River Taw, 19 January 1999, photograph, 76.2 cm x 30.5 cm by Susan Derges
Susan Derges, (English, born 1955) is a photographic artist, specialising in camera-less photographic processes, most often working with natural landscapes. She has exhibited extensively in Europe, America and Japan and her works are in several important museum collections.
Derges was born in London in 1955. She studied painting at the Chelsea College of Art and Design from 1973–1976 and at the Slade School of Art from 1977–1979. She then turned to photography, exploring in particular early photographic techniques of cameraless photography – exposing images directly onto photographic paper – techniques she has continued to refine and develop to this day. From 1981 to 1985 she lived and worked in Japan, receiving a Rotary Foundation Award (1981), JVC Award (1984) and carrying out postgraduate research at Tsukuba University. From 1986 to 1991 Derges lived in London, moving to Dartmoor, Devon in 1992. In 1993 she received a South West Arts Award and was appointed Lecturer in Media Arts at the University of Plymouth, Exeter. From 1997 to 1999 she was an external examiner for the BA in Fine Art: Photography at Middlesex University.
Having trained in painting, Susan Derges expressed an early interest in abstraction because "it offered the promise of being able to speak of the invisible rather than to record the visible". She turned to cameraless photography after experiencing frustration at the way "the camera always separates the subject from the viewer". Much of her subsequent work has dealt with this relationship – of separation and connectedness with the natural world. Her images are often beautiful, conjuring metaphysical and metaphorical layers of meaning. Her methods have been consistently experimental, a constant search for new cameraless methods of recording imagery, including the photogram, while directly connecting with the world she observes.
Derges first experimented with cameraless photography while living in Japan. Her 1985 work Chladni Figures was produced by sprinkling carborundum powder directly onto photographic emulsion where it was exposed to sound waves at different frequencies (see Ernst Chladni), creating ghostly black and white images of natural order and chaos. For her 1991 series The Observer and the Observed Derges explored the interdependence of viewer and object – creating images appearing as droplets of water containing faces, while simultaneously showing her own face with small droplets suspended in her view. For the 1997 River Taw series she worked at night, placing photographic paper on the river bed and allowing the images to be exposed through ambient light, aided by the use of a flash gun. Her technique involved a very direct and unmediated physical relationship with the landscape, while her Under The Moon series involved working with photographs of the moon and combining these with water and branch patterns exposed to sound vibrations in the darkroom. Her images, though based upon the capturing of external natural realities, take on a metaphorical dimension that echo the inner life of the unconscious and imaginative.