“Eigenzeit” by Elger Esser

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.

“East: For the Record” published by Steidl

“East” is a photographic record of the historic events that occurred between August 1989 and January 1990 that brought down the Berlin Wall and reunited East and West Germany.  However instead of using cliched newsroom photos of people standing on top of the Wall, it is the everyday lives of regular people during that time that is featured in the foreground and the “historical events” that serve as the backdrop.

The book is mainly written in German for a German audience however it does contain an English translation of the Forward, essays and photo captions to be found at the very end of the book.  The main body of the book is the Photography section which is divided into the months August, September, Oktober, November and Dezember.  Each spread is spaciously laid out with photographs, the Day. Month., name of the contributing photographer and a short caption.  The overall effect is one of non sentimentality letting the photos individually stand on their own but all the while contributing to the overall tone and momentum.  90 % of the photos are in black and white with color serving as accents here and there.

It is a powerful testament to how history is written by regular people just by living the way they choose to and changing the course of history in the mean while.  Would be great to see more photobooks like “East” that gives a clearer view of the everyday context that accumulate and add up to momentous events that affect all our lives.

If you like this review enough to buy the book, please purchase from the Amazon link here: