Delicate Flowers: The Photographs of Kristen Hatgi-Sink

Every month an exclusive edition run of a photograph by an artist featured in Don't Take Pictures magazine is made available for sale. Each image is printed by the artist, signed, numbered, and priced below $200.

We believe in the power of affordable art, and we believe in helping artists sustain their careers. The artists receive the full amount of the sale.

We are pleased to release May's print, "Shelby in Gourd Plant, 2011" from Kristen Hatgi-Sink. Read more about Hatgi-Sink’s work below.

Purchase this print from our print sale page.

Shelby in Gourd Plant, 2011
Archival pigment print from tintype original
6 x 9, signed and numbered edition of 5

In the backyard wilderness of her Denver home, Kristen Hatgi-Sink works photographic alchemy. With sunlight and simple chemistry, she makes striking tintypes of women among overgrown flora that are alive with feminine sexuality, yet carry a strong undercurrent of melancholy. The women who inhabit these luscious spaces are often despondent; forlornly draped over benches, staring into space or directly at the viewer—their gaze unapologetic yet non-confrontational. Hatgi-Sink directs her models from behind the dark cloth of her 8 x 10 view camera, positioning them in subtly sensual poses amidst the verdant Eden that she has created.

When viewing these tintypes, one might believe them to have been made in the countryside at the turn of the last century, but a closer look reveals details and gestures that are decidedly contemporary. Adorned with elaborate floral arrangements, the women in Hatgi-Sink’s photographs present a modern-day mythology. In one image, a nude figure emerges from a pond filled with lily pads. Stark white against the inky black water, she takes on a nymph-like appearance, conjuring a darker, contemporary reimagining of Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus.” Her scale is distorted by the large format camera’s selective focus, and her form could be mistaken for a fountain sculpture.

Blending into the surrounding plant life, or Goddess-like in a floral headdress; these women find themselves in beautifully luxurious garden settings. Their poses are delicate and evocative of the surrounding flora. In one photograph, a woman curls forward over a bench, nestled among large leaves. In another, a young woman sits against a cascade of blossoms, her long hair melding with the petals. Embracing the unique characteristics of the collodion process, Hatgi-Sink provides visual clues that all is not well in paradise. The somber facial expressions and intrusive vegetation suggest a loss of control, as though these young women seemed to have come upon some tragic realization.

Many of the photographs have some degree of nudity, which Hatgi-Sink believes, “is not something new or terribly interesting, but it is beautiful.” Photographed without makeup and never retouched, the realness of the models gives the imagery a sexuality that is achieved through more than simply showing skin. She views sexuality and life as interconnected, and her work presents a strong correlation between women and the lushness of nature. Hatgi-Sink seems most interested in making photographs in the moments where these women have begun to wilt. Though still beautiful, they are no longer lively, having perhaps discovered, as Hatgi-Sink describes it, “a dark correlation between themselves and the cut flowers surrounding them.” They too are decorative, meant to bloom only for a short time.

While studying photography at The Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University, Hatgi-Sink became interested in the work of Mark Osterman, France Scully Osterman, and Sally Mann, three photographers who helped lead the resurrection of wet plate collodion. Used by historic photographers such as Julia Margaret Cameron and William Henry Jackson, the 19th-century photographic process is currently experiencing a revival. Traditionally, a glass or tin surface is coated with light-sensitive chemistry, exposed in-camera, and developed while the plate is still wet. The entire process, from capture to final image, is often completed within half an hour, resulting in a unique and nearly instant photographic object. Known for its detail and rich blacks, the flaws in the chemistry are an accepted and beloved component of the medium. Hearing only that wet plate collodion was “difficult and dangerous,” Hatgi-Sink became determined to learn it. Soon after, a friend travelling through Denver made a few collodion portraits of Hatgi-Sink and her now-husband Mark Sink. Captivated by the hands-on process, the ethereal quality of the photographs, and the way that the chemistry rendered the light, she returned to Boston for her last year of school and dedicated herself to learning the craft.

After graduation, Hatgi-Sink moved back to her hometown of Denver, where, alongside Mark Sink, she spent the summer completely immersed in wet plate collodion experimentation. “We became a team; each being the others’ inspiration, muse, assistant, plate coater, chemical mixer, costume designer, and lunch maker. Our hands, feet, clothes, and often face were marked with silver nitrate stains.” The two are partners in both work and life, having married in 2012. Mark is a fixture of the Denver art scene, and his work is held in numerous museum collections and exhibited internationally. Kristen boasts an impressive exhibition history as well since graduating in 2008 with a B.F.A. in photography. Together, they bring out the creative best in each other.

Having worked as a florist, Hatgi-Sink is fascinated by our ability to purchase nature and reconfigure it to suit our needs. One of the more elaborate expressions of this fascination is the image “Flower Dress.” In it, a bare-chested woman stands tall and regal wearing a runway-worthy hoop-skirt made of flowers. The dress’s construction of chicken wire and freshly cut flowers, embellished by additional vines and flowers suspended from above, is a triumph of prop styling. Representing, as Hatgi-Sink describes it, “consumption of the natural world for self-beautyment,” “Flower Dress” became a creative turning point. Her new work is a departure from wet plate collodion, yet retains many of the same botanical and portraiture elements. Now working in digital color, she has moved into the studio, filling it with flowers and fruits. Without the seductive qualities of collodion, she relies on her talents for set design, lighting, and pose to maintain the pensive and magical elements of her signature style. Whether in the rich black and white of wet plate collodion or the rich colors of digital photography, Hatgi-Sink’s striking tableaus remain focused on the often unsettling relationship between femininity and the fleeting beauty of nature.

This article first appeared in print in Issue 6.

Kat Kiernan is a terrible gardener and the Editor-in-Chief of Don’t Take Pictures.