Mark Sink

Mark Sink is one of my favorite types of people. He is constantly moving, thinking, and creating. Because of this, one might think that he is completely scattered and wild. I certainly did the first time I met him at his gallery. I followed him through a mini tour of his gallery's latest show and found myself blinking franticly as he raced from topic to topic. I could barely keep up, and I swear from the twenty minutes I was there, I came away with hours of stories. His thoughts seem to go a million miles a minute, and he has somehow harnessed this energy into creating a life for himself that is filled with creativity and life. I honestly can't think of a better way to be. After this brief encounter, we arranged to do a series of email interview questions, in which he talks about his exiting and dramatic life that he has built around photography.

Mark Sink in his Denver gallery.

One of my favorite questions to ask is, how and when did you begin on your path as a photographer? What are some of the key events in your life that lead you to the place you're at now?
My mother is a painter and I fondly remember the smells of turpentine and her paint stained smock. My dad is an architect and always had cool pencils and drafting tables around. A big one was Ruth Steele,  my music teacher in elementary school. She took me aside when I was falling back because I was left handed and dyslexic. She whispered in my ear, telling me I was going to be famous one day. She gave me assignments to paint the band stands, and gave me a bolex film camera to make clay animations. She encouraged my doodling and gave me my first art show (age 8) in the school hallway. That changed my life. It gave me belief in myself during the time I was in a system which was pushing me back; a public school that didn't understand my learning disorder.

In each level of education I was lucky to have someone that believed in me. I find myself instilling inspiration in young people a lot today because of the inspiration I was given. Simple encouragement can really make a difference in a kid's life.

As for photography, I was taking art classes in printmaking and painting at Metro and CU Denver. I was painting from photographic images and printing photo images. One in particular I was painting was an image of a nude stretched out on a dune by Walter Chappell (who is in the show up now at my gallery). Soon I found fine art photography. I had never really thought of using the camera to make experimental fine artwork. I was shown the pinhole camera and that is when I found my old Diana camera.

How has your vision as an artist/photographer evolved through the years?
Oh .. I was hungry to make art images with the camera at first (late 1970s). Locked in the school darkrooms late at night, we experimented making work much like the Starn Twins; creating and exploring, being very irreverent, pissing on prints, scratching the emulsions off, solarizing, making images from video stills (portable video was just a couple years old in the mid 70s). Around the end of school I found my art was wanted by the commercial world and I could make a living from it. So, I headed off to into commercial land and soon moved to NY. I was making amazing money but after a while I became a bit wilted and empty creatively with commercial assignments. Plus, I put my heart and guts on the line which was so short term in longevity; meaning like an ad or fashion spread was forgotten a month later. I soon wanted to make art again; something that lasted longer, so I rented a little room for a darkroom. I made new work and bloomed again. I had my first one-person show at the Sharp Gallery, NY. At that time, instead of doing catalogs for fashion, I started working doing catalogs for galleries and artists. I shot for Marlboro gallery (about a dozen artists like Leg’e, Leo Castelli, Robert Miller, Vreg Baghomian, Jean Michel Basquiat, and Warhol). This was a very exciting time meeting and shooting these super star artists. During the shoots of their work I would always do a portrait of them. Many of them I became friends with.

One of Sink's exquisite nudes.

Do you have a favorite subject matter to photograph and if so, why?
Not one, many: beauty ..figures, flowers, clouds, shadows, odd objects, staged fantasy. Portraits. I like the line, “my work is more for the heart than the head.”

Tell me a little bit about your process, i.e., technical details such as equipment, lighting, developing or whathaveyou.
I have a darkroom in the basement.

I still love traditional chemical photography. I buy the best papers still available. I like t-max fine grain .. I use kodak 160 nc for portraits; it has very pleasing skin tones. I shoot 64t all the way up to 8x10” when documenting art.. I do lots of slide stills for artists. I love my small aim and shoot cameras. People forget that even a throw away camera is about 15 mega pixels (professional grade digital.) Like the rest of the world, I am exploring digital; I am teaching myself. I buy lots of technical manuals to try and get myself up to speed. I have been testing extensively, getting used to it. I've been figuring out the best work flow with RAW format work flow; formatting and storage is my newest mission.

I found a wonderful lens I am using a lot now, called the Lens Baby ( It's a wonderful cross over from my plastic lensed Diana. I see it all over the place in big Ads now – The kids that invented it are getting rich. Its so simple: just a lens on a flexible tube so you can bend your film plane, like on a view camera. It's really fun to use for portraits and commercial applications, for instance, I have been using it to shoot sports cars for a Porsche manufacturer. I often pull it out for portraits.

Jean Michel Basquiat,
taken by Sink with a Diana camera.

The Diana has obviously played a very important role in your development as an artist. Can you talk a little about that relationship and where you are now with it?
I have always enjoyed reverse technology. People tend to always think the better the camera, the better the picture. I believe the better the concept, the better the picture. If you have a great concept, the camera really doesn't matter. The Diana is very easy, sometimes too easy (I call it easy art). It helps out people that don't have any concept or talent. Like Polaroid transfers, or now scanner art. So, I walk a fine line using a plastic Diana camera. I believe if you have a good concept, then the Diana can just enhance it; romanticize it. My favorite, best images people don't know what kind of camera was used.

I realize that the time you spent at the Factory with Andy Warhol, et al, doesn't completely define you, but it's very, very interesting and lends a certain sensationalism to er.. you. How did you get involved in that scene and what do you feel you've taken from those experiences?
Andy was an amazing jumping off point for me, like I spoke earlier about my teachers that inspired me. It opened my eyes to breaking out of my bubble in Denver. I was kind of like in a closed circle creatively, and it was a golden door out. He always introduced me as a “wonderful photographer” to really powerful people. This had a great effect on me made me believe in myself and made me see that anything is possible if you just want it. It was a great period of growth for me. It was like that music teacher in elementary school. I think that is why I really pride myself in being a inspirational teacher. I love taking kids that were locked in a hole or bubble and making them realize they can do anything. I always try and point out the things in their work that is really wonderful rather then dwell on what is not.

Sink, Andy, et al.

Andy was but a small part of the whole Factory scene. Fred Hughes ran everything; he was Andy. Bob Colacello, Bridged Berlin, and Pat Hackett were his scribes and ghost writers. With his mag, Interview, I worked with Page Powell and the art director Mark Ballet.

But back to Andy, here is an essay I wrote a few years ago (see attached).

Tell me about the MCA: how did you originally get involved and what's your involvement now?
In 1994-5, I met a wonderful artist, Marina Graves, in a community garden. She said to me, “don't you think we need a contemporary art museum? Mark you know a lot of people why don't we start it?" So in my back yard, we had some of our first board meetings. We made a bumper sticker: “Wanted: A Contemporary Art Museum.” We then found out about a wealthy lady who was also having meetings, wanting to start a local art center, so we joined her group and carefully guided her into wanting a world class contemporary art museum. It was not an easy road.

Tell me about your great grandfather, James L. Breese and how his work has perhaps shaped what you are doing now.
JLB has been an amazing journey of re-discovery. It's been a long, on going project researching him. We have so many parallels: He cofounded the Camera Club of NY, he was a portrait photographer, and he documented art work for painters and sculptors. I do the same. He photographed woman and was always caught up in some sort of scandal with “lascivious intrigue;” same with me. See my bio on him.

He inspired me to create the Denver Salon. This is my statement for the group:

”The Denver Salon was formed by 1993 to gather Denver fine art  photographers that he admired who were pursuing higher ideals in the use of photography. The Denver Salon prides itself with presenting bold experiments--risky and revealing  subject matter as well as ambitious photo-installations. This group is committed to taking the art to new places. 

In researching his great grandfather (James L. Breese), a photographer, who held midnight salons in New York City in the 1880’s Sink became enamored and wanted to emulate his legacy. Breese called his group “The Carbonites”, taken from the carbon print--a rare and difficult printing process Breese produced at his Carbon Studio. Like Breese's salons, The Denver Salon gathers to show work, discuss art, share ideas and techniques of artistic experimentation. The group likes to reconstruct the French salon to discuss art and share ideas and techniques of artistic experimentation. The group likes to reconstruct the French salon setting which boasts a candelabra, draping curtains, and fine food, drink and discussion. Sink soon found that there was power in numbers and he started to successfully approach galleries and museums to host exhibits of the groups’ art work. The most recent of these efforts landed a show in NYC at the Artopia Gallery in January. “ I’ve always been aware that Denver has a particularly strong art community,” Sink says. “ And a powerfully strong core group of artists using photography as their medium.” Sink also likens Denver to Prague with similar “self-contained art movement not involved with the east or west but with its own quiet cultural hot bed that has been fermenting and growing for the last few decades with little national recognition."

How did Gallery Sink come about and where do you see it going (or not going) in the future?
My gallery is the building I had my studio in, and I was offered to buy it for an amazing price. This was a good karma rebate story. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was owned by the father of a wonderful artist/painter Don Carleno. I had been buying his paintings on and off for years, taking months to pay them off in 50 dollar increments. I put him in a wonderful museum show. My support of his son, I guess, really impressed him. So, he offered it to me.  I mortgaged my house and put a down payment on it. That is when I started thinking about making it a gallery, too. That was a busy period for me because I was also the director of MCA/Denver at that point. 

As both an artist and an art dealer, how do you reconcile the fact that you are taking something that is very personal and trading it for money? I realize that it becomes necessary for survival and for the survival of art, but how do you go about protecting the integrity and the truth of the work in the marketplace?
Art is life. Trading it for money? photography is easy, its a multiple medium ... you have more. It's painters and sculptors that I wonder how they let the work go .. the one and only. I can not imagine that. When I make one of a kind work I get very sad to see it go. Money and Art, I wrote in my myspace statement that I feel money corrupts art. I get really unnerved when young artists want to know how they are going to make a living from their art. It's going about it wrong. You make the art first and do anything you can to support your projects... not thinking how are your projects going to support you.

Artists are terrible art dealers, they always under sell themselves. They smell the money and give everthing away. I say that because I do it when I'm broke. I give work to people that like it and can't afford it. But I hold my ground with wealthy people. Giving work away for cheap is dangerous for long term integerty and market value. I think it's great when I see a show of an emerging young person with really, really high prices. It makes me smile that he or she honestly values their work and what it is worth to them.
I generally I don't exhibit my work at Gallery Sink. (some times in-between shows I have been known to have pieces up and I keep it around the office... but in general... I like to have my other dealers sell my work.

Do please, go to Mark's gallery website and check out his portfolio. You will not be disappointed.

March 2006. All photos provided by Mark Sink.