Like many contemporary German photographers, Elger Esser studied under Bernd and Hilla Becher at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. Yet unlike others schooled by the Bechers such as Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer, or Thomas Struth, Esser attends to the unmanipulated, ephemeral, even romantic landscapes of Europe. Simply put, he photographs beaches, wetlands, riverbeds, and valleys. Such places offer up a low, straight horizon that is likely to be one of the most striking details of the resulting image. His views are often comprised largely of air and water, light and its reflection. In Ameland Pier X, Netherlands (2000), for example, the horizon divides the sky from the sea, forming two halves that are almost mirror images of each other, similarly tinted by the pale, luminous tones of an overcast day.
There is a sense of placelessness to these landscapes, despite Esser's lending of location details to the titles. Whether they portray the Seine in Paris, a beach at Beaduc, France, or a narrow strip of the Dutch shore, his photographs pay tribute to the universal lure of a seemingly infinite horizon and ultimate calm in the foreground. The picturesque quality of these views brings to mind everything from old-fashioned scenic-view postcards to nineteenth-century American Luminist paintings. But in the stillness of the landscapes and their muted, dreamlike colors linger evocations of the sublime, recalling the expressive effect of works by such great Romantic landscape painters as Caspar David Friedrich. The large scale of Esser's prints coupled with the expansive distances and often indistinct horizons he photographs works to envelop the viewer, offering an alluring tension between the landscape originally encountered by the artist and experienced by the viewer.