Photographer Mark Sink is one of the grand old men of the Denver cultural tableau, with a colorful past, deep roots in photography (his great-grandfather James L. Breese founded the Camera Club of New York, and Breese's uncle Samuel Finley Breese Morse, inventor of the telegraph, has been called "the Father of American Photography") and a spirit of collectivism in the arts. The son of a painter and an architect, he hung with Andy Warhol's Factory crew in New York City and made his name using a Diana plastic-lens toy camera, started the Denver Salon (in the Breese tradition), opened and ran the Sink Gallery and was one of the founders of MCA/Denver. Sink also founded and oversees Denver's citywide Month of Photography, which begins today and continues throughout the month.
Sink's second-floor Highland flat (artist David Zimmer lives on the first floor) is bright, airy and filled with art and photography, as well as an extensive photography library and classic camera collection. One shelf in the office houses a lovely rats-nest of toy cameras; old 35MM cameras line the window casings, and Sink even unshelves old Polaroid and other curiosities, including a dandy reporter's camera that looks like something straight out of His Girl Friday. He also proudly owns James Breese's camera.
In the present, Sink has switched artistic gears from the Diana as a photographer, though he still works in a low-tech tradition: With partner Kristen Hatgi, Sink now specializes in the slow-motion alchemy of the Victorian-era colloidal wet-plate process. It involves coating a glass or tin plate with a syrupy chemical collodion solution, which is then dipped in silver nitrate and exposed, still wet, in a camera. The plate is developed, washed and fixed, and the print made (following is a short video describing the process).
Sink and Hatgi work as a team, sharing or trading billing on shots. Their supplies come from various everyday places: Costco, science supply warehouses, hardware stores and, in the case of grain alcohol, the corner Korean liquor store. The darkroom is in a side-building. It's an exacting process, but also one that imbues the photographer with a certain amount of freedom. Hatgi likens it to painting, with its old-fashioned hands-on elements and slow, electricity-free process.
"It takes about 15 minutes per shot," says Sink, who has a real appreciation for analog equipment. "A part of the charm of it is how you can put together all the elements of the shot," he adds. "You have bad collodion days and good ones, but you know you've captured something magical in the process -- something true to the medium. It's satisfying to go in the reverse direction when everyone else is going megapixel." The resulting works are artful and ageless: a romantic linkage of old sensibilities and modern vignettes.
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