The pictorial structure of Elger Esser's large photographs of European towns, seas, and beaches is precise and thoughtfully measured, and the young, Dseldorf-based artist works in a pared-down tonal range. Here, a medieval gate is pictured off-center, truncated by the right edge of the image, but this asymmetry is offset by the balance created by the gate's mirror image in the lake. Together this antiquated structure and its reflection form a rectangle that rhymes with the shape of the photograph, and the gate's arched opening redoubles in the water to form a keyhole configuration. Esser's photographs are often also bisected by a horizon line, although the split between sea, land, and sky here is dreamily faint.
Esser's sizeable prints allow for the capture of exceptional detail, and one could count the individual bricks in the gate, rendered in grainy intricacy. Yet this vista remains moodily perplexing; it's hard to imagine where this gate might be, or understand why it is half-immersed in water. Although Esser does not digitally alter his images, it's challenging to reconcile the knowledge that he is a straight photographer with the panorama shown-what atmospheric conditions resulted in water and sky sharing the same creamy white appearance? How could such effects be possible without computerized color adjustment and digital trickery?
Esser cut his artistic teeth as a studio assistant to German photographic masters Bernd and Hilla Becher, and his work evokes the straightforward documentary style of his mentors as well as the surreal photorealist breadth of contemporaries such as Andreas Gursky and Candida Hofer. Unlike the photographs of his fellow Germans, however, Esser's work possesses a lyricism reminiscent of the sublime expanses and boundless vistas that hallmark Romantic painting-yet one with a comprehensive resolution possible only in photography.