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Eden 4

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Cornwall (photographed)

  • Date:

    2004 (photographed)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Derges, Susan, born 1955 (photographer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Dye destruction on photographic paper

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Susan Derges

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Susan Derges was born in London in 1955. Her work has been the subject of numerous individual and group exhibitions and is in the permanent collections of the V&A, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, among others around the world. She is recognised as one of the UK’s foremost contemporary fine art photographers with an international reputation.

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.

Derges’ most frequently recurring subject is water. She captures the interference patterns in flowing rivers, the energy of waterfalls and breaking waves and the states of water from ice to cloud, from the solid to the intangible.

Derges often uses the landscape at night as her darkroom. She submerges large sheets of photographic paper in rivers and uses the moon and flashlight to create the exposure. These images can appear abstract from a distance yet highly descriptive when seen close up. They confound a sense of orientation, questioning what is above or below and implying a dialogue between the microcosm and the macrocosm or matter and spirit. 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 is an artist who has had an ongoing relationship with the V&A spanning her career. As such, the Museum is in the position of being able to represent this significant British contemporary artist’s work in depth. 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’ continued to explore hidden forces and cycles of nature. These are represented in the collection with pieces made as part gift and part purchase arrangements: Observer and Observed (1991); River Taw (1997); Ice (1997) and Shoreline (1998). The piece currently proposed for acquisition, Eden 4, would serve as a companion to Eden 5 (2004), which was acquired in 2010. The two 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.

Physical description

A colour photograph of ripples on the surface water

Place of Origin

Cornwall (photographed)


2004 (photographed)


Derges, Susan, born 1955 (photographer)

Materials and Techniques

Dye destruction on photographic paper


Width: 183 cm paper

Descriptive line

Photograph by Susan Derges, 'Eden 4', Dye destruction (Ilfochrome) print, 2004


Photographic paper


Dye destruction process; Photography

Subjects depicted



Photographs; Environment

Production Type



Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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