Month of Photography Denver: An Interview with Founder Mark Sink

All month long Denver, Colorado is showing its love for the photographic medium with Month of Photography Denver. The festival schedule is full of exhibitions, lectures, portfolio reviews, and public art. We spoke with the festival’s founder Mark Sink to learn more about the festival’s development and outreach.

Ice Cube Gallery celebrates MoPD

DTP: What is Month of Photography Denver?

Mark Sink: Starting in 2004, it was one month of photography. Now it has grown into many months. Starting in February and runs through April, it is a biennial celebration of fine art photography with hundreds of collaborative public events throughout Denver and the surrounding region. We join with multiple museums, galleries, schools, coffee shops, and alleys—all to celebrate fine art photography.

DTP: Dedicating an entire month to the art of photography is an ambitious undertaking. How did you come up with this idea?

MS: All of my life, I always enjoyed gathering talent together—be it a salon in living room, a exhibition, on the Internet, a book, or wheat pasting art in alleys. I curated shows before I even knew when the term “curator” was.

I love doing artist books. I did a project called the CODEX where each page is an original piece of art. I selected/invited a group of artists to each make a piece in an edition of 150, and we would then make 150 books. They are a giant hit with museums bookstores and great places like Printed Matter in NYC.

In the mid 1990s I started going to the Houston FotoFest and became good friends with the directors Wendi Watriss and Fred Baldwin. We would share exhibitions and projects. That is when I decided I needing to start Month of Photography Denver. Wendi and Fred were my inspiration. Also, together we founded the salon of photography festivals from around the world called the Festival of Light. This also is what keeps MoPD relevant—joining with the other festivals on the world stage arm-in-arm sharing ideas, talent, and exhibitions. I draw on talent from the other festivals all the time. For instance, we are bringing Photolucida's Critical Mass Top 50 to MoP this year.

Dot Series by Mark Sink

DTP: An accomplished photographer yourself, how does your role as festival director influence your work?

MS: Interesting question. I sift through a crazy amount of top talent. So in one way it puts me in my place when I compare myself to some of the uber great photographers and concepts happening. That can be belittling to the ego, but in other ways it sharpens and refines me.

I have been a portrait photographer all my life and I know my place in the art world. I am not going to change any direction in the cannon of art (haha!) I am happy with my place of just making pretty pictures. As long as I am happy in the darkroom, all is well. I call it “dancing in the darkroom” when a great image appears.

DTP: How would you describe the city of Denver’s role and reputation in the art world?

MS: Denver is like Prague in that it is in the middle—not east coast and not west coast. A great art culture has been steadily fermenting and growing here with a strong DIY community doing super great unique work, giving Denver its very own voice. The gallery scene is very healthy. We have 11 different busy art districts and go wild on first Fridays. That scene is mixed with world class museums being built recently by star architects like MCA Denver, DAM, Clyfford Still, Kirkland Museum. We also have healthy governmental support from the city and state. So combine all that, and my Months of Photography, and we are gaining a significant reputation worldwide.

The Big Pictures on a truck, 2015

The Big Pictures on a truck, 2015

DTP: Could you discuss some of the public art programming for this year’s festival? How has bringing photography into public spaces affected community members not affiliated with the arts?

MS: This year’s general theme is “Between the Medium: Seeing Photographically.” It is an overview of the far-reaching applications and concepts emerging in photography today. Exploring the wide range in artists’ practices that happen to use photography as an ingredient, it is a survey of how the many mediums of contemporary art are mixing with photography, and how it belongs less and less to a specific medium or traditional photographic category.

My personal favorite project is The Big Picture. It truly bringing photography out onto the street for the public to happen upon. There is nothing better than turning a shitty alley into a beautiful art gallery.

I have dreams of expanding The Big Picture even more with image wrap technology, like the Paris Panels project.

We are bringing The Fence to Denver also. The call for submissions is out now.

Another way of educating the public on collecting and appreciating fine art photography is a program I want to do (I might do it for this MoP if I have time) similar to baseball trading cards. Each gallery would have an image representing the exhibition. The public goes to each participating gallery and picks up/collects the 8x10 image. They would be facsimiles of a collectible print, titled, signed and dated by the artist. It would be a treasure hunt of sorts and the public could build a portfolio of memorable souvenir of MoP while at the same time learn about collecting.

Right now we have the big broadsheet newspaper handout at all of the galleries. One side it lists all the MoP events and the other is big poster with a super cool image in it. It makes me very happy to see those pinned up in people’s homes and offices.

Wheat pasting for The Big Picture, 2015.

DTP: How can photographers who are not from the Denver area, or who are not showing in participating galleries get involved?

MS: Like our Facebook page! I announce great things there daily. Or go to our calendar to put the events of interest right on your personal calendar in one click.

There are also portfolio reviews, workshops, and lectures galore. Many are at the hub of MoP at RedLine.

For The Big Picture, come help wheat paste with us around town. It’s great fun!

We have zillions of calls for entries. Most are closed now, but keep them in mind for next year.

In general, the Denver galleries are very interested in seeing work when a MoP is coming up. Aim for 2019. It’s a very fertile time for photographers looking to show work.  

Month of Photography Denver runs through April, 2017. Visit their website for a complete list of events.