Susan Derges, 'Chladni'

Susan Derges, 'Chladni'

Susan Derges (born 1955)
Museum no. E.2814-1990

The Photograph
This is one image from a series of 8 photograms which were made by recording the vibration patterns created when eight sheets of photographic paper were vibrated by eight different sound frequencies of different pitch. Carborundum powder on the surface of the paper formed into configurations printed onto the paper by exposure to light. The light areas are where the powder has settled. The regular and creative pattern which is formed seems almost unbelievable, because of the lack of human intervention and the unpredictability of the pattern formed.

The Photographer
Since the mid 1970s Susan Derges has been producing photographs, many without the use of a lens or camera (photograms), as well as video and computer generated images. Her work is often produced with minimal aesthetic intervention by Derges. Her 'Full Circle' series (1990), for example, is a set of over 40 photograms taken over a four month period showing the development of frogspawn in a circular container. The container was placed on photographic paper (this was done in the dark which meant Derges could not control the composition of the spawn) and then given a long exposure to light. The early images, when the spawn is static, show clearly defined shapes. As the tadpoles develop, their movement creates blurred shapes. The project has both the detail and level of observation of a scientific experiment as well as a strong aesthetic power.

Another of her projects, 'Sound, Water, Light, Interwoven' (1991) consists of coloured photographs showing circular patterns of jewel-like water. The shapes of the droplets are formed by sound waves being passed through them, which causes them to move and mutate across the photographic paper on which they rest in a circular motion. They are recorded by a constant light source and also a strobe light, which means that the travelling water drop is recorded in various stages of its movement. Derges' work has a strong experimental quality and she has often used the effect of sound vibration on substances such as water, mercury filings and reveals the resulting phenomena through light.

Processes & Techniques
'A photogram is a kind of photograph, although made without a camera or a lens by placing an object or objects on top of a piece of paper or film coated with light sensitive material and then exposing the paper or film to light. Where the object covers the paper, the paper remains unexposed and light in tone; where it does not cover, the paper darkens. If the object is translucent, midtones appear. After exposure, the paper is developed and fixed.' Gordon Baldwin, 'Looking at Photographs', J. Paul Getty Museum, 1991.

This photograph can be found in Prints and Drawings Study Room box EDUC 14.