Shadow Catchers: Camera-less Photography. Susan Derges

This is a revealing and evocative look at Susan Derges' working environment and an insight into her creative ideas

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Video Transcript

What brought me in to making images like I do is very much to do with sense of place and when I first moved to Devon, I moved to a place that was a little bit like this and I’d been working with a camera before then in the studio doing a lot of staged photography. I’d only been living in this one place for a short while when I started to look at things outside and I remember one of the first things that triggered a print was seeing a still pond with a cluster of newly laid frogspawn. The sun was passing through the spawn and it was printing this image on to the bottom of the pond. And I just thought, “wow” that’s a print, it’s a sun print. 

Water’s absolutely key to everything that happens internally to us and externally, and it is the most fantastic metaphor for how everything operates. It can stand for a stream of thoughts, cascades of neural activity in your mind, it can stand for the idea of a circulatory system in landscape or in the body interchangeably.  It seems to be something that kind of connects everything and maybe the underlying desire to make images in the first place was to talk about what underlies the visible rather than to just show the visible. 

The plate’s going to be on the line that the water is running at.

Susans Assistant: Slightly diagonal

I think even a bit more, maybe it’s running slightly off centre.

A lot of the early work was a lot to do with the birth end of the scale. So it was working a lot with the kind of creative aspect of using water to talk about birth and things coming into being and things developing and forming and actually a lot of work that I’ve been dealing with in this place over the last five years has been to do with things dissolving and dissolving out of a form in a way.  

Photography is kind of tied up with death in many respects in terms of you’re looking at absent moments; they’re no longer there. So it is quite a lot I think to do with loss as well as holding and showing. 

Nothing is all in the state of coming into being, or in the state of dissolution out of being it’s always on the move, and I think that’s my sense of trying  to deal with how it feels to be… there but in the process of change.


Susan Derges uses the landscape at night as her darkroom, submerging large sheets of photographic paper in rivers and using the moon and flashlight to create the exposure. This film shows her working in her studio, preparing to make a photogram outdoors, and discussing her use of water as a metaphor for transformation.


The exhibition Shadow Catchers: Camera-less Photography (13 October 2010 – 20 February 2011) featured five international artists who challenge the assumption that a camera is necessary to make a photograph. The V&A commissioned five short films on each of the artists, showing their studios and places that inspire them. This is a revealing and evocative look at their working environments and an insight into their creative ideas.