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
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