Arts and Entertainment
New photos, vintage process
By Kyle MacMillan
Denver Post Fine Arts Critic
The imperfections inherent in the 19th-century wet collodion process only enhance the mystery and timelessness of "Kristen Floating," a unique 4" -by-5" -inch print by Mark Sink and Kristen Hatgi. (Images from Rule Gallery )
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For centuries, artists have turned to the past to inspire the new.
So it is with Denver photographers Mark Sink and Kristen Hatgi, who collaborated earlier this year on a series of 79 spellbinding, anachronistic-seeming images on view through Jan. 17 at the Rule Gallery.
The two have revived the nearly forgotten wet-plate collodion process, which replaced the daguerrotype in the mid-1850s but was itself supplanted by less laborious dry-plate techniques a few decades later.
In the demanding collodion process, tin or glass plates are immersed in a silver nitrate solution, and then they must be exposed in the camera and developed in minutes while still wet. The negative images appear as positives when mounted on dark paper.
Figurative images, including "Charlotte in Bow," dominate the 79 wet collodion photographs on view at Rule Gallery.
Using a vintage 1850s camera, Sink and Hatgi traveled back into photographic history for this ambitious project, mastering the intricacies of the venerable technique while simultaneously updating and revitalizing it.
The enticingly dark-hued images that resulted — most 4 1/2 by 5 1/2 inches — have a sometimes murky, sometimes shadowy look, with serendipitous flaws and imperfections that are an inevitable part of this imprecise process.
Their intimate size and inherent inexactitude mean that viewers have to look more closely and spend more time with these photographs to fully appreciate their power — a welcome antidote to today's nonstop, instantaneous imagery.
Because viewers cannot help but associate the antique appearance of these photographs with some bygone era, the subject matter, however modern it might be, is inevitably refracted via the past. And, paradoxically, this intersection of past and present gives these pieces an unmistakably contemporary feel.
In many of these works, the two collaborators deliberately play up the ambiguity of time. Selections, such as "Rose in Water," possess a vaguely and probably deliberate Victorian flavor.
In addition, some of the apparel worn by the
A graceful quietude pervades Sink and Hatgi's "Datura in Hand." 5.5 X 4.5 inches
women, such as big, flowing skirts, also suggests the past, as do some of the accompanying props, such as the ungainly, old-fashioned brace in "Lauren With Leg Brace."
While these pieces cover an impressively broad range of subject matter, including still lifes and stunning landscapes such as "Small Aspens," most are devoted to portraits (including some self-portraits) and nudes.
The nudes (some recalling E.J. Bellocq's alluring portraits of New Orleans prostitutes in 1912) are suffused with freshness and sensuality, even eroticism at times, with nearly all of them coming off as refined rather than crass.
These figurative images are obviously staged, some with intriguing props, such as the odd, open hoop in "Sascha in Hoop Skirt," that add a kind of enigmatic air. Most are successful, but a few, such as "Mark and Kristen" go too far, becoming stagey and forced.
Sink, by far the better known of the two photographers, has been such a ubiquitous presence on the Denver scene for some three decades that it is easy to take him for granted.
It doesn't help that he is so prolific that much of what he does gets exhibited little if at all. The result is that viewers see a tree here and there, but never the full forest that is his extensive oeuvre.
This exhibition, along with a smaller, accompanying look at his portraits of Andy Warhol from the early 1980s, provide a strong reminder that it is time for a local institution to undertake a mid-career survey of his work.
Meanwhile, photography cognoscenti and people who simply enjoy intriguing, unusual imagery can bask in this compelling show.
"Light and Time: Wet Plate Collodion Photographs"
Photography. Rule Gallery, 227 Broadway. An exhibition of 79 collaborative images by Denver photographers Mark Sink and Kristen Hatgi that make use of an obsolete yet still viable 19th-century process. Extended through Jan. 17. Noon to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Free. 303-777-9473 or rulegallery.com.