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People have become desensitized to the pervasive presence of litter in our oceans, according to the book that exposes the issue.

The book sheds light on the problem of waste in our oceans and highlights how people have become numb to its widespread presence.
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People have become desensitized to the pervasive presence of litter in our oceans, according to the book that exposes the issue. The book sheds light on the problem of waste in our oceans and highlights how people have become numb to its widespread presence.


When Mandy Barker came across a colorful fragment in a tide pool during a walk near East Yorkshire’s Spurn Point in 2012, she was captivated. “At first, I thought it was a strand of seaweed with beautiful shades of green and brown,” she recalls. “But when I reached to pick it up, I realized it was actually a strip of fabric from clothing.”

Barker, who spent her childhood on the Yorkshire coast, was familiar with the constant changes in the coastline where she used to gather driftwood and shells. She recalled that over time, she witnessed the washing up of various items such as TVs, fridge freezers, and computers on the beach. According to her, local fishers even reported seeing trawlers dumping waste into the ocean, causing harm to marine life. These trawlers were supposedly paid by people to dispose of their trash, but instead were adding to the problem and causing fish to get caught in the waste.

“Photographs taken by Barker, which have received awards, have highlighted the inconsistent beauty of plastic waste. Despite this, she was surprised at how convincingly the material resembled seaweed, and even brought it home and displayed it in her studio. With the help of online research, she discovered that it was a fragment from a polyester garment. She remarks that her mother had a nearly identical blouse in the 1970s, which adds an ironic twist to the situation.”

Images from Mandy Barker’s Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Imperfections.

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The artist from Hull embarked on a decade-long expedition, scouring the British coast for haunting remnants of discarded garments. This journey culminates in the release of a groundbreaking and environmentally radical recreation of the world’s first photographic book, Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions by Anna Atkins. The book will be launched on March 16, in honor of Atkins’s birthday.

Atkins’s pioneering work curated ghostly images of algae shapes on cyanotype, a monochrome blueprint created on a near-ultraviolet-to-blue light spectrum. Published in 1843, only 17 copies of the book – in varied forms of completion – are thought to remain.

Barker explains that upon finding the book at the Royal Society, she immediately knew it would be perfect for her project. The book discussed seaweed, and since she had fabric that resembled seaweed, she decided to incorporate it into her project.

Images from Anna Atkins’s original British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions.View image in fullscreen

During the 1800s, there was a lack of women in the publishing industry. Atkins took matters into her own hands and self-published her book under the initials “AA.” These initials were believed to stand for “anonymous amateur” until the 1970s. Barker notes, “She created these incredible books, but she never received recognition for them.”

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Over 200 pictures of her cloth pieces, including some with coral, snails, and shell fragments, were scanned to produce negatives used to make cyanotypes. Eventually, Barker became so obsessed with replicating the 19th-century style that her former college instructor advised her to remember her own identity, rather than trying to be Anna Atkins.

Images from Mandy Barker’s Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Imperfections.

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Funding the project stemmed from the urgency of addressing the detrimental effects of the rapidly growing fast fashion industry. Only a small fraction of clothing is recycled (less than 1%), causing countries like Kenya to receive millions of discarded garments every year. This waste often ends up in landfills.

In a recent study, it was discovered that affordable and fashionable clothing from popular brands like Zara, Nike, and Adidas deteriorated quickly after being bought, shedding over 100mg of fibers per kilo of laundry. This study also revealed that a significant amount of microplastics are released into the environment through washing synthetic clothes, contributing to pollution on a global scale, including our own bodies and the atmosphere.

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Polyester makes up the vast majority of synthetic fibre production – and huge amounts of fossil fuels are needed to make it. Fast fashion consumes more oil than the country of Spain, and oil majors are betting that there’s more space yet in the world’s collective wardrobe. BP’s energy scenario assumes that 95% of future oil demand growth will come from plastics production. The fashion industry already has a bigger carbon footprint than the maritime and aviation sectors put together. It is also estimated to cause 20% of global freshwater pollution.

“I observe everything from the sidelines, including the coastlines,” claims Barker. She admits, “I’m not someone who follows the latest fashion trends. I prefer to invest in quality clothing items that I hold onto for many years. In fact, I still have pieces in my wardrobe that I purchased a quarter of a century ago. This year, I have made a conscious decision not to buy any new clothes as a way to make a statement. I do not find it challenging to stick with this decision.”

The title page of Mandy Barker’s Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Imperfections.

The focus of her project is on generation Z and millennials, as she believes that older individuals are content with their long-term clothing choices. As vintage stores, secondhand sales, and community clothes markets increase in popularity, Barker hopes for a shift towards higher-priced, but higher-quality and longer-lasting garments.

Barker included a cyanotype, featuring an M&S St Michael clothing logo that is no longer in use since 2000, in her book. According to Barker, this was to illustrate the potential lifespan of the logo in the ocean. The purpose was to prompt readers to consider the minimal degradation of these materials.

Previously, when Barker tried to take pictures of junk on the shore, he noticed that people were not interested. They became desensitized to the sight of garbage and simply ignored it. He then realized that he needed to do something unique. Utilizing ambiguity in this manner can capture people’s attention and encourage them to learn more about its meaning, which is a victory for Barker.

Mandy Barker’s British Algae photographs, which showcase cyanotype imperfections, can be viewed on atkins-barker.com.

Source: theguardian.com