘specimens’ new scientific names with the word ‘plastic’ hidden in the title. The work represents the degradation of plastic particles in the natural environment by echoing earlier scientific discoveries when organisms were free from contamination.

Mandy, who was born in Hull and now lives in Leeds, added: “Movements recorded during several seconds of exposure result in the blurred images that represent plankton drifting in water. Film grain is intentionally visible, alluding to microplastic particles being ingested. They were captured on expired film with faulty cameras to highlight the imperfection of both technique and subject matter.”

Mandy recovered the plastic objects from the same Cork Harbour in Cobh, off Ireland’s south coast, where Thompson made his discoveries.

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She first started to photograph plastic debris when studying at DMU for her MA. Students were briefed to produce a project with a technique and subject matter that they had not attempted before.

“It pushed me out of my comfort zone and made me try harder to make something new work, rather than be complacent with a technique I was happy with. The result was my first series using marine plastic debris,” said Mandy.

She will be signing copies of her new book at major international photography fair Photo London at Somerset House next month. She will be at booth C-2 in the central London venue’s East Wing Gallery on the weekend of May 20-21.

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Mandy on Lap Sap Wan beach, Hong Kong, collecting items for her ‘Hong Kong Soup: 1826’ series. The beach, nicknamed ‘rubbish’ by the people of Hong Kong, is 12ft deep in detritus in parts

An artist’s edition of the book contained in a hand-made box replete with a replica sketchbook for the series, two limited-edition signed prints and a microscope slide sample of micro-plastic from the shoreline of Cobh, Ireland, will also be released at Photo London.

Mandy will go on to promote the book at the Rencontres d’Arles photo festival in France in July and at the Paris Photo exhibition at the Grand Palais on the Champs-Elysées this November.

The Prix Pictet award is by nomination-only with 300 selectors worldwide picking just 12 people each year from some 700 photographers for its final shortlist. The winner will be announced by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan at the V&A Museum in London this Thursday (4 May).

Mandy’s images are also being exhibited at the V&A Museum from 5 May until 28 May, and at The Sirius Arts Centre, Cork, Ireland, from 27 May until 2 July.

Posted on Monday 1st May 2017

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