Art Scene: Elger Esser

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Elger Esser, Gebel el-Silsila, Egypt, 2011

Stand before “Nil I, Egypt 2001” (54.5” x 78”), the largest of a dozen serene depictions by German photographer Elger Esser of landscapes captured during his recent voyage from Luxor to Aswan, and the softly rippling surface of the Nile River draws you in with all of the allure of a James Turrell light and space construction. Minute details of a boat’s emerald green and ruby red trim stand out against a vast, muted synchronicity of light on dulled expanses of sky and water. The wind fills the sails of the old vessel, a dahabiya on which Esser anchored the 8 X 10 land camera he employed to capture Egypt’s lifeline, carefully framed as it threads its way through each UltraChrome print in this romantic series. The pictures are hauntingly monochromatic and infused with glowing gold and yellow hues. While the river occupies the bottom portion of most images and the sky the top, what happens in the center changes as Esser moves from place to place. The beauty and the vastness of the landscape comes across in these almost people-less compositions. Smaller works, such as “Salwa Bahry lll,” have a painterly, abstract quality that is quite compelling. Rather than seducing audiences with iconic architectural elements, or the drama of recent political uprisings, this former student of Bernd and Hilla Becher systematically animates sublime expanses with that diffused light and color and intriguing areas of precisely detailed landscape elements (Rose Gallery, Santa Monica). —DC/JZ

Text courtesy of ArtScene