Since the 1990s, Becher School alumnus Elger Esser has used photography to investigate imagined realities, recreating nineteenth century paintings and views from cartes de vistses in his muted, sublime palette, or, more recently picturing a world found only in literature and memory. In Combray, a book published last month by Schirmer/Mosel, Esser references Marcel Proust’s novel A la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time). Named for the imagined village in Proust’s book, Esser’s large-format black and white images show a gloriously picturesque French countryside, populated by lakes and stone bridges, leafy gardens and quiet villages, all empty of people. While Proust’s real home town, Illiers, was renamed Illiers-Combray in his honor in 1971, Esser’s pictures weren’t made there—instead he photographed all over France, from Paimpol in Brittany in the northwest to Annot, near Nice in the south; combined, the images make up a pastoral vision as inaccessible as Proust’s own memories. “In the era of romanticism, the artists would go on journeys and then in modern times it was the camera which travelled—in order to prove that ‘I have been there,'” says Esser in a recent interview. “I care about the picture and not about where it was produced: I locate my pictures but I also displace them from their locations.” This year, Esser has won the German state of Baden-Württemberg’s Oskar Schlemmer State Prize, and a show of his work will run until July 20 at Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe.
Expanding the Horizon
Maia Flore’s Fantastical Images Explore Photography and Memory(for PDN subscribers; login required)