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Vistas from morning land

21 March, 2017

Elger Esser: El-Kab II, Egypt, 2011, C-print, Diasec, 184 x 239.5 x 5 cms (72½ x 94¼ x 2 ins). Courtesy of the artist

PARASOL unit foundation for contemporary art is presenting photographic works by German artist Elger Esser. The exhibition focuses on a new series of works entitled Morgenland (morning land), created during Esser’s travels in Lebanon, Egypt and Israel from 2004 to 2015.

The series refers to the concept of the Orient or the East. Rather than reflecting a negative, stereotypical “Orientalism” with its links to cultural colonialism, Esser’s depictions of the Near East aim to convey a sense of reconciliation amid regional differences and historical issues.

Travelling along the Lebanese shore in 2004 and the Nile between Luxor and Aswan in 2011, Esser photographed the banks of rivers, traditional feluccas and dahabiya sailing vessels, using an 8 x 10 Land camera.

Captured from a great distance his calm, awe-inspiring landscapes – reminiscent of the romantic images of faraway lands on old postcards – seem to convey a sense of the infinite. Their quiet and serene beauty, however, is disturbing because it is in such stark contrast to what we know of the ugly conflicts taking place in the region today and how they are generally portrayed in the media.

Elger Esser: Enfeh I, Lebanon, 2005, C-print, Diasec, 142 x 184 x 5 cms (56 x 72½ x 2 ins). Courtesy of the artist

During a visit to Israel in 2015, Esser created a series of works based on some archive pictures taken by an unknown photographer who documented the existence of ruins in Israel/Palestine in 1948. With his series, Esser aims to present a timeline of conflicts, dating from the Byzantine period to recent times, showing the development and decay of cultural periods.

Landscapes are seen as stratifications, layers upon layers of different cultures. The work One Sky, 2015, shows two panoramas printed back-to-back on a silver-coated copper plate. One side displays a view as seen from Lebanon, while the other side presents the same view as seen from Israel. Although both scenes are so similar they appear to be the same, they present us with a single location as seen from opposite perspectives.

Nature and the landscape are central themes. Often in muted, sepia or monochromatic colours, Esser’s pictures have a stillness about them that evokes a sense of the sublime and take inspiration from the literary works of Gustave Flaubert, Marcel Proust and Guy de Maupassant, paintings of the Romantic period and early 19th-century photography.

• Elger Esser: Morgenland runs from March 29-May 21 at Parasol unit foundation for contemporary art, 14 Wharf Road, N1 7RW. Open Tuesday-Saturday 10am-6pm, Sunday 12-5pm. Admission free. 020 7490 7373, www.parasol-unit.org

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