Zilverbeek was a name given to a brook situated in Antwerp. Its course used to define the border between the districts of Mortsel and Berchem. Situated next to it was the famous Agfa-Gevaert factory, one of the main producers of light-sensitive films and paper, beside Kodak and Fuji-film. Obviously, the rise of digital technology changed this industry a lot. Now, as I was doing some research on the historical context, I came across a newspaper article describing a story that happened in the 1930’s. The headline read:

This project started with a newspaper article relating the history of a stream located in Antwerp. It went through the neighborhoods of Mortsel and Berchem and by the Gevaert factory, one of the largest producers of photographic papers, films and chemistries at that time. This stream was popularly called the Zi / verbeek, a Dutch translation of Silver Creek. Quite a fair naming as in the 1930s the Gevaert factory poured waste from the photosensitive emulsion process. Therefore, silver solutions filled the stream mud without the factory paying any attention. However, one of the factory employees was clever enough to notice it and decide to invent a system to recover the precious metal. Mythology originates in this newspaper article title. “A silver treasure discovered in an Antwerp stream “(translation). My fascination for this story motivated me to go close to this factory, look for this stream and take photographs to investigate and write a personal fiction. When I was lucky enough to find it, I found myself taking the mud to find silver traces, like those people before me. I am still working with this mud as raw material to carry out various experiments, such as photo prints in the darkroom, or even sculptures.

Zilverschat lag zomaar in een Antwerpse beek. De Zilverkoningen vonden de Zilverbeek !

What had happened was this. Back in the days Agfa-Gevaert discharged its wastewater into the little brook, after it had been used to clean the machines. What they did not realise however was that an important amount of silver was still present in the chemical solutions. As silver is heavy, it sank to the bottom, where it mingled with the mud. One day a former employee of the factory got onto this and decided to make a profit out of it. He asked the neighbourhood for permission to ‘clean’ the river in some way and went on to filter the mud, he had dredged from the brook. Supposedly he got up to 14 kilos of silver per ton. After a couple years though, the factory got wind of his little scheme and worked out an action plan themselves. From 1960 on, no silver could be found anymore. The name ‘Zilverbeek’, however, stuck.

I was intrigued by this industrial story and its mythological dimensions. The only thing I could still think of was finding this river and its muddy waters filled with the precious metal. Silver is of course full of symbolic meaning but from a more practical angle, it is also the light-sensitive element which makes possible the creation of a photographic image. So when I finally found this Zilverbeek, first thing I did was take out some mud again. I started fictionalizing myself, somehow re-enacting the story.

I have been working with this mud as a raw material ever since to make new objects and images. Beside these visual experiments, what fascinates me is the act of strolling through these ruins, a world of the past that I did not know but took on a new form by means of my imagination.


Lucas Leffler (°1993) is living and working in Brussels and obtained a bachelor degree in photography in HELB Brussels which was focused on the technical dimensions of photography. He is currently completing the master programme at KASK Ghent, where he combines his own photography with found footage, performance and installations reflecting on the chemical aspects of photography.

His work was exhibited in Contretype (Brussels) and Galerie Satellite (Liège). His project ‘Zilverbeek’ received the dummy award at Photobook Liège Festival in 2018 and will be published in the autumn of 2019 by the Dutch publisher ‘The Eriskay Connection’.