Natural Magic is the outcome of Susan Derges’s year-long residency at the Museum of the History of Science at the University of Oxford in 2001.   Derges proposed to explore the Museum’s ‘cabinets of curiosity’ using the four elements of earth, water, air and fire as a guide.

At the beginning of the project the building was undergoing refurbishment.  When a group of stoneware vessels were discovered Susan Derges commissioned a glassblower to make facsimile vessels  Photographs of the process of distillation of pure alcohol from wine, were made using the glass pestle and mortar, alembic, retort and crucible.  These were printed as Ilfochrome light display transparencies and exhibited as light boxes in the Museum in 2001.

The Natural Magic photographs are made with a camera, but directly address the theme of Alchemy.  The series illustrates the alchemical process of the distillation of aqua vitae, and, more significantly, demonstrates Derges’s interpretation of an earlier, more `creative’ approach to science that embraced alchemical practices.  There are parallels between these practices and the pioneering work of the very first photographers who straddled art and science with a curiosity akin to Derges’ own.