Much of the work of Susan Derges (born 1955, London, UK) revolves around the creation of visual metaphors, exploring the relationship between the observer and the observed; the self and nature or the imagined and the 'real'. She endeavours to manifest or capture invisible scientific and natural processes - the physical appearance of sound vibration, the evolution of frogspawn or the cycles of the moon. Characteristically, her practice has involved cameraless, lens-based, digital and reinvented photographic processes, and encompasses subject matter informed by landscape and abstraction as well as the physical and biological sciences. She is perhaps best known for her pioneering technique of capturing the continuous movement of water by immersing photographic paper directly into rivers or shorelines. Often creating work at night, she works with the light of the moon and a hand-held torch to expose images directly onto light sensitive paper.
'The artist Susan Derges engages with such transformative themes in her treatment of elemental forces, testing the inter-relation between earth, water, air and fire. Her beautifully-crafted images reflect a holistic system that encompasses the human psyche and finds its metaphors through the natural world. Like the terminology and practice of alchemy, her work is suggestive and mercurial, for it deals with the point where the specific meets the universal. In a creative circle, she extracts, refines, and pours back, enriching our experience in the process. The territory between states of being, conditions of change, are as important as the stages of resolution'. (Martin Barnes)
Over twenty years ago, when Susan Derges began her series of river prints, unstable and uncertain conditions left several prints scratched by stones or overhanging branches or the water failed to stabilise evenly. With new technology Derges has recently been able to revisit these previously unseen prints. Restoring, reworking and transforming them, she has created a new series, River Taw & Streens, of small editions of original dye transfer prints on a human scale, which eloquently suggest our inclusion. In the series Ocean Flowers 2019 the focus is on the detail of particular algae and what they express in their suspended states of floating and transient forms. The atmosphere is reflective, speaking of memory, history and what is happening now to the delicate balance of these microcosms within the intertidal zones.
In another recent project, Mortal Moon (exhibited Queen's House Greenwich 2019-20) , Susan Derges created four photographic works in response to the Armada Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I. They are inspired by fragile vessels travelling the oceans at the mercy of heavenly and earthly forces. Sailors on voyages of ‘discovery’, trade, piracy, colonisation and slavery used the moon and stars to navigate their way. The images capture the wake of boats, travelling at night and the reflections of the sun, moon and stars on the water, and form a vivid allegory that resonates with the present day’s abandoned and wrecked boats in our collective awareness. The images are layered with the mythological figures of the constellations, believed to influence life on earth.
Susan Derges completed her postgraduate studies at the Slade School of Fine Art before moving to Japan, where she continued her research at Tsukuba University. She is a visiting professor in Photography at the University of Plymouth. Her work has been exhibited in numerous international exhibitions including Shadows on the Wall: Cameraless Photography, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and Shadow Catchers, Victoria & Albert Museum, London. Collections holding her work include Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Brooklyn Museum; Art Institute of Chicago; J.Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Victoria & Albert Museum, London.