Revisiting Bremen Ports – by Christian Schroeder

In this article, I am going to tell the story how I was revisiting Bremen ports. As I stated in my first piece about this place, I felt a strong desire to return. This came true faster than I had expected: Even before I had submitted my manuscript, I found myself sitting in a Bremen-bound train. But how to capture the industrial buildings this time? Color or black and white? Expand my first set of images in the same manner – or complement it with a different approach? Kodak Portra and Fuji Acros, both materials occupied my bag in sufficient amounts. I delayed my decision until the very last moment – and finally chose the Acros.

I am going to show you some of the images from this recent trip in July. Altogether, I ended up shooting two rolls of 35mm film in a course of five hours.

On my Way

For this trip, I took a day off from work spontaneously (glad my boss was okay with that). In contrast to the weeks before (and after), the forecast for this day promised lots of clouds and almost no sunshine. My favored conditions: this day would become my day. The forecast quickly proved wrong, and the sun would shine during the lion’s share of the day. Nevertheless, I sat in the nine o’clock train and I wasn’t going to cancel my plans.

It came as it always happens with my photo trips: the longer the journey takes to reach the site, the more intense grows my excitement. I shared the coach with a group of drinking boys (bachelor party?). They horsed around, they yelled and they pushed their boom box to disco levels – but I hardly noticed them.

By the way, please let me note this: it’s definitely not a pleasure to use a train’s bathroom when you have a large camera bag and tripod with you! (And nobody who can watch your belongings.)

Gear Section: Blue Filter for Manipulating the Sky

When revisiting Bremen ports, I used exactly the same gear as in 2017: a Canon EOS 1N with two tilt-and-shift lenses (17 and 24mm). Meanwhile, I had acquired a blue filter for the 24mm lens (type KB 12): I had read that with black and white film, a blue filter should brighten the blue sky and hereby match the luminosity of sky and clouds. Additionally, a blue filter should reduce contrast and lessen the depth of the shadows. This may seem a little bit odd – I got the impression that many black-and-white photographers prefer the exact opposite, namely a red filter that darkens the sky and increases contrast.

Anyway – for me, such a blue filter seemed to be a great option with sunlit architecture. In fact, this Bremen trip was the first application of this filter after it had lain unused in my drawer for over a year. (Many accessories share the same fate as this filter. At a certain point, I am convinced my photography is in urgent need for a special tool. Once bought, the anticipated use case would not occur – and the piece of accessory falls quickly into oblivion.)

Side-by-Side Comparisons: Do You See the Difference?

I ran some experiments with the blue filter. On several occasions, I took to two otherwise equal images of the same building, but one with and the other one without the filter. The effect proved to be rather subtle. In fact, I faced some troubles in distinguishing the two photographs of a given pair afterwards. I acknowledge the importance of making notes, especially when trying something new. However, if I am in the middle of something and have to deal with a rather demanding procedure, I often skip the note making. In general, I rely on my gut feeling (aka. “hoping for the best”) and memory.

Well, normally I am not a big fan of side-by-side comparisons when it comes to showcase my own work. As the smart Simon King recently said: “If you have two similar images and choose to share both it can reduce the impact of either”. I think one should make up with oneself the image that is the one to be preferred. Hence, I am only showing you one exemplary comparison in the course of this article.

HAG decaff plant at Bremen ports shot on Fuji Acros black-and-white film.
The first image of the former HAG decaff plant…
HAG decaff plant at Bremen ports shot on Fuji Acros black-and-white film.
… and the second one. Can you guess which one I took with the blue filter screwed onto the lens?
This kart racing advertisement located at the pedestrian overpass was the only area where I could clearly distinguish the two photographs. In the first image, you see slightly darker arrows on a medium grey ground. In the second image, these arrows appear brighter on a noticeable darker ground. Actually, the arrows are red while the ground is colored blue – thus, the first image with the brightened blue should be one taken with the filter.

“The Behemoth”

As kind of a cliffhanger, I mentioned the “Getreideverkehrsanlage” in the end of my first Bremen article – that’s a large grain storage and loading facility. During my trip in 2017, I saw the massive building only from a distance. This time, I hiked up all the way to the entrance of the harbor basin to pay this thing a visit. The operator company calls it humbly “the behemoth” (or in German: “Der Koloss”). It is roughly 200m long and 40m tall. According to the leader of the monuments protection authority, the facility ranks among the largest brick buildings in Europe.

In my opinion, you get the most impressive sight from the jetty. There is a photograph in Wikipedia taken at this very point: You see the building’s front (small) side in moderately angled view so that the entire length of the warehouse can be realized. A movable grain elevator and a bridging conveyor belt decorate this perspective. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the money shot – I discovered the jetty spot fenced in and heavily secured. So I was unable to the reproduce the photograph I found in Wikipedia as this image was taken from within the property.

Large grain storage and loading facility ("der Koloss") at Bremen ports shot on Fuji Acros black-and-white film.
The rear end of the building. What a massive brick wall!
Large grain storage and loading facility ("der Koloss") at Bremen ports shot on Fuji Acros black-and-white film.
Close, but not the money shot. Unfortunately, this missed view was a strong motivation for me revisiting Bremen ports.

Grain elevator at Bremen ports shot on Fuji Acros black-and-white film.

Further Images

I think it’s a good thing to be familiar with a place – but not too familiar. As I was revisiting Bremen ports, I could rely on certain spots that would provide interesting perspectives. Actually, I redid many buildings this time. On the other hand, I didn’t know the place inside out – thus I was able to discover a fair number of new corners (meaning more fun).

Playing the architecture game: It’s always a pleasure to look for an interesting composition that brings off a given building. Or, as Hamish put it into words: the “satisfaction in how the act of photographing something can increase the pleasure in the viewer of said something through the innate satisfaction that good photographic composition imparts”.

Warehouse for marine proteins at Bremen ports shot on Fuji Acros black-and-white film.

Facility of an impoter/exporter at Bremen ports shot on Fuji Acros black-and-white film.
Once I arrived at these silo towers, I noticed two workers sitting right in front of them and having their lunch break. Because I didn’t want to disturb these gentlemen, I had to wait. So I took a break myself, resting under a nearby tree.

I had to shoot this loading equipment against the sun (albeit behind some clouds). My fear, the machine would come out way to dark, was unfounded. Praise the film!
This former J.H. Bachmann warehouse stands close to the very end of the harbor basin. Here, redevelopment is already underway. If you look closely, you will see that the window frames are new and neat. (Check this image for comparison.)
Parts of the abandoned HAG decaff plant look like a ghost town.

Rusty 40 foot container parked at Bremen ports, shot on Fuji Acros black-and-white film.

Closing Remarks

Revisiting Bremen ports was a success. Although the weather turned out different as expected (and preferred), I am happy with the outcome. I had a black-and-white series of this site in mind and I eventually got it. It’s a good thing if you are able to return to a place as long as you have the feeling you are not done yet.

These warehouses and grain elevators at the Bremen ports represent the old economy, they are like dinosaurs. I can imagine that in twenty or maybe thirty years these buildings will be gone – gone or transferred into “creativity fostering coworking spaces” with lots of coffeehouses. That is the way of the world and I won’t bring it to a halt. But at least I got my pictures.

Thanks for reading!

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13 thoughts on “Revisiting Bremen Ports – by Christian Schroeder”

  1. Now that’s something new… in 50 years of shooting b/w film I can say I’ve never heard of nor thought of using a blue filter to lessen the impact of blue sky — to make it lighter than its already preternaturally light density. But of course–your focus is the port buildings, not the sky.
    The reason there isn’t a *lot* of effect is because panchromatic film is already relatively insensitive to blue. We commonly use yellow and orange filters to bring the blues up to a ‘normal’ density, and a red filter to darken blues and strongly enhance clouds in the sky. But I’d guess you know that, eh?
    The photos are great. Lovely dynamic range and contrast. Perfect use-case for your PC lenses.

    1. Christian Schroeder

      David, that’s a good point! Actually, I didn’t take the panchromatic character into account. Should have known that… you’re right. 🙂

  2. Interesting read, thanks. You wrote a little about the TSE lenses in the first Bremen article but I’d like to know more about how you generally use them in your work. Are there shots where you don’t use shift on the lens, so as to deliberately let lines converge? Or straight shots where you apply shift for distortion? Do you also use tilt to play with depth of field?

    1. Christian Schroeder

      Hi Peter! I bought the TSE lenses mainly for taking pictures of architectural subjects – as general(-ish) purpose lenses, they seem to be too vulnerable due to their fragile mechanics. In addition, they don’t rank among the fastest optics (f/3.5 and f/4, respectively) – though I think this is not an important criteria for such (ultra) wide-angle lenses. Initially, I struggled hard with the proper use of the shift movements, so I rather played with the tilt function most of the time (in the beginning I only owned the 24mm). Later, when I was finally able to keep the shift movements under control, I focused on “formal” architecture shots. However, I occasionally have some fun with tilting. You may have a look at my first piece here at 35mmc, where I’ve presented some tilt examples:

  3. These really look like great places. I have been living in Bremen for the last two years and I never explore this part of the city.
    I often get a lot of fun close to the ÖVB-Arena. But I will definitely try those spots.
    Thank you Christian.
    And, btw, your pictures are great!

    1. Christian Schroeder

      Hi Gustavo! Sure, you should check out these places. It’s pretty handy that the tram ride to this port takes less than 20 min from Bremen’s central station.

  4. Christian,
    excellent images that underwrite the importance of conserving our industrial heritage.
    Although you call it “not the money shot”, I really like the image with the two elevator bridges of the Behemoth.

    1. Christian Schroeder

      Thank you, Eric! I think my expectations were too high – I assumed this very shot would be a safe bet. Apart from this circumstance, I too like the depicted view.

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