Having recently learned about Elger Esser through reading “Dusseldorf School of Photography” I decided to buy the photo book of Esser’s exhibition “Eigenzeit” which means “proper time” in German. The term refers to the physical phenomenon of time dilation which is put forward in Einstein’s theory of general relativity. The most famous example of time dilation is the hypothetical one of the twins, where one stays on earth and the other one rockets into space at the speed of light. When the space travelling twin returns to earth he finds his brother aged considerably while he himself has aged very little. Each experiences time differently and lives according to their own clocks.
The forward written by Groos and Schimpf effectively describes Esser’s photography in relation to the time dilation principle as does the various essays in the book. In summary, the authors’ views is that Esser’s photos of historical landmarks and scenes evoke a sense of timelessness so that the viewer is unsure whether the photos are taken yesterday or hundreds of years ago. According to the text this feeling is enhanced by the special processing technique that Esser employs. This is made all the more interesting and subtle when you look very closely at the “Combray” and “Vedutas” photos to find clues of modernity. A power line over an old bridge or the a very distant sky scrapper along an otherwise historic view of the Seine River in Paris.
The book is divided into six sections with each part being comprised of an essay followed by one fold out double spread photo which starts the series of photos under the same theme. This format is very well thought out since Esser’s photos really benefit from the larger printing. Too bad there are only six of these spreads in the book. The photos in the “Wrecks” section portrays hand colored black and white photos of ships run aground. Personally, I find the “Wrecks” photos a little too contrived. In contrast the “Views” photos are also hand colored but feel less contrived and more authentic. The photos are blown up to such a large size that the grain in the film become like pointillist dots. It would be amazing to see these photos as larger prints.