Inspired by the literary works of Gustave Flaubert, Marcel Proust and Guy de Maupassant as well as paintings of the Romantic period, German photographer Elger Esser’s works originate from the travels he has undertaken since 1996 – across Europe, the United States, the Middle East and beyond.
Created during his trips through Lebanon, Egypt and Israel over a period from 2004 to 2015 Elger Esser is now presenting his series „Morgenland“ at Parasol Unit. In close cooperation with curator Ziba Ardalan an exciting selection of works has been put together referring to the concept of the Orient or the East in a sense of reconciliation amidst regional differences and historical issues rather than reflecting a negative stereotypical ‚Orientalism‘ with its links to cultural colonialism. Edward Said’s seminal book on this issue of 1978 has been a resource and inspiration for the artist alongside the creative process.
Travelling along the Lebanese shore in 2004 and the Nile between Luxor and Aswan in 2011, Esser photographed the banks of rivers, traditional feluccas and dahabiya sailing vessels, using an 8 x 10 Land camera.
Captured from a great distance, Esser’s calm awe-inspiring landscapes, somewhat reminiscent of the romantic images of faraway lands on old postcards, seem to convey a sense of the infinite. Their quiet and serene beauty, however, is disturbing because it is in such stark contrast to what we know of the ugly conflicts taking place in the region today and how they are generally portrayed in the media.
During a visit to Israel in 2015, Esser created a series of works based on some archival photographs taken by an unknown photographer who had documented the existence of ruins in Israel/Palestine during 1948. With his series, Esser aims to present a timeline of conflicts, dating from the Byzantine period to recent times, showing the development and decay of cultural periods. Landscapes are seen as stratifications, layers upon layers of different cultures.
The work One Sky, 2015, shows two panoramas printed back-to-back on a silver-coated copper plate. One side displays a view as seen from Lebanon, while the other side presents the same view as seen from Israel. Although both scenes are so similar they appear to be the same, they present us with a single location as seen from opposite perspectives.
Nature and the landscape are central themes throughout Elger Esser’s photographic oeuvre. Often in muted, sepia or monochromatic colours, his works have a stillness about them that evokes a sense of the sublime. Esser’s large-format photographs typically depict European lowlands with his characteristic low horizon lines, pale luminous colours and vast skies, beaches, wetlands or seas. His skilful use of traditional processes, such as photogravure printing, gives his images an intense sharpness, depth and luminosity.
Images// Elger Esser, ‚Enfeh I‘ (detail), Lebanon, 2005. C-print, Diasec, 142 x 184 x 5 cm (56 x 72½ x 2 in). Courtesy of the artist // Elger Esser, ‚El Kab II‘ (detail), Egypt, 2011. C-print, Diasec, 97 x 124 x 4 cm (38¼ x 49 x 1¾ in). Courtesy of the artist // Elger Esser, ‚Salwa Bahry I‘ (detail), Egypt, 2011. C-print, Diasec, 97 x 124 x 4 cm (38¼ x 49 x 1¾ in). Courtesy of the artist.
Photography by Elger Esser
Through 21 May 2017
Parasol Unit, London parasol-unit.org