The global award in photography and sustainability

Mandy Barker

Spheres formed by nature are all around us, from the moon and the planets, to the hidden world in a droplet of water, but often these microcosms are not what they seem. Water is the essential ingredient for any life-supporting world, covering seventy per cent of the earth’s surface this vast ocean space falls short of perfection.

Plankton form a diverse group of microscopic marine organisms living in the water column, not able to swim against the current; they exist in a drifting, floating, state. In this series unique ‘specimens’ of this animal species relate to the pioneering discoveries made by the marine biologist John Vaughn Thompson in Cobh, Cork harbor in the 1800’s.

Presented as microscopic samples, objects of marine plastic debris, recovered from the same location, mimic Thompson’s early scientific discoveries of plankton. The work represents the degradation and contamination of plastic particles in the natural environment, by creating the perception of past scientific discoveries, when organisms were free from plastic. Enveloping black space evokes the deep oceans beneath. Presenting new ‘specimens’ made from recovered debris, serves as a metaphor to the ubiquity of plastic as a result of man-made intervention, encapsulating in a miniature universe the much larger problem of an imperfect world.

Movements of the recovered plastic objects, recorded in camera over several seconds, represent the movement of individual plankton in the water column, which also parallels with planets that have an apparent motion of their own. Captured on expired film with faulty cameras, highlights the ‘imperfection’ in both technique and of subject matter. Nomenclature is the description given to devising new scientific names, of which each specimen has been given, imitating early latin origins each name contains the word ‘plastic’ hidden within its title.

Current scientific research has found that plankton ingest micro plastic particles, mistaking them for food, and at the base of the food chain they are themselves a crucial source of food for many larger creatures. The potential impact on marine life and ultimately man itself is currently of vital concern. In terms of plankton, and of action, we are ‘Beyond Drifting’, and must bring into focus these ‘Imperfectly Known Animals’.