Bruce Silverstein is pleased to present Elger Esser: Mont-Saint-Michel, a special online exhibition featuring Esser’s latest project highlighting French medieval architecture, specifically the Benedictine abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel in the Normandy mud flats. Commissioned by the French government to celebrate the abbey’s millennium in 2023, Esser photographed Mont-Saint-Michel and its surrounding landscape in all seasons and sea conditions, creating his subsequent breathtaking images. Elger Esser’s distinct approach to landscape photography - his production of eternal images imbued with the keen vision of a Romantic - has made him widely recognized within the photographic canon. Esser’s serene, verdant photographs depict moments rooted historically yet also in the present, rendering his compositions in both large-format and more intimately scaled.
His work builds upon a rich tradition of 19th-century photography characterized by the grand Realist landscapes of French masters Gustave Le Gray and Édouard Baldus and the great chronicler of the American west, Carleton Watkins. Whereas the approach of these forbearers realized still photographs entwined to their respective eras, Esser’s timeless images are detached from such specificity, evoking the everlasting. The pastoral glow cast from his diffused lighting is a hallmark of Esser’s bucolic photographs. His pictures capture the essence of a dream state, a space that only poetry or prose can accurately describe. In many ways, Esser’s photographs emphasize the atmospheric language found in the Pictorialist masterworks of Peter Henry Emerson. Like Emerson, Esser’s work involves manipulating what could otherwise be a straightforward photograph to create a picture rather than strictly recording nature.
Earning early fame as the first heretic from Düsseldorf school, Esser created his most recent atmospheric landscapes while traveling throughout France and Italy. These images made him famous and gave him his first solo exhibition at the gallery owner Ileana Sonnabend in New York early on. Elger Esser’s latest project is his photographic work to a High point of medieval architecture of France, the Benedictine Abbey Mont-Saint-Michel on the eponymous Island in the Normandy Wadden Sea. The former monastery is visited by over 3.5 million tourists every year. It is an icon of French culture and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979.
Esser’s formal education has been the study of landscape photography. As a student of Bernd Becher at the Düsseldorf School of Photography in the 1990s, his concerted practice does encompass aspects of the documentary method promoted by his instructor; however, Esser’s work departs from Becher as well as that of his fellow students in his endeavors to encapsulate the fundamental mood of a landscape. His resulting efforts feel less starkly categorical and undoubtedly share more in common with the sensibility of 17th-century Dutch landscape painters and English Romanticist J.M.W. Turner. Esser’s photographs are almost exclusively devoid of human presence and are instead stretches of paysages intimes, capturing pungent views along the French and Italian seaside, creating illuminated souvenirs which embody his enchantment with the landscape and unique romantic vision.
Born in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1967, Esser spent most of his childhood in Rome, Italy. He moved to Düsseldorf in 1986 and attended the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf under Bernd Becher from 1991 to 1997. The artist continues to live and work in Düsseldorf. Esser has had countless solo exhibitions worldwide and participated in numerous biennials and group exhibitions, namely ILEANA SONNABEND, AN ITALIAN PORTRAIT, at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice in 2011. In addition, his works are represented widely in notable private collections and within international institutions, including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Stiftung Museum Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf, and Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.