Denver-based photographer Kristen Hatgi Sink works out of her dining room studio, sometimes using a single tabletop as the site from which her images are made. She creates messy and elaborate sets that include, but are not limited to: potted plants; lush flowers and foliage; forty-plus gallons of milk; a lamb; honey; bugs; and light-skinned female models. Her most recent series, Milk, is a gently refined evolution of her earlier series, A Tented Sky. Both series utilize similar motifs and address issues of commodity, colonialism, and Western ideals of femininity.
In A Tented Sky, tabletop still lifes, in the vein of the Northern Renaissance, are piled high with extravagances such as crab legs, an octopus, and most surprisingly, female figures. Like the objects in their surroundings, the figures are presented as entities to be consumed. The models do not look into the camera and at times seem to be suffocating in the stuff that surrounds them. At first glance, these images appear “pretty” and might be dismissed as such, because they contain all the makings of prettiness: flowers, butterflies, and nude young women. In reality, they are a commentary on the commodification of the natural world as seen through a classical Western lens.
The use of floral arrangements and produce in both series is seated in a historical context and alludes to gardens, and more specifically gardens as they relate to colonialism. Throughout history, gardens have been a measure of status. Tulip mania, considered to be one of the first speculative bubbles, came crashing down in 1637 as the price of tulip bulbs plummeted in the Netherlands. At the time, the Netherlands was the most prosperous country in the world, which allowed a luxury economy to flourish as it never had before. This “Golden Age” was funded by the phenomenon of colonialism and a growing global economy. In many ways, the Netherlands paved the way for the world we know today.
Hatgi Sink expands on her economic and ecologic commentary in her most recent project, Milk. One image features a young girl seated on a stool while holding a lamb. A few un-potted citrus trees crowd her in the frame, and at her feet are African violets. There is a trick to this image, though, which is that the floor is not a floor: it is a shallow pool of milk in which the image was carefully staged. The girl’s foot is barely submerged, the only giveaway. The milk references whiteness and the privilege that comes with it, motherhood, and the product for which so many animals are enslaved. Throughout Hatgi Sink’s photographic work, her inquiry has evolved from examining the impacts of status and beauty on the ecological world to the implications of colonialism and whiteness in a contemporary economic Golden Age. Her images have become less pretty and more complicated, yet more clear in their intention.
To see more of Kristen Hatgi Sink’s work, please visit her website kristenhatgisink.com.