The global award in photography and sustainability

Susan Derges

Water has been the focus of my photographic work for the past 27 years. I first became aware of the fragility and preciousness of this element when I lived in Japan in the early 1980s simultaneously with seeing its potential to operate as a metaphor for a holistic approach to the natural world that includes our creative participation.

The Observer and the Observed series (1991) use an early scientific experiment, demonstrating how a vibrating water jet can appear as distinct water droplets when viewed under a strobe light vibrating at the same frequency, as a metaphor for the interaction of the observer with that which is observed.

Full Circle (1992–1993) and the River Taw series (1997–1998) were more directly concerned with the natural cycles of particular life forms and their relationship to specific bodies of water. Full Circle continues with the metaphor of a scientific gaze whereas the River Taw and related prints attempt a more direct and tactile relationship to water by using the landscape as a large darkroom that enables photo paper to be immersed beneath the surface of water and exposed to a microsecond of light that prints all of the detail of river, fauna and environment at a one-to-one scale. The prints are intended be of a scale that makes a direct relationship with the body, where one is not only immersed in the image but through that experience makes connections with the materiality of water itself.

The Eden Project provided an opportunity to explore these ideas within an appropriate architectural setting – the Education Resource Centre was built on the growth principals of the forest canopy. Large scale photograms of the transformation of water within the hydrological cycle were printed into the laminate of architectural glass and became 37 panels that formed the solar terrace within the roof structure of the building, which people could walk around both in the open air and in the interior rooms of the top floor of the building. The metamorphosis of water as it recycles itself throughout the environment became a visual narrative that also operated as a metaphor for wider cycles of life, death and renewal.

Susan Derges