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Elger Esser was born in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1967 and was raised in Rome. In 1986, he moved to Düsseldorf, where he worked as a commercial photographer until 1991. He then attended the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, studying with Bernd and Hilla Becher, until 1997. A trip to Lyon in 1996 marked a turning point in his practice, yielding an aesthetic based on the experience of travel in what Esser calls “archaic locales in the middle of nowhere” and postcards, which had fascinated the artist since childhood. Esser subsequently made a series of excursions around Western Europe in search of subjects in natural and built environments, such as the tranquil river in Marne (1997) and the dense architecture of Naples in Matera I (1998). Both of these photographs are part of the artist’s Vedutas and Landscapes series, along with studies of the sea such as his Ameland images (2000). Inspired by Marcel Proust’s descriptions of Combray in "A la recherche du temps perdu", Esser’s 2007 series, named after the French town, is comprised of complex superimposed Chromogenic prints and nostalgic héliogravures. In 2007–08, Esser turned his attention to the wharfs and sea cliffs of the United States.
Esser has had solo exhibitions at the Kunstverein in Hagen, Germany (1997), Galleria d’Arte Moderna Bologna (2001), and Fondation Herzog in Basel (2004), among other venues. Group exhibitions in which his work has appeared include the Biennale della Fotografia at Fondazione Italiana per la Fotografia in Turin (1999), Hier und jetzt at Museum Kunst Palast in Düsseldorf (2002), Affinities . . . Now and Then at the Kansas City Art Institute (2003), Painters of Modern Life at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris (2006), and True North at the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin (2008). In 2006, he became a professor of photography at the Staatliche Hochschule für Gestaltung Karlsruhe and in 2008 was a visiting professor at Folkwang Hochschule Essen. He lives and works in Düsseldorf.