Stefan: Photo Alchemist

Johnny Depp, Alice Cooper, Rod Stewart, James Blunt, Sting or David Duchovny. They all come to Stefan Sappert for a photo. His pictures have something mystical; they appear powerful and everlasting. As if they came from a world where time has no meaning. For this unique effect, the 37-year-old uses a special technique: he photographs with silver on black glass. Each portrait is one of a kind, no negatives, no prints. To capture his motifs, the trained photographer uses a large, wooden bellows camera from 1860.

"I was bored of digital photography and wanted to slow down the work", Stefan says. "This process gives me time to focus on the persons and let them be part of the whole experience."

Stefan creates his pictures using the collodion wet plate process, invented in the US in 1851. For this purpose, he applies a layer of collodion to the black glass. The sweet-smelling adhesive serves as a primer for a silver nitrate solution that makes the plate photosensitive. In his job Stefan is half an artist, half a travelling alchemist. He mixes the chemicals for his glass plates on his own, often directly at the location of the photo shoot.


"Each plate has to be prepared right before the shoot and needs to be developed immediately afterwards," Stefan explains. "That’s why I always bring a mobile photo lab in a converted suitcase. All of my chemicals, like collodion, developer, silver nitrate, fixing bath and so on, I transport in Youtility bottles from Duran®. That can be 250 millilitres, but also 2.5 or even 10 litres."

In his everyday life Stefan also uses modern cameras, for example in his work as an advertising photographer. But photography with silver and glass is something special for him: "The photos appear more like paintings. They not only show people, but also seem to cast a glance into their souls."