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Picturing a better place

Posted by Teresa Hanafin  September 11, 2008 08:35 AM

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Oceanfront scenes are among the multitudes of images that Westborough resident Ian Tink has taken over the decades; an exhibition of his favorite photographs, "iLife's Good Times!" is on display at the Tatnuck Bookseller shop in his hometown.

Over and over, we hear stories about photographers who have been taking pictures since their parents bought them their first camera when they were 9, or 12, or 14. For many amateurs, photography has been a lifelong pursuit, a hobby-turned-passion that has served as an outlet for their creativity. Sometimes, it has turned into a career; for others, it is a path to help others.

Count Ian Tink of Westborough among the latter. He's only 58, but he's been taking photos for 50 years -- and has built up a portfolio of 500,000 pictures. Now he's putting those photos to good use: Exhibiting them to raise money for a charitable organization he's starting that will bring the work of other artists and performers into nursing homes, prisons, hospitals, mental health wards, housing projects, and urban schools.

Globe correspondent Denise Taylor profiled Ian in the Globe West section; here's her story:

By Denise Taylor
Globe Correspondent

Five-hundred thousand. If you counted every photograph stacked in Ian Tink's attic, piled into boxes in his storage unit, stuffed into the corners of his Westborough home, and stored on the 35,000 gigabytes of memory on his external hard drives, he says, 500,000 is the number you'd breathlessly reach. In other words, after 50 years of avid photography, Tink has a rather weighty portfolio.

Until now, however, very little of this hyper-shutterbug's work has been seen. Tink, 58, has simply been too busy building an equally hefty resume as a healthcare consultant, administrator, and provider to bother exhibiting. For him, photography was a process, a compulsion, and an escape from stressful work - like serving as a prison psychologist or running the Massachusetts Treatment Center for Sexually Dangerous Persons in Bridgewater. Shooting a camera was a release, not a path to an art show.

"But two years ago, that changed," said Tink. "I had a heart attack on a flight from Boston to Tampa . . . . I now count myself among the lucky living . . . . It made me ask myself what would make me happy in my life."


The answer was more time for photography, but with a twist. Tink's debut show and the name of his fledgling charitable organization, "iLife's Good Times!" is on display in the Westboro Gallery's exhibition area inside Tatnuck Bookseller & Cafe, in the Westborough Shopping Center on Route 9.

"I asked myself, am I simply going to stash all these pictures away or am I going to share them, and that's when it struck me," said Tink. "I have a responsibility to share my good fortune with others who are not now as fortunate as me."

His iLife's Good Times! project, which is awaiting official nonprofit status, will donate art, photographs, and music to the people Tink has spent his professional career aiding. Along with his own images, Tink aims to bring the work of other artists and performers into nursing homes, prisons, hospitals, mental health wards, housing projects, and urban schools.

"I know the environment and conditions in these places, and they are not always the best," said Tink. "I just want to bring some art in and some joy in for the people there. I want to keep them connected with the world outside the prison walls or beyond their hospital bed."

He has some interesting ideas. For nursing homes, he's shooting images of local scenes so residents can stay in touch with the community. For schools, he's compiling photo essays of curriculum-related places such as Washington, D.C. For prisoners and hospital shut-ins, he's selecting images that take you away.

Tink is drawn to what he says may seem "mundane and boring," such as beach scenes, flowers, pleasing architecture, light on water, or travelogue shots - the good things in life. But some of those "boring" shots are more complex than a glance reveals.

"I'll go out and shoot something as uninteresting as the cobblestones in the Vatican. I love things like that. I love that detail and knowing that thousands of feet over hundreds of years have worn every curve into those stones," he said. "To me, that is very interesting."

He's also not a location snob. Some of his most ethereal scenes were shot out of airplane windows while idling on runways. "When I fly, I always have a bottle of lens cleaner to clean the window with and I wear a blue shirt because it's better to reduce reflection. My wife resents it a little," he said and laughed. "She used to enjoy sitting in the window seat."

The nonprofit effort will be a shift from working inside the system to the outside. Throughout his career, Tink has pushed to use art as a therapeutic tool in difficult environments. At the state facility in Bridgewater, he had an artist create an installation with rainbow-casting prisms. He hung calming art in the visitors room, and ran playwriting and mural painting programs for inmates. Overall, his art initiatives there were so innovative that Time magazine covered them.

But no effort was too small. While working with housing authorities, he also took it upon himself to shoot uplifting images of the residents, which he gave to them and exhibited in community rooms.

"People who live in public housing don't get a lot of positive feedback in terms of how they're perceived in society and they don't have a lot of opportunity to get good quality photography of themselves that they can keep," said Tink. "You can't imagine how fantastic the response always was."

But funding was always a challenge. "The programs at Bridgewater were a remarkable opportunity. But I think though that prison facilities have been mostly cut off at this point," said Tink. "These things have phenomenal value in so many settings, but they are so under resourced."

Tink hopes his show will spread the word and find donors for ¡Life's Good Times! Meanwhile, he's newly committed to his art. He says joining Westboro Gallery, a juried collective of artists, has boosted his work.

"It's forced me to think about what is a snapshot and what is art," he said. "After 50 years . . . I'm still learning."

"¡Life's Good Times!" is open through Nov. 7 in the Westboro Gallery space at Tatnuck Bookseller, 18 Lyman St., Westborough. Free.

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