Elger Esser

by Donald Goddard

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Since 1996, Elger Esser has traveled from Düsseldorf in Germany, where he lives, to make landscape color photographs (printed rather large, in human viewing scale, with wide white borders) in France, Italy, Spain, Holland, and Scotland. Most of the places are along shores or rivers. Usually the horizon is straight and rather low, as in Dutch landscape paintings of the 17th century. Some are of towns, particularly old Italian hill towns. Even some large cities are represented, Paris and Lyons, for instance, along rivers, of course.

Ameland Pier Netherlands
Ameland Pier X
, Netherlands, 2000
C-print on diasec face 70 7/8 X 93 1/8 in

Rarely are there people (perhaps time exposures eliminate them), though there are cars parked in cities, along the rivers. Nothing threatens, not clouds, or surf, or wind, or activity of any kind. Everything is tranquil, settled. The range of color is extremely narrow, encompassing sky, water, sand, plants, buildings. Within this compass, and even because it is so narrow, so compressed, the range of color, movement, and light, and of emotion, is enormous. The browns of brick or stone or dried plants seem all the same brown, but of course they are not; they are infinitely varied. The horizon line seems featureless but is full of incident that suggests another horizon line behind it. The movements of water and of clouds in Esser's photographs are merged, so that timed modulation becomes the vessel of all movement; every molecule is understood to be in play.

This is a summing up of the world, but it is specific in every frame and so endless in its unfolding. The artist, thence the viewer, is part of its unfolding, part of its mood. Water flows to the sea and carries with it the landscapes' residue--Europe's history, humankind's history. It is quite different from the manipulations of contemporaries like Andreas Gursky, who exercises control by reducing and limiting reality to digital moves, to elaborate stagings of the present. Esser accepts what is there, in all its depth, complexity, and ineffability.

Beauduc, 2000
C-prints on Diasec face 70 7/8 X 87 5/8 in.

In this exhibition, the eleven photographs of the past two years are more minimal than ever. Only one building appears, along with a plowed plot of land in Spain, though there are slight indications of buildings along some of the horizons. There is more water than ever. Plants grow in water. Some landscapes are flooded, and in others water, land, and sky seem to merge--liquid, solid, and gas--they all partake of the same ethers. The compass is narrowed even further than before. Saone, France is a pale yellow-green joining of flooded plain and sky, with a fine line of trees along the horizon and rows of leafless trees and saplings growing from the water. So few elements, and yet what is there is perceived with a particularity that matches its vastness.

Beauduc, France is a shoreline, faint blue, looking out to sea, with the sky above the sea reflected in the sand below, and between, in the water, a series of small horizontal islands of plantlife. In its reflectiveness it seems to be reversible, top to bottom, but it is not from the point of view of someone who lives in this world, though perhaps it is elegiac in this sense. Ameland, Pier X, Netherlands, is around one of the Frisian Islands in northern Holland. It is all water and sky, nearly all white, with a very thin horizon line and a few other lines (the tops of dikes?). However minimal, there are markers in these landscapes that enable us to see the relationships between the smaller and larger entities, between ourselves and the rest of the universe. We are connected not only to what we have built, but to what has grown in the same places.

Donald Goddard © 2001

Saone, 2000
C-prints on Diasec Face 70 7/8 X 91 1/8 in

The exhibition was shown at Sonnabend Gallery, New York, NY.

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