Born in London, 1955
Susan Derges' work as a photographer is notable for the way in which she has adapted the medium's combination of science and art in order to record processes of transformation. During the early 80s Susan Derges lived in Japan, where she made a body of work entitled 'Chladni Figures' (1985). This series of photographs was produced by sprinkling carborundum powder directly onto photographic emulsion where it was agitated by sound waves at varying frequencies. This process engendered ghostly black and white images of a kind of 'divine symmetry', like the cellular formations of plants. Notions of natural order and chaos and perception and metaphor would play a fundamental role in her later work.
In 1989, Derges made another body of work - she generally makes pictures in series or groups - that exploited the properties of mercury. 'Hermetica', named after the Greek god Hermes, uses sound waves, like the 'Chladni Figures', creating 'stilled' images of this liquid metal. Each image contains several isolated shapes which resemble microscopic life forms, or rather traces of them, like fossils.
In 'The Observer and the Observed' (1991), the artist herself becomes part of the picture, much like in an 18th-century camera obscura, where both the subject and object are conflated within the photographic apparatus itself. Here, as the title suggests, observation and recording are united. For this series, Derges has made blurred self-portraits facing the viewer directly. Her image is also reflected and distorted many times over in the droplets of water which are frozen in mid-air with the aid of a strobe light. As such, she becomes both director and actor of the scene.
Most of the photographs are produced without the conventional use of a camera lens. Her images are photograms made directly onto photo emulsion and processed in her studio. During the early 90s, Derges pursued her interest in embryology and biology by working with tadpoles and bees. In works such as Spawn (1992) and the 'Vessel' series (1995), groups of tadpoles unite and disperse as they develop before our eyes. For the 'Bee' series, Derges kept a hive near her studio in Devon, where she recorded the behavior and movement of these 'images of the soul', as bees were symbolised in classical times, where 'external form' became a 'visualising of thought'.
Since her stay in Japan, Derges has been influenced by the work of 19th-century Japanese artists such as Hiroshige and Hokusai, and the way they represent landscape and the vicissitudes of nature that is always inscribed by culture. The 'River Taw' series is a diverse body of work that is produced in the river itself. Derges uses the running water as a lens and everything that passes through it or reflected on it becomes the image. These photograms are taken at night using only the moonlight and a torch which Derges holds from above the water, as the natural landscape becomes her darkroom. She sees each image of cellular or tissue-like streams of water and foliage as 'living entities reflecting a human microcosm'. These images become traces, the residue of unique chance operations which record a 'collective memory' of nature.