Mark Sink, whose photographs will be on display at Phototroph until the end of October, is a prolific, restless and interesting artist. By all appearances a classic overachiever, he's created quite a body of work.
In the early '80s, Sink hung out with Andy Warhol and his circle. You could argue that hanging out with the famous is not an achievement -- it's easy to be a groupie, after all -- and you'd be right. But while Sink clearly had a good time, he also created some wonderful photographs. Some hang in the show -- for example, a ghostly, ethereal portrait of Warhol that perfectly captures the artist's elusive, not-quite-there quality. And dozens of others, unframed, are in a portfolio, itself a mini-exhibition of a vanished world. Looking at the pictures -- Mick Jagger unsuccessfully trying to stick out his famous tongue; Warhol, Sink and a bunch of vaguely familiar people on their way to Studio 54; scenes at Warhol's studio -- you see a gritty, creative, open and joyous world, a time and a place that now seems as quaint and distant as Toulouse-Lautrec's fin de sicle Paris.
After New York, Sink moved to Denver and founded Denver's Museum of Contemporary Art, and he also opened Gallery Sink, which he describes as a resource center for fine photography. Some of his recent shows at Gallery Sink include Emotional Distance (landscapes), Human Form and Social Landscapes (social documentary). With Web sites such as TheSight.com, Sink began 10 years ago to assemble photographic exhibitions "culled from and created on the Internet."
As a photographer, Sink's like a kid in a candy store, delighted by the medium and all of its possibilities, ready to change and experiment, fascinated by beauty. And he's not rigidly devoted to the kind of forbiddingly expensive, appallingly complicated apparatus that so many of his peers lug around. For one series, "Apparitions," he used a Diana Camera, which is literally a toy camera. Why? "I'm having a wonderful love affair with Diana ... she is very light and easy to take everywhere ... [she] is a tool to make art that is a reaction against the refined glass optics that control the way that we see the world around us ... standard photographs are too sharp, too real ... the world isn't that way."
But how does Diana produce the dreamy, strangely beautiful images in the series? "I started selecting them from film that I bring to the one-hour lab. The images found [are] the rejects, the ones they don't charge you for ... blurry, overexposed, taken while starting a new roll of film ... less is more."
Entering Phototroph, it's hard to believe that this is a one-man show, that a single photographer created such wildly different images. There are tough, lyrical, Weegee/Brassai-influenced shots of Warhol's New York and lushly romantic nudes, restrained and classical. There's even a perfect color still life, heavily influenced by the Dutch masters of the 17th century. It's a rich, exuberant, perfectly controlled and disturbing image, expressing, in Sink's words, "The whole drama of life ... flowers, veggies, bugs and animals bursting out with life ... but, back in the dark the cycles of death ... decomposition, worms, snails, the bones ... recycled back into the earth."
Though Sink may have no discernible style, he's not just an eclectic jack-of-all-trades. His work has a single unifying theme -- the search for the transcendently beautiful image, the photograph that's deep, simple and powerful. Does he succeed? That's for the viewer to judge, so go have a look.
-- John Hazlehurst
At This Turn of the Century: Photographs by Denver's Mark Sink From 1980 to 2004
Phototroph Gallery, 218 W. Colorado Ave., Suite 111
Through Oct. 30
Open Saturday, noon to 5 p.m.; weekdays by appointment
Call 442-6995 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org