Welf castle (Welfenschloss), the headquarters of Leibniz University Hannover
5 frames with...

6 Frames of Leibniz University Hannover – by Christian Schroeder

January 13, 2022

Today I want to share a small set of images I took of Leibniz University Hannover. To be more precise, these pictures all show the university’s main building, the historic Welfenschloss (Welf castle). Hardly any report, flyer or website of the university that comes along without a photograph of this icon. So I had to have a try at this building myself.

Before I’ll get to my subject, let me ask a question: What is the “perfect photograph”? I know, I know – this is a debate probably as old as photography itself. Tough matter. Personally, I believe formal criteria and aspects can help to get on track, but in the end the less tangible factors are decisive. How can I as a viewer connect with the image? Which emotions, connotations and memories the image does evoke in me? Will I bear this image in mind? Or will I forget it soon?

This being said, I’m on a quest to create my personal perfect photograph of the mentioned Welf castle. The place itself carries a personal meaning for me: I studied at Leibniz University Hannover, and I continue to work there. In good and bad, kinda. For a certain period of time, I have now been applying my private interest in architectural photography to the symbol of my professional life. I consider this quest as an arrangement I have made with myself.

A Brief Introduction to the Leibniz University Hannover Headquarters

Built from 1857 onwards, the castle should serve as a summer residence for the king’s family. However, the Kingdom of Hannover lost its autonomy in the Austro-Prussian War in 1866, becoming a Prussian province. Because King Georg V. had to leave, the Welfs never moved in. After ten years of vacancy, they eventually rebuilt the castle to accommodate the royal technical university in 1879. This institution would later become Leibniz University Hannover.

During World War II, the parts of Welf castle were severely damaged. Four of the five prominent towers lost their spire. Furthermore, the chapel had to be demolished. Despite the devastation, the overall appearance of the castle remained roughly the same.

My Attempts to get THE Shot

Within this series, the main subject – the castle’s front – doesn’t change. On the contrary, conditions and the equipment used vary greatly.

On most occasions, I came early in the morning. There is less activity – especially on the weekends – and the pre-sunrise light possesses a special quality. Unfortunately, I often had to deal with setbacks. E. g., an unexpected cloud layer rolled in, turning a potentially beautiful daybreak into a dull, grey morning. The other day, some delivery trucks were parking right in front of the building’s entrance. Or the scaffolding of recent construction works had appeared, covering parts of the roof. I call them “Mhmm, maybe another time but I’ll take an image anyway”-type of moments.

In terms of equipment, I’ll just give you a short list of numbers:

  • four different cameras with a total of six lenses
  • two film formats, 35mm and 120 (with two different aspect ratios for the latter)
  • and seven different film stocks (mostly color, but also black-and-white)

Leibniz University Hannover in Images

Welf castle ("Welfenschloss") in Hannover, shot on Fuji Superia 400 film

The unpretentious shot. – From the left, the view gives a rather crammed representation of the building, as there is not much space to step back. (Canon EOS 1N, 24mm, Fuji Superia 400) In contrast to this image, the one on top of the article emphasizes the castle’s highly symmetrical composition (shot with a 17mm shift lens). Note the faint portrait of polymath Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz on the left banner, who gave Leibniz University Hannover its name.

Panoramic view of the Welf castle (Welfenschloss), which serves as the headquarters for Leibniz University Hannover

The beauty shot. – As you can see, the Welf castle is a very wide building. Therefore I had troubles to fit the whole object into one frame. The otherwise difficult to use panoramic camera was worth a mint here. Fortunately, the towers further pep up the image in the height dimension. If a building is depicted only as a broad and flat band, I normally find the resulting photograph very boring. As suggested from the historic reference, this view seems to be the sweet spot. (Linhof Technorama 612PC, Kodak Portra 160)

Leibniz University Hannover's Welf castle shot on black-and-white film

The scary  shot. – Within this little series, this is the only photograph I took handheld. Shot at dusk on a dull November day, I tried to achieve some haunted castle vibes. (Leicaflex SL2, 35mm, HP5 pushed two stops)

The bizarre shot. – To obtain an unusual look, I employed two tricks: a strong ND filter enhanced the contrast between sky and clouds, and the specialty film gave strange colors. (Canon EOS 1N, 24mm, Lomography Lomochrome Purple)

Orange lit Welfenschloss: Leibniz University Hannover takes part in the international day for the elimination of violence against women.

The special shot. – November 25th: orange light shall raise awareness for violence against women. (Hasselblad ArcBody, 45mm, Fuji Pro 400H)

Closing Thoughts

Am I satisfied now, have I succeed in taking my personal perfect photograph of Leibniz University Hannover’s icon? Well, the answer is a clear “I don’t know”. My preferences constantly fluctuate – one day I am a fan of bold colors, the other one I prefer pastel shades or the gritty look of a black-and-white photograph. I like the images I have taken so far, nevertheless I haven’t reached the point of closure for this quest yet. Maybe this project serves rather as a coping strategy than it is about a singular result. Or, in nicer and more familiar words: It’s all about the process.

Thanks for stopping by!

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9 Comments

  • Reply
    Thorsten Wulff
    January 13, 2022 at 10:06 am

    Let’s say you did everything to capture the lowersaxon intensity! My favorites are the special and the bizarre ;))

    • Reply
      Christian Schroeder
      January 13, 2022 at 1:12 pm

      Low, lower, Lower Saxony – thanks, Thorsten! 🙂
      Soon there will also be a foggy shot (with “foggy” referring to a weather phenomenon of high humidity and – luckily – not to a ruined film by intense radiation. 🙂

  • Reply
    Zoltán Árva-Tóth
    January 13, 2022 at 10:35 am

    You really know how to use these shift lenses to realise their full potential.

    • Reply
      Christian Schroeder
      January 13, 2022 at 1:14 pm

      Thanks, Zoltán! I have been using them since 2015, so plenty of time for making mistakes and learning. 🙂

  • Reply
    Terry B
    January 13, 2022 at 11:01 am

    Hi, Christian.
    As I progressed through your article I kept wondering if I’d see a shot with your ArcBox. And you kept me waiting until the final image!
    But the image that fascinates me the most is that shot with the Leicaflex SL2 and 35mm. This is a combination I also have.

    During my one and only visit to West Berlin, 1968, (and, yes, I did the almost obligatory coach tour into the eastern zone which in those days seemed quite an adventure!)) I pruchased a little booklet entitled “Berlin, wie ist früher war” and which was filled with architectural images taken in the decades before WWII. All were in black and white, but what fascinated me was how much your image fitted in with these, both in style and technical presentation. I believe it was for this reason that without being told what the building was or its location, I immediately could see it was Germanic.

    • Reply
      Christian Schroeder
      January 13, 2022 at 1:27 pm

      Hi Terry, interesting story! I possess a book with black-and-white images of (Western) Berlin taken during the first decades after the war – some ruins and lots of wasteland and modernist architecture.
      I’m also pleasantly surprised how the SL2 shot turned out. And it was quite a relaxing experience to take a shot without setting up my tripod (as Ari would say: “tripods kill the groove”). I think I’ll try this quick n’ stealthy approach for rather ‘delicate’ architecture as small, private houses – best way to avoid the inevitable “What are you doing here?!”-question.

  • Reply
    Stefan Wilde
    January 14, 2022 at 8:38 am

    Hi Christian,

    thanks for your posting! When pursuing the perfect shot I believe that it must catch the essence of what a photographer has to say about the subject. Thinking about my own relation to my work place (though that is mostly home office) there would be multiple aspects, practical, emotional, professional and social and all these can be broken down into further aspects of their own… For me and my work place, there would not be the one perfect shot, it would always have to be a series or a whole book. With that in mind and for my personal preference, I like the combination of all your pictures more than any individual one

    Greetings from Hamburg!

    • Reply
      Christian Schroeder
      January 16, 2022 at 11:42 am

      Hi Stefan,

      thank you for your feedback! I know what you mean: It is very difficult if not impossible (and not necessarily desirable) to condense so many diverse aspects in a single photograph.

      Besides the Welfenschloss as a figurehead of the university, I have also been photographing a variety of other buildings of the same institution: research facilities of the early 2010s, office buildings from the 1970s, libraries of the post-war era, institutes from the turn of the century. In doing so, I strongly preferred objects or at least views that were probably not subject of a “dedicated” photograph before. It is an ongoing series; I use it to deal with my workplace in a slightly broader sense, creating an architectural-oriented portrayal of this small universe. I would like to add a social dimension to this series, maybe showing the humans related to their workspace. However, it is easier for me to photograph buildings than people – at least people I’m related to in a professional context.

      Cheers,
      Christian

  • Reply
    Stefan Wilde
    January 16, 2022 at 12:56 pm

    Hi Christian, same here, I find it so much more difficult to photograph people. I feel that I owe them something special or fear that they expect something extraordinary if I asked them if I might make a portrait. That’s a big hurdle to clear. It should in theory be easy, you’d have to have an idea of what it is you want to show about the subject and the rest is craftsmanship. But this is still something I shy away from.

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