The Energy Issue

The Energy Issue is a Columbia University GSAPP initiative to make energy a cultural issue, launched in partnership with Oldcastle Building Envelope®.

Sea Soup: Mandy Barker’s Photo Collages of Ocean Trash

Sea Soup: Mandy Barker’s Photo Collages of Ocean Trash

 

Scientists have informally dubbed the discarded human waste accumulating in our oceans with a number of names: “soup,” “trash vortex,” and most nobly, the “Great Pacific garbage patch.” The last term makes particular reference to the exceptionally high relative concentrations of pelagic plastics, chemical sludge and other debris that have been trapped by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre, one of the five major oceanic gyres on the planet.

This map shows how ocean currents—and ocean pollution—migrate. (American Institute of Physics)

Gyres, large systems of rotating ocean currents, are the largest ecosystems in the world and, more recently, ground zero for massive accretions of plastic trash. In researching this phenomenon, UK photographer Mandy Barker developed a series of images entitled ‘Soup’ which depicts these plastics and discarded items salvaged from beaches around the world.

Works from Mandy Barker's "Soup" photo collage series

Works from Mandy Barker’s “Soup” photo collage series

Presented in beautifully precise, color-coded arrangements, the collected objects appear as a taxonomy of unique species in a toxic “ecosystem.” The images also underscore the longevity of even the tiniest pieces of trash: though haphazardly discarded and forgotten, they form an ever-growing environmental issue.

Works from Mandy Barker's "Soup" photo collage series

Works from Mandy Barker’s “Soup” photo collage series

Barker’s project, by bringing a seemingly remote subject into clear view, compels us to address this elephant in the room.