I recently stumbled over the “Zementwerk” project, made by the skater supplier Volcom in cooperation with Leica. The project features a short film and as well as black and white photographs, showing some guys skating in an abandoned cement factory. The conveyed atmosphere inspired me to visit a cement factory myself.
Finding a Location
I decided to head for the small village of Höver, located southeasterly to Hanover. Höver has one of the two cement factories that are still active in this area. The other one sits in Misburg of which I have been taking photos for years. I always saw the Höver plant in the distance, but I had never gone there before. It took me roughly three-quarters of an hour to reach the Höver factory by bike. When I passed the entrance to the village, I was impressed: you are virtually crossing through the plant. It is on either side of the road, with band conveyor bridges spanning over your head. The silo towers dwarf the farmhouses and residences behind.
I found a good spot at a field path outside the village. This location provided me with an unobstructed view of the plant’s rear side. Unfortunately, I was facing the sun, thus leading to a backlit scene. I waited for the sun to set and for the factory’s lamps to be switched on. At least I had enough time for testing slightly different locations. I could also check the two lenses I had packed into my bag: a 50mm lens and a 90mm.
Get to Know Your Equipment!
I brought my Leica (M9) Monochrom camera with me for this shooting. Normally, I avoid reviewing the images immediately after I took them. Maybe it’s because I often use this camera at work, taking photos of people during events. Scenes change rapidly and subjects move. Therefore, I fear to get distracted when focusing my attention to the camera’s display. This time the situation was completely different: the scene was steady with the light changing rather slowly. And the cement factory definitely did not move. Good reasons to check if exposure and framing are correct.
The Leica M9 is a rangefinder camera. In contrast to DSLR cameras, it possesses a separate finder. This unit provides the same view of your environment, independently from the lens (focal length) mounted. Instead, lens-specific “frame lines” are blended into the finder. These faint lines define the section of the view, which the mounted lens actually captures. When I took the photos at Höver, I compared the image section in the finder with the image displayed on the camera’s back. I had never realized before how inaccurate these frame lines are! I used the 90mm lens to obtain a closer look that is shown in the second image. In this case, it seemed that the building didn’t fit into the frame. The tubes on the roof as well as the building’s lower edge touched the frame lines – but as you can see, there is plenty of space around the building. I suppose the Leica engineers included a large “safety zone” to prevent that you unintentionally crop your subject. It is like a watch running 10 minutes fast to help you stay on schedule. Thanks, but I would prefer accurate lines.
Immediately after I had parked my bike next to the field path I got company. A grey SUV crawled from the village in my direction. I hesitated to set up my tripod because the path was narrow. Therefore, I stood there with my eyes pointing to the distance and waited for the SUV to pass me. But the driver reduced his speed further, stretching time. When he finally reached me, I saw a grey-haired man behind the steering wheel. He proceeded another hundred meters and then just stopped. I recognized the SUV’s backup lights illuminating, but the car didn’t move. The driver waited a whole minute with the car put into reverse. However, he eventually drove in forward direction into the next sideway.
I had already forgotten this situation when the SUV appeared again behind the bushes. The driver’s strange behavior continued: as he approached me, the car was getting continuously slower and slower. Just 30 meters shy of me, the SUV came to a halt. And now? Would the driver turn the headlights on full and step on the gas, trying to run over me? Fortunately, he didn’t. After I began walking in his direction, the SUV started to roll again. We met and the SUV returned to the village, leaving me alone in the fields.
I finally saw him at the other end of an adjacent cornfield, some twenty minutes later. I have absolutely no idea what he was up to… Maybe a farmer, examining his crop? Or was he part of something like a neighborhood watch group, looking out for suspicious activities (e. g., a stranger taking photos of ordinary things)?