The artist Elger Esser (born 1967 in Stuttgart) is a time traveler. His photographs are images of the present day, real landscapes, yet the world shown in these pictures seems to originate in the past. The photographic technique that he uses also evokes a bygone era: A former master student of Bernd Becher, Esser creates vintage photoengravings of his black-and-white negatives produced using an elaborate process, which stand out in a present dominated by digital technology.
In his new photo book, Elger Esser: Combray, published by Schirmer/Mosel, Esser focuses on the French countryside and its secluded retreats, which enchantingly evoke the fictional town of Combray from Marcel Proust’s novel À la recherche du temps perdu (1913). The large-format volume brings together over 100 images from a series developed over a period of more than 10 years.
With his conceptually orientated series of works – the reworked historical postcard images or the sepia-toned cityscapes and seascapes – Elger Esser creates images of longing that cannot be anchored in any timeline. The uninhabited landscapes, abandoned places, gardens, small lakes and river courses, monastery ruins and dilapidated church naves, forests bathed in light and moss-covered stonework from the Combray series seem to be entirely removed from time. The French town of Illiers was indeed renamed “Illiers-Combray”, in honor of Marcel Proust’s 100th birthday, but the town of Combray, where Proust’s protagonist sets out in order to find the lost memories of his childhood and which never existed – thanks to Esser’s pictorial world, Combray has now assumed a visible form.
Elger Esser: Combray 2005-2016
A photographic journey into Marcel Proust’s France
With essays by Kirsten Claudia Voigt and Bernd Stiegler
224 pages, 102 duotone plates
German Edition with English/French
€ 68, US $ 80