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Susan Derges (UK)

Looking at the natural world feels like looking into one vast, unfolding, creative process that “I” and“nature” are a part of together, rather than a process where nature is something “out there” happening to me “in here.” Image-making has become an activity of trying to make the connection between the “two” (or, you could say, the “not two”) worlds and sharing these images with people.*

When I began to make photographs about this sense of unbroken process, using a camera felt as if I would be positioning myself apart from the connection I was seeking to make, becoming an observer of an observed other. So I tried to make a closer, more tactile contact with the photographic activities, such as immersing the photo paper beneath the water’s surface at night or within the stuff of the landscape, and then exposing it to light. By physically entering into natural events, like the flow of a river or the tide’s waves hitting the shore, I learnt a lot about their wider connections to weather systems, temperature, and planetary cycles, and about our impact on their changing states. I began to care about nature far more viscerally. To watch the depletion of spawn and frog populations in familiar stretches of water, or to come across oil washed ashore on the beach where I was working felt like receiving bad news or warnings about personal illness. Making large, body-scale prints and photograms in rivers, ponds, and shorelines, and then exhibiting these prints, seemed to be a way of giving voice to something that was calling out for attention. Nature and ecosystems inform and shape the inner life of imagination, dreaming, and subjective awareness. Recently, the desire to include more of this kind of experience in my images has made me reconsider how to construct my work. To turn the image “frame” around, facing inwards into a subjective world, felt relevant and prompted me to start working indoors, in the dark, beneath a huge glass tank containing my floating, illuminated subject matter—a threshold space where above and below, inside and outside, can merge.

Imagery and material from shoreline tide pools provided both an environmental source and a metaphor. Those small, fragile worlds, sustained by the huge forces of ocean, weather, and cosmos, are also sites of fascination and memory. Frequently visited in childhood, those pools also become part of one’s early experience through stories and images that continue into adulthood as dreams, memories, and other narratives. Visually beguiling, the stories and images draw you in to explore what is there and, at the same time, they invite personal reflection. Self and other can become connected in this kind of looking, place becomes more meaningful, and a shift in behavior can unfold.

Susan Derges

* I include culture in what is called “nature.”


Susan Derges is an internationally recognized photographic artistwhose work involves an ongoing exploration of the natural worldand its relationship to themes of self and consciousness in science,psychology, spirituality, and the imagination. Her work has beenexhibited and collected worldwide. She spent six years workingin Japan during the early 1980s, at which time she developed thecamera-less photographic techniques for which she is now known.Work from her time in Japan has recently been exhibited in the fourpersonsurvey show Shadow Catchers (2010) at the Victoria & AlbertMuseum in London, with an accompanying publication.

A major body of work based on the River Taw in southwest England was exhibited widely during the 1990s in the U.K., Switzerland, Japan, the United States, and Peru. The series was the subject of a number of exhibition books, including River Taw (London: Michael Hue-Williams Fine Art, 1997), Woman Thinking River (San Francisco: Fraenkel Gallery and New York: Danziger Gallery, 1999), Liquid Form (London: Michael Hue-Williams Fine Art, 1999), and Elemental (Göttingen, Germany: Steidl Verlag, 2010).

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