19th Century Vintage Photography from the Middle East

Christian Snouck Hurgonje
Mekke, 1888






Voyage en Egypte

19th Century Vintage Photography from the Middle East

28 July – 29 October 2011
Opening 28 July, 7-9 pm in the presence of the artist


BEIRUT - Sfeir-Semler Gallery is happy to announce the opening on Thursday 28th of July, 7-9 pm, of two solo shows. In the South wing of the gallery we present Elger Esser, the renowned German photo-artist, who will be showing a new body of work taken along the Nile. In the North wing we have an impressive selection of 19th century vintage photography of the Middle East from the Herzog Collection, Basel, Switzerland. 

In April 2011, Elger Esser travelled along the Nile from Luxor to Aswan, photographing the banks of the river, traditional feluccas, dahabiyas, and fishermen. In this exhibition he presents 20 of his large-size works: faded landscapes conveying an atmosphere of eternal calm. The tranquility of nature detaches the landscapes from the ever-changing times and events of human life.

Elger Esser was born in 1967 in Düsseldorf and studied under the German photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher. He realizes his distinct vision of landscape  by using a traditional analog large-format camera. He works early in the morning or  at twilight of a fading day, capturing nature as is, without using digital techniques.  He seems always trying to keep hold of something that has been lost.  For this reason his works epitomize a very specific soft melancholy,  the desire for the so called "temps perdu" of Marcel Proust. 

Esser combines his detailed large-scale photography with a sustained interest in 19th century photography and a fascination with historical postcards. Elger Esser is certainly amongst the strongest artists working in contemporary German photography today.

Complementary to the Esser exhibition, we present a selection of more than one hundred historical photographs from the Herzog Collection. The works on view  depict 19th century Lebanon, Egypt, Palestine, and Greater Syria, in black and  white and coloured landscapes and portraits. The unique vintage prints display  a diverse spectrum of photographic techniques including works by well-known  photographers such as Félix Bonfils, who moved to Beirut in 1867, and took  more than 20,000 images of Egypt, Lebanon and Palestine.   The photographs on display constitute a unique insight into the region at that time.

Established by Ruth and Peter Herzog forty years ago, the Swiss collection comprises approximately 300,000 photographs. The individual pictures of the collection and those presented in albums, represent a diverse range of techniques used since the invention of the medium of photography in 1839. The images document multiple facets of life in the industrial age from 1839 until 1950. The collection is especially rich in pictures of the Mediterranean area. It includes masterpieces of great photographers as well as photographs taken by amateurs held in high esteem by the collector couple.