Elget Esser: Sonnabend. (Reviews: New York).
The horizontality that the photographs seek in the places they document makes me think of what Rosalind Krauss has called bassesse--the sense of abjection or at least upset expectation arising from the denial of the human instinct for uprightness in the world. But though Esser's work does have a desert quality, it also plays, I imagine quite knowingly, with the visual conventions of the romantic and the picturesque, squeezing and draining them to control their emotional affect but not entirely erasing it. Caspar David Friedrich might be one reference for Esser's sea and beach scenes, and what is striking about the Ile St. Martin photographs, or the pair of images evocatively titled Le Paradis, France, both 2001, is their subtle sense of natural biological energy--their sense of wet green warmth. Invested in the carefully filtered color and the play of organic form interrupting abstract rectangularity, nature here seems alive. Unpeopled, pushing toward empty featurelessness, the images still show places you mi ght like to be.
Esser belongs to an ever-growing class of German photographers who are products of the teaching of Bernd and Hilla Becher at the Kunstakademie Dusseldorf. I admit to a certain disappointment at this, as it makes some of his choices--the scale of his prints, the methodical routine of tracing a particular subject or motif through many variations--begin to look stock. Perhaps Esser is acknowledging his fellow graduates in Les Roches, France, 2000, which looks to have been made with Andreas Gursky's Rhine II, 1999, in mind-though there may be a little one-upmanship here, in that Esser apparently used straight photography to arrive at a pictorial construction for which Gursky resorted to digital manipulation. In any case, you wonder how far this line of work has to go before it seems played out. It doesn't seem played out yet.
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|Article Type:||Brief Article|
|Date:||Apr 1, 2002|
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