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Hunter & Folk - Lilli Waters

Art Talk // Lilli Waters

by Hande Renshaw

Melbourne-based award winning photographic artist and filmmaker Lilli Waters' photographs can easily be mistaken for paintings. Lilli's love for the Renaissance era and her muse Bill Henson, is evident in her photography, which captures layers of colour, shadow and beautiful depth. We sat down with Lilli to find out about her photographic journey and why nature's elusive beauty is such a major inspiration in her work.

Hi Lilli, tell us about when your love for photography was first sparked? Funnily enough, when I walked out of a really bad job in 2011 and couldn't find any work for six months, I took advantage of the spare hours I had on my hands and photographed my first series, Intrinsic Storms. I tied my old medium format film camera to a piece of timber, placed it over the top of a mezzanine in an old factory I was living in at the time, threaded some wire through some tubing to make an extended cable release, lay down on the concrete floor and layered the film scans with images I'd taken of stormy skies together in Photoshop. It was first time I had really allowed myself to play creatively with photo-making since studying photography nine years earlier. 

Do you have a muse? Music has always been my main muse for creating. I was a musician for fourteen years, but I don't play anymore. I honestly can't picture my world without it, and am always listening to a specific artist throughout the process of creating a body of work. This helps to guide me and can really influence the mood of the work.

I've also greatly admired the work of photographer Bill Henson. The mysterious and powerful themes he portrays around youth and nature have always drawn me in, and his use of blacks, dark colours and shadowing remind me of some romantic but unsettling paintings from the Renaissance, which I so love. 

Your photos are so wonderfully moody and evocative, how do you achieve this unique quality? Oh thank you, that's very kind of you to say! My aim is to recreate a fantastical scene inside the little frame of my camera. I often wait until the last flicker of dying light and then work quickly, as it doesn't seem to want to play for too long, leaving me a window of ten minutes or so until it's too dark for my camera to focus. It's often a lot of impatiently waiting for a mad rush. I’m definitely less of a technician and more someone who is driven by a spontaneous stream of light or a gust of wind, which tells me a storm is coming.

Tell us about your creative process - do you work intuitively or is it planned? The creative process for me comes in stages; ideas that are mulled over a glass of wine, listening to a favourite album, finding a time and a place, and the rest seems to sort itself out. My work is sometimes planned but I also love to allow things to happen naturally. I feel like you can plan as much as you like, but in the end, the images will most likely never come out the way you had imagined in your head. Manipulation of the original image is a huge part of my process. Sometimes I pick elements from a series of images, layering them to create the final work, and, much like I imagine a painter might feel, at times it's hard to know when it's finished. 

What are you most passionate about? Nature. I was born on a commune in Wytaliba in NSW - there was no electricity, everyone grew their own produce on the land and the river was where people washed and swam. I now live in the city, but still constantly yearn to be out in the bush and close to the water. I can’t seem to get enough of nature’s elusive beauty and I feel most at home in her arms.

What are you loving at the moment? My pottery classes, the book The Body Keeps the Score - my current bible, making homemade kombucha, spring flowers on every corner in my neighbourhood and delving into old R.E.M albums.

What’s in store for you for the rest of this year? I'm very excited to be filmed for an episode of Art Bites on the ABC in November. I am also in the early stages of preparing for my next solo exhibition happening next year at Saint Cloche Gallery in Sydney. The plan at this stage is to create a body of work that follows on from my most recent Plastic Fish underwater series.

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