Filled with anticipation and childlike excitement I await movement in front of the still covered and locked up Ambrotype Studio, owned by Paul Walther. Suddenly, I hear the brown window cover being pulled upwards from the inside, exposing the red couches flamboyantly displayed in the studio reception. After a firm handshake, Paul invites me to make myself comfortable on his olive green studio couch where many of his timeless photographs have already been shot.
Paul’s passion in life is photography and has been for as long as he can remember, but not just any photography – photography that is sacred, timeless, almost immortal, photography with a historical-meets-modern flair.
At a young age, Paul started taking pictures and by the time he was 13 he knew that photography would be his lifelong and aspired career path. As he himself explains: photography gripped his inner most being and just would not let him go. Unquestionably, his chosen recreational activity during adolescence was photography and he even led the ’Arbeitsgemeinschaft’ (group of interested teenage photographers) in his school. While looking for a photography apprenticeship (Ausbildung as referred to in German); Paul completed an internship in a photo studio located in Essen. Even though things did not go as planned in finding the right apprenticeship, Paul bravely jumped right into the industry by working as an independent photographer for German newspapers, press agencies and magazines. He ended up traveling all over Germany for about 11 years, including Berlin, where he worked as Jim Rakete’s assistant. He learned everything there is to know about portrait photography from this legendary photographer.
His burning desire for his own photo studio reached an all-time high in 2007, which culminated in his decision to exit the newspaper industry and follow his dream. After the birth of his son in 2012, Paul started to develop an interest in ambrotype; which is a positive photograph on glass made by a variant of the wet plate collodion process.
Nostalgically, Paul started thinking about the legacy he would leave behind for his son. He was reminded of a seminar in his communication studies in which the process of producing an ambrotype photograph was mentioned. Moved by the durability and immortal nature of ambrotype, Paul profusely sought after and fell in love with this technique. He then commenced by visiting a seminar in Warsaw and Hamburg, collecting the right equipment for ambrotype and building together his camera. Although his first shots left room for improvement, he gained experience and got much better over time. Nowadays, his glass plated photos are transformed into perfect pictures.
In the process of ambrotype, one side of a previously cleaned glass plate is coated with a thin layer of iodized collodion. Then the plate is dipped into a silver nitrate solution and placed within the camera – while still wet. The subject has to remain in position without the slightest twitch to capture the perfect photo. Thereafter, the photo is immediately developed before the plate dries.
The best thing about ambrotype, for Paul, is its mystique and its simplicity – it does not require digital equipment or electricity and transforms instantly into a picture – just like a Polaroid picture – that can be admired, held and felt. Digital photography took much of the uniqueness out of the craft. In contrast, ambrotype produces a one-of-a-kind photograph that cannot be duplicated or manipulated. Every single photograph is different and unique, exposing the subjects exclusive wrinkles and scars that makes them an individual and uncommon artwork.
Paul views his use of ambrotype as a legacy for himself, for his son and for the people who own such a timeless and immortal photograph; and can be passed down from one generation to the next. With his studio, Paul safeguards the beauty of history, simplicity and photographic art.
Photos by ambrotypie.de
Report by Leandri Meyer for VINTAGESTYLE