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The ‘court photographer’ is retiring: 45 years of UG photography

15 November 2021

Elmer Spaargaren. It's a beautiful name that would not be out of place in a Dutch comic book or 1950s novel. It must have been about 30 years ago that I attended an activity during the ‘KEI’ introduction week and someone asked me later whether Elmer Spaargaren was there too. Who? ‘Elmer, the photographer for the UKrant. He always shows up everywhere.’ It's true; whenever a photograph of the UG or of students was needed, you'd see Spaargaren – or Elmer, as everyone called him. Elmer was quite the character, with his mass of curls, and his shoulders a bit slumped under the weight of his camera bag. Most photographers don't like to stand out and prefer to work unnoticed. This certainly applies to Elmer. He is a modest man, who must have found it difficult to give directions – something that a photographer cannot always avoid doing. He would have probably much rather acted as a fly on the wall.

‘The oldest part of my archive is not quite in order,’ he sometimes says. No wonder. Forty-five years of photographing for and at the UG has yielded tens of thousands of pictures. Even though the first 25 years of analogue images and negatives are difficult to search through, Elmer always managed to track down that one particular picture he needed. How many has he taken, of students, researchers, lecturers, board members, KEI participants, lab assistants, examinees, honorary doctors...? He more or less got into it by chance, he says. It all started with a photograph for the Sociology student magazine, as that's what he was studying at the time. He took his first photograph for the UKrant in 1976, and by 1978 he knew: ‘this will be my job’. ‘That was quite a leap of faith. I remember creating a darkroom in my bathroom.’

Elmer knew the University like the back of his hand and never turned down a job, even though he worked as a freelancer. He was loyal enough to always announce his holidays in advance: ‘Sorry, I won't be able to take pictures for those two weeks.’ He's been announcing his retirement for years, but – fortunately for us – that plan never materialized. This may have been because his work had become his hobby, but certainly also because he was unable to say no and could not bear to disappoint the UG. We have been given some time to get used to the idea, and now the time has really come: Elmer Spaargaren, the UG ‘court photographer’, is retiring. We have asked him to select a few photographs that he finds particularly beautiful, special, or illustrative of the University.

Tekst: Eelco Salverda, afd Communicatie

12 September 1985: PvdA leader Joop den Uyl speaks during the symposium ‘for and against the market’ in the Aula of the Academy Building. Pim Fortuyn (behind him) is chairman of the day.
12 September 1985: PvdA leader Joop den Uyl speaks during the symposium ‘for and against the market’ in the Aula of the Academy Building. Pim Fortuyn (behind him) is chairman of the day.
1987: Cows at the site of today's Science Park on Zernikelaan. In the background, several buildings can be seen, among which the Chemistry, Physics, and Astronomy complexes, as well as the WSN high-rise building, which is now the Duisenberg building.
1987: Cows at the site of today's Science Park on Zernikelaan. In the background, several buildings can be seen, among which the Chemistry, Physics, and Astronomy complexes, as well as the WSN high-rise building, which is now the Duisenberg building.
The 1980's: exams at the Martinihal (now: Martini Plaza).
The 1980's: exams at the Martinihal (now: Martini Plaza).
The 1980's: the catalogue hall of the old UB on Oude Kijk in ’t Jatstraat.
The 1980's: the catalogue hall of the old UB on Oude Kijk in ’t Jatstraat.
17 June 1989: Fatigued Nobel Prize winner Andrej Sacharov at a press conference. He had obtained his honorary doctorate from the UG the day before. Sacharov died six months later, on 13 December 1989.
17 June 1989: Fatigued Nobel Prize winner Andrej Sacharov at a press conference. He had obtained his honorary doctorate from the UG the day before. Sacharov died six months later, on 13 December 1989.
26 February 2009: The new building for Life Sciences, the Linnaeusborg, at the Zernike Campus.
26 February 2009: The new building for Life Sciences, the Linnaeusborg, at the Zernike Campus.
12 November 2010: Rector Magnificus Frans Zwarts as he leaves office and his successor Elmer Sterken prior to a photoshoot in the Academy Building. Monique Peperkamp (secretariat of the Rector) is in charge
12 November 2010: Rector Magnificus Frans Zwarts as he leaves office and his successor Elmer Sterken prior to a photoshoot in the Academy Building. Monique Peperkamp (secretariat of the Rector) is in charge
24 September 2012: Nobel Prize winner bishop Desmond Tutu receives his honorary doctorate from Rector Magnificus Elmer Sterken.
24 September 2012: Nobel Prize winner bishop Desmond Tutu receives his honorary doctorate from Rector Magnificus Elmer Sterken.
13 August 2013: Cleopatra's students in a bright yellow deux chevaux at the Zuiderdiep during the KEI parade.
13 August 2013: Cleopatra's students in a bright yellow deux chevaux at the Zuiderdiep during the KEI parade.
21 November 2017: Nobel Prize winners Ben Feringa, Fraser Stoddart, and Jean-Pierre Sauvage (Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2016) in the Aula of the Academy Building.
21 November 2017: Nobel Prize winners Ben Feringa, Fraser Stoddart, and Jean-Pierre Sauvage (Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2016) in the Aula of the Academy Building.
6 March 2020: Three former chairs of the House of Representatives in the Spiegelzaal of the Academy Building, on the occasion of the presentation of the Aletta Jacobs Prize to Khadija Arib: Khadija Arab, Frans Weisglas (background), and Gerdi Verbeet.
6 March 2020: Three former chairs of the House of Representatives in the Spiegelzaal of the Academy Building, on the occasion of the presentation of the Aletta Jacobs Prize to Khadija Arib: Khadija Arab, Frans Weisglas (background), and Gerdi Verbeet.
Last modified:15 November 2021 1.31 p.m.
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