Introducing Sidney Kapuskar

Sidney Kapuskar is a Paris-based fashion producer and portrait photographer, using black and white film almost exclusively.  He concentrates on making emotive nudes using wet plate collodion in his personal work.  Read on to learn what fascinates him about this alternative photographic process.


How did you get started in photography?

I grew up in Germany and completed a three year photography course in Italy, at the Istituto Europeo di Design. After finishing, I moved back to Germany, but found no jobs available there. I presented my portfolio to some fashion studios in France and got an assistant job right away at Studio Pin-Up where I was able to work with the likes of Patrick Demarchelier, Walter Chin, Giovanni Gastel, Steve Hiett, Oliviero Toscani and Albert Watson. I worked 2-3 years as an assistant, then worked another three years as personal assistant for fashion photographer Chico Bialas.  Fashion is a particular sector that you have to really enjoy in order to climb the ladder of success, so after being in the industry for 7-8 years, I decided to make a change. I moved to Brazil in 2004 to make commissioned work doing a little bit of everything, but found very little work. After three years I moved back to Paris and the whole fashion world had swapped over to digital. Everything was operating at a completely different pace. It was much faster. People had immediate feedback to the images, how to change the lights, etc. The photographer had less and less input on the final image. Before, Polaroids were the only way to get a rough idea of the final output.  Once the client accepted it, we put the film in the camera. The photographer had more freedom once the polaroid was done to shoot in his own way with his own eyes. As a result, I made a quick transition back to film. Now, I make my living by taking people portraits and work as a producer in the fashion industry.


As a creative counter balance, I focus on alternative processes, carbon transfer and especially wet plate collodion.




How has shooting film affected your clientele?

I shoot film and market it that way. I occasionally shoot digital depending on the market. I try not to take a large amount of photos, which seems to happen automatically in digital. I’m not so crazy about the post-production aspect of digital. I can do the basic edits in the darkroom—dodging and burning. I do not do any transformation of the image in Photoshop. That’s another aspect of collodion I enjoy—there is no retouching possible, you can’t correct exposure or contrast in post. Once you make the plate, that’s all you have. Silver has something organic in it. It gives a certain texture to the skin that’s difficult for me to obtain in digital. The equipment is too perfect, the lenses too sharp, there are no aberrations, too many pixels, you can see every detail in the skin. Fundamentally, digital is retouchable. It’s too sterile. The human touch is something I can’t find other than with film.




I have rediscovered photography through wet plate because you have to make one image at a time.

Describe your collodion sessions.

They usually last around 2-3 hours. It might take 10-20 minutes to position the model and the camera, then I prepare the plate. The from start to finish of every plate is roughly ten minutes. You coat the plate, sensitize it, expose it, develop it, then you can step out of the dark room. At this point you can see the image, but it appears as a white silhouette almost like a negative. You put the image in a fixing bath and that’s when the magical moment happens where the model and I see the image appear as a positive. It’s a beautiful thing to see. Then we move on to the next pose. We usually do 2-4 poses depending on the experience of the model.  The sessions are very intense, as you have to work on a good pose with the model and concentrate on controlling the chemical process at the same time.  I have rediscovered photography through wet plate because you have to make one image at a time.

Do you use natural or artificial light?

Daylight is favored.  Collodion is only sensitive to the blue and ultraviolet end of the light spectrum which results in an exposure of a few seconds. I try to work with full sunlight when available. If not, then I add continuous, artificial light.

How do you find models?

I find them on websites for art models and through friends and others photographers.  They don’t necessarily have to be professional but they have to be comfortable posing nude. I usually meet the models beforehand to discuss the project and to get an idea of their personality. I don’t shoot nudes to be put in the drawer.  I want to put my work on display. The models sign a contract with that understanding in mind.

Do they ask for pay?

Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t.  There are a lot of traveling models who do this for a living and if I like one in particular, I am willing to pay.  Some models are interested in collodion and agree to pose for free, which is the most fun because we don’t have to be concerned about time or money.


It always pleases me to see a young person on the street with a Yaschica around his neck shooting film.

Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?

Aiming more on my personal work.  I’m currently setting up my first show of only wet plate collodion work and intend to do more so in the future.  I see myself focusing on traditional techniques, putting on workshops to help young people get into the world of silver, collodion, and carbon transfer. Young people are showing more interest in traditional photography. It always pleases me to see a young person on the street with a Yaschica around his neck shooting film.

What photographers motivate you?

Arbus, Jock Sturges, Sally Mann, Richard Avedon, Lee Friedlander, Emmet Gowin, Vivian Meyer, William Eggleston, Jo Schwab.

It’s not just a reproduction of some person, I have to get the model into the emotion and have them express what I feel.


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Is there anything in your background that informs your work?

I always try to express an emotion that moves me. It is more than just taking a simple portrait, I observe carefully and together with the model we build up the situation.  I have to get the model into the emotion and have them express what I feel. I like eye contact. The face is always in the image, because a nude body belongs to a personality. It’s more direct and personal. The difficulty is to make this emotion visible through a mechanical process. It takes a lot of practice. The first lesson in photography is to shoot as much as you can. All the aspects of lighting and the rest come with time. When you make a mistake, you go back and correct it and shoot again. It’s not just about pushing the button, its learning how to see.

Do you have any ideas for your next project?

My nudes are an ongoing project. I’d love to shoot collodion outdoors, but this is a big challenge as you need to build a portable lab to set up on location.




I love pulling out old contact sheets and sitting by the window, marking which ones I would like to print.

What advice do you have for new photographers?

It’s all about exposure. You need to get out there and show your images as much as possible. Connect with other people who like your work, discover new photographers. Keep shooting, keep observing. Photographic style is not permanent, its constantly evolving.  There is no need to worry about your particular style in the beginning, this will come with time.  I love pulling out old contact sheets and sitting by the window, marking which ones I would like to print. The images I took 30 years ago are the not the same as I take today. When you’re 25 you don’t observe the same way as you do when you’re 45. And you can only see this change when you keep on taking images. And it doesn’t have to be extraordinary, you don’t have to focus on doing something different—trust yourself and keep shooting.

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