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Photograph - Eden 5

Eden 5

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Great Britain (made)

  • Date:

    2004 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Derges, Susan, born 1955 (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Ilfochrome (dye destruction) photographic print

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This photograph - or more correctly 'photogram' - was made without the use of a camera. Susan Derges submerged a large sheet of colour photographic paper in a fast-flowing river near a waterfall at night. As the water flowed over it she fired a flash from above. The paper was then returned to a lab to be processed before any image could be seen. The resulting picture captures the intricate patterns in the pull of water, revealing the underlying patterns and forces within the natural world. Derges's working method combines elements of prediction and chance and is highly intuitive. As she has noted: ‘I wanted to visualise the idea of a threshold where one would be on the edge of two interconnected worlds: one an internal, imaginative or contemplative space and the other, an external, dynamic, magical world of nature’.

Derges studied painting at Chelsea School of Art and the Slade School of Fine Art, London. From 1980 she lived and worked in Japan, returning to Britain in 1986, bringing the influence of Japanese minimalism and combining this with her discovery of ‘camera-less’ photography techniques, creating unique photograms. Her art engages with the themes of alchemy, testing the inter-relation between the elements of fire, water, earth and air. Her beautifully-crafted images reflect a holistic system that encompasses the human psyche and finds its metaphors through the natural world.

The artist has had an ongoing relationship with the V&A spanning her career. Her first major series, Chladni Figures (1985) part of the V&A collection, was made by sprinkling powder onto photographic paper made to vibrate with sound, resulting in the shapes of invisible sound waves made visible. Her subsequent series Observer and Observed (1991); River Taw (1997); Ice (1997) and Shoreline (1998), also represented in the collection, continued to explore hidden forces and cycles of nature.

The two parts of the diptych Eden 4 and Eden 5 (2004), were acquired by the museum in 2015 and 2010 respectively. The pieces mark the end of a ‘golden age’ of camera-less, analogue and chemistry-based photography for the artist, who is now moving to digital practice. The work was made as part of a residency at the Eden project biosphere in Cornwall, which allowed her to combine her interests in scientific experiment and ecology. It is a unique photogram, made by submersion in a fast-flowing river near a waterfall. The complexity and variety of its wave forms in one image make it highly representative; it marks the culmination of the artist’s exploration of water as a medium and a metaphor. The photogram was used as a pattern to create an etched glass panel, as one of a set for the roof of one of the Eden project buildings, in which the theme of transition from water to steam, ice and gas is represented. As such, it can be seen as an element in the process of design manufacture as well as a fine artwork in its own right.

Eden 4 and Eden 5 were a centrepiece in the V&A exhibition Beneath The Surface at Somerset House (21 May - August 2015), as part of the Photo London Fair (21-24 May). The exhibition included a selection of approximately 200 ‘unseen’ historic and contemporary photographs from the Victoria and Albert Museum, shown in galleries situated on the banks of the river Thames. Images of rivers and water – implying depths beneath the surface – provided a metaphor for the richness of the collection.

Physical description

Unique ilfochrome photographic print with wave forms, made by submersion in a fast-flowing river near a waterfall.

Place of Origin

Great Britain (made)


2004 (made)


Derges, Susan, born 1955 (artist)

Materials and Techniques

Ilfochrome (dye destruction) photographic print


Height: 101.5 cm, Width: 243.8 cm

Descriptive line

Photograph, dye destruction print photogram, 'Eden 5', Susan Derges, Great Britain 2004.

Labels and date

Cameraless Photography

Susan Derges (b.1955)
Eden 5
Dye destruction print
101.5 x 243.8
Museum no. E.445-2010

Working outdoors at night, Derges submerged photographic paper below the surface of a river. The paper was then exposed to a microsecond of flashlight. The process embraces chance, for although her knowledge of the river’s movement gave her an indication of images she would produce, the final result could be seen only after processing. Eden 5 is part of a series made for a residency at the Eden Project gardens in Cornwall. They show the many different wave forms that Derges has carefully examined over the years. Like other artists and philosophers, she is exploring the idea that natural patterns are the signs of deeply hidden affinities, visible signs that point to the invisible.
Photo London: Beneath the Surface
Somerset House
May 20 - August 24, 2015

Susan Derges (born 1955)
Eden 4 and Eden 5, 2004

Derges worked at night to make these co-joining images, submerging the photographic paper just below the surface of a river and exposing it with a flash. For her, the water became ‘a visual narrative that also operated as a metaphor for wider cycles of life, death and renewal.’ Derges’ work often reveals the hidden forces of nature and embodies a poetic paradox: the desire to fix ever-changing, constantly renewing forms.

Dye destruction print photograms
Given by the photographer
V&A Museum nos. E.137–2015; E.445–2010 [20-5-2015]





Production Type



Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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