I have met Susan Derges as she lives not far from Exeter; her photographic work is quite unique partly a result of her not using a camera. If I get a chance, I shall ask her if she would be prepared to do an OCA study day but that is not my intention in coming to the discussion today.
Idris Khan has not come; he has a funeral to go to!
Derges is introduced as an eminent British photographer and artist. Her last show at the V&A was made without cameras as part of a joint exhibition called Shadowcatchers. V&A have been buying her work since 1985 while Barnes did a book called Elemental featuring Derges’ work.
Rain drops falling past a blurred face is the image on the screen. Susan is well known for her work featuring water. Being on the banks of The Thames at Somerset House hence a very appropriate place to be!
Fluidity, of the eye, of liquid … the Observer Observed! Derges is I tested in self enquiry, the relationship between us and the world. Derges appropriated scientific studies or at least learnt from them and applied them photographically. Photographing with fast shutter speed via a strobe light, she got isolated drops of water rather than a stream. The photograph was the result of camera error; when the shutter did fire it caught her behind the drops and the resulting image proved to be one that Derges preferred. The drops of water acted as fish eye lenses. The photo was an accident, a gift for it produced a clarity that Derges was looking for but did not expect. She understands photography as a developmental process, a kind of self enquiry.
Accident as part of the creative process; for Derges, it is a gift. Accident implies something has gone wrong, misfortune but a gift implies something bigger than oneself. We are part of a complex world. The drops started a body of work.
Derges likes there to be an element of chance.
New work has centred around rock pools on the Devon coastline, their gemlike preciousness. Not enough just to take a photo of a rock pool, she wanted to explore them with her imagination. Derges identifying with natural processes. A tiny environment to be inhabited as if one was an inhabitant. She recreated a rock pool in her studio; other work has been done on location such as in her River Taw series. The rock pool on the screen is an elliptical shape in which green seaweed like forms. Suggests figures on the blue water background; there are also signs of refraction in the water. Understanding the environment and our relationship towards it.
Derges was a painter before coming to photography. Turning the frame of the camera inwards. Her landscapes are not documentary rather invitations to enter into the subject.
Mentions Anne Atkins and her documents of plants, algae etc that were scientific documents but also personal, her own qualities being fused with these scientific representations. Inspired by the approach of Atkins who had constructed her images evident in the way she put plants together.
Shows an image of a cluster of frogs spawn; came from seeing an image projected by the sun shining through the spawn onto the pool below. She started photographing frog’s spawn at length, observing the life cycle of spawn. Recreation of direct observation! Images that show fine details of process and the incidental things that happen such as refractive light forming around ripples.
Conducting work inside as well as outside.
Large images from the River Taw. Large piece of Cibachrome paper exposed to night with single flash used. Derges feels herself changing as she makes such work. Obvious reference to other artists such as Casper Friederich. Witnessing the outdoors and gradually embodying it and internalising it only to bring it out again.
Photographs of Alchemy. Witnessing and Gathering. Making work from glassware found in a cellar in Oxford. At one time the world of imagination and science was fused but nowadays it has become fragmented. Derges seems to be reuniting them.
A residency can move one on from where one is. Her Taw images about something that happens in the landscape but also about an internal experience. Embedded within rather than knowingly separated. There is a sense of emotional projection through the work. Descriptive powers of language begin to fail. Not a linear descriptive analogy, more like a dream with different layers.
Derges spent 6 years in Japan where she learnt that their language is pictorial. Her images are layers of content effecting one as a dream might. Metaphorical images rather than a narrative.
There are reasons why she makes a work of art yet these need exploring through the process. Not so simple as her trying to articulate x,y,z
Assumption that Moon was doing the work of exposure in underwater photographs but actually it is less than a second owing to flash though paper was left out for sometime to slightly pick up tones of moonlit night. Work looks pristine even perfect … Are there many mistakes, prints thrown away? Derges keeps a lot of her rejects some of which are good but did not represent what she was looking for.
Bodies of work arise around Derges’ interests. A body of work will end when she no longer feels motivated by it. Bodies required skills to be developed but once she had mastered the process no longer feels need to go on.
How to keep the element of the accidental, the gift? Tried working with jellyfish where one moved out of frame but still left an imprint; unexpected but effective.
Performative element to her River Taw work. Reworks and reworks imagery.
Intentional on Derges’ part. She is not identifying with seaweed in a pool even when she is arranging it for a picture but there is a connection with it, a sense that it is alive. Childlike wonder of a rock pool.
Open wonderment is a good way to describe Susan Derges’ way of working says Martin Barnes, the curator from the V&A who has been interviewing her.
Have always liked Derges’ work and now I feel I understand it a little more or at least the process of making it! I do not go up to say hello to her at the end of the talk being left slightly in awe if not wonder. I need to email her about a study day talk.