Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Interview with Mark & Kristen Sink

Sonja,2011, Wet Plate Collodion, Mark & Kristen Sink

 Last year I wrote an article for Black and White photography magazine on Mark & Kristen Sink’s stunning wet plate collodion imagery (see here). As is the case with the majority of ‘physically’published articles I have written over the years, one is restricted to a word count and therefore it is not possible to include all parts of a particular interview.   The full unedited version is below together with a selection of some of their wet plate imagery which will be on view at the couple’s upcoming exhibition at the Robin Rice Gallery in New York that runs from 15th January to February 24. If you have even the remotest interest in alternative photographic processes and are in the area this is a show not to be missed, the original plates are something to behold.

(You can learn about the platinum prints we created for the couple on our sister site the 'The Art of Platinum Prinitng'  by clicking here)

Full Interview

How did the collaboration between Mark and yourself start and why did you choose to pursue this particular alternative process?

Mark and I began to collaborate in the summer of 2008 working mainly in wet plate collodion. A few months before, Mark's friend Mark Katzman was on a road trip and came through Denver with his wet plate darkroom in the back of his truck. He photographed us and showed us the basics of how it worked. We both had interest in the process before but it felt distantly obscure and sounded dangerous and difficult. The reality of seeing it done before our eyes propelled us into gathering everything needed to shoot. After my final semester of school we started shooting together. It was something we could start fresh at and both learn together. We love wet plate collodion because it is real and true. The light that has bounced off the subject makes the final image. Like a Polaroid they are one- of-a-kind precious objects.

When you both started learning the process what were the main challenges and how long did it take to become confident with the process?

There were many challenges when we first started. Finding the chemicals and hardware was a challenge. We had to sign paperwork stating our purpose for using cyanide. Because we were nervous and didn't want to make a mistake, mixing our chemicals the first couple times took forever. Coating the plate with collodion took many many tries to get right. Looking back it was slightly comical, our first summer. We wore big goggles, gloves, aprons, and I often had a big stain of silver nitrate across my forehead, from pushing my hair back with my gloves on. Even though we really had almost no clue what we were doing we had very good beginner's luck. The first image we took together is on my website. Lauren nude with an Elizabethan collar. I am not sure there ever was a time when I felt like "now I am confident." We are still learning and there are many people who know way more technically about wet plate collodion then we do. We do have our system down now and I do feel more confident in collodion than in any other photographic medium. 

Kristen in Gords, Wet Plate Collodion, Mark & Kristen Sink

 What advice would you give to people who are interested in starting wet plate collodion but think it might be too difficult?

Just do it! Maybe shoot with some else first or watch a youtube demo to see if it fits your style of working. I don't think it is for everyone. It is slow and time consuming. If you like silver printing, baking bread from scratch, remodelling your house, or being hands on in general you will like wet plate collodion.

Your imagery reminds me of some of my favourite photographers including Julie Margaret Cameron, Sarah Moon and Sally Mann. Which photographers from the past have you both been inspired by in the creation of your wet plate imagery?

We are both inspired by all three of the artist you have mentioned. We love pulling Julia Margaret Cameron's book off the shelf to show our models as inspiration. She has been a huge influence in our work. Her portraits are so simple and romantic. Her exposures must have been so very long. Much longer than ours because she was making negative wet plates and we make positive. Her subjects would have been very committed to having their portrait taken. One of the lenses we use is actually the same model she used.

Sally Mann was one of my early inspirations. I was in my first year of making pictures and I saw one of her prints up at a travelling show. I remember staring at it and examining every corner of the image for a long time in amazement. I soon after looked at her books and found her wonderful world of supple, poised, small nude creatures in seductive landscapes. Her images are so beautiful and complex with so many elements to consider that I found myself overwhelmed, wondering how one makes such pictures, and inspired to try and make better pictures myself. Her latest work is quite the opposite in subject matter. Her collodion portraits are so close up on the faces, they seem to disappear. The portraits of her sick husband and the decaying corpses are of things slipping away that I think the qualities of collodion speak well too. I admire artists who make work about, or are inspired by the people and ideas closest to them. Sally Mann has made one of the most amazing bodies photographing her intimate immediate life.

I watched an interview of Sarah Moon explaining her shooting process. There was a part I very much enjoyed where she explained how she would watch her subject and wait until they did something wonderful or posed in just the right way and then ask them to freeze. I related to her on this note. I am very much inspired by a model's natural pose, or something they do that they were not imagining had anything to do with modeling.

I love Francesca Woodman's work. For many years her pictures were always in the front of my conciseness. I was just in
New York City this last week and saw her show at the Guggenheim. The show brought me to tears. I was so overwhelmed seeing her original prints all in one place. Mark introduced me to her work when we first met. Her very early vision and commitment to being an artist is extremely inspiring.

Brooke Lynn on Stove, 2011, Wet Plate Collodion, Mark & Kristen Sink

You had an exhibition in 2009, how did that go, was it hard to let go of the unique plates you had created?

We had our first major exhibitions in Denver at Robin Rule Gallery and the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art and then in 2009 we showed at Robin Rice in New York City. Many friends and family made the journey to join us. It is very exciting to show work at a gallery and to have real people take the time to look at real work. In this day of Internet it is rare to see work in a gallery. We also recently showed at AIPAD with Paul Cava and will be showing again with Robin Rice this coming winter. Yes, It is very hard to let go of the plates. It is exciting and such an honour when someone buys them, but just as equal there is a sadness letting go of something you spent so much time and thought working on. We now know what a painters goes through when they sell unique pieces.

Still Life,2012, Wet Plate Collodion, Mark & Kristen Sink

What is it in that you and Mark particularly like about the wet plate aesthetic?

I enjoy the handmade qualities of the fingerprints and pour marks, in addition to the unpredictable chemical stains. Along with using a very short depth of field, the graphic qualities of collodion simplify shapes, while not losing detail. Wet plates are unique objects, like paintings. I find the process of making and shooting a plate to be relaxing and enjoyable. It takes about fifteen to twenty minutes to shoot each plate with coating, soaking, setting up a shot, shooting, developing, fixing, washing and then afterward scanning and varnishing. We usually shoot about five to ten images in one afternoon. This makes us really slow down and make each image count. I find I make better pictures when I have to breath and think in between pictures. I find I am often thinking about my next image while developing in the darkroom or while Mark is making his plate. Mark and I take turns shooting back and forth.

Flowers feature prominently in many of your collaborative images, what is the reason behind this, have you both always been interested in photographing flowers?

I have always loved flowers. They do reappear in our pictures over and over. I did my senior photography theses on bees. Bees and flowers are tied together closely. The first known flowers to appear on the earth was about 140 million years ago. I believe form follows function. plants and flowers have had millions of years to become amazing little packages of life and reproduction. I believe flowers are so beautiful because they are so functional. Also, I work as a florist and have become familiar with many kinds of flora. Mark has long been interested in the Dutch floral still lifes of the 17th century. Mark is dedicated community garden participant and has gotten to take home plenty a bounty of veggies and flowers over the years to photograph and eat.

Renucula, 2009, Wet Plate Collodion, Mark & Kristen Sink

For me personally some of your strongest images have a narrative aspect to them with a sense of mystery and intrigue, what themes/stories have your images covered over the last four years?

Mark and I are constantly looking at other artists and talking about concepts and ideas. Mark is one of my main source of my inspiration, particularly of late. He will say something really relevant and I will get an image in my mind. I am interested in beauty, truth, people, gestures, fabric, fashion, why people think things are beautiful. I also am interested in sexuality, how people are motivated by beauty and sex, and how it all is intertwined.

What is it like working together, what do you each bring to the collaboration when creating your wet plate imagery.

We work well as a team. We will coat each other's plates. Mark will often book the model. I mix most of chemistry. We both like to do hair. I will sometimes make a special outfit for the shoot. Mark’s setups will sometimes inspire me, or the other way around. We are very lucky because we have similar visions and ideas about what works and what does not work. We are also a bit competitive. Getting the best shot of the day is the challenge. I find models are often lucky to have two photographers on the same day, because if one of us is making duds the other is on it. Although I am sometimes fiercely independent on some of my shoots and ideas, I always like Mark to be with me. I have shot without him on occasion and it is not the same. I think we both make better work when the other is there. We love being with each other and making work together. It is dream and wish come true to be in such a wonderful collaborative relationship.

Mark & Megan,2011, Wet Plate Colldion, Mark & Kristen Sink