An interview with
Melbourne-based photographic artist and filmmaker Lilli Waters
by Mairead Warren
One dark wintry day in Sydney, whilst aimlessly browsing on my instagram feed, I discovered Lilli’s work. Her provocative and inspiring image series ‘Plastic Fish’ instantly cut through to me, even amidst the flurry of images on my visually overloaded device.
Juxtaposing the world of selfies and filtered life porn, the images were arresting. They made me consider the tough and complicated discourse surrounding contemporary representations of beauty.
As a millennial I am greatly exposed to the rise of digital media and the control it allows us in styling and creating a personal image, which involves packaging the stories of our life into neat little parcels edited perfectly to please. It has become a fierce engine of self love, that can venture into toxic self loathing, and ultimately leads so many people to the conclusion – what or who am I doing this for?
The depths and shallows in Lilli’s work can stimulate this discussion, or they can bedazzle you with illusion and allure. Lilli says of the works ‘At first glance these images may appear to be reminiscent of still-life paintings – colourful and vibrant – but hidden (and sometimes not so hidden) are manmade materials like plastic. Plastic has found its way into every corner of our planet, it's even in our water. The plastic in these works itself has a beauty, but inherent in its presence is a darker, more destructive side.’
The work also makes comment on the state of our environment, Lilli shared with me that ‘The themes are somewhat subtle but I feel like most people sensed that the works were making a comment on the state of our current environment when they looked a bit closer.’
On the core message of the work and what the artist wanted it to reflect about society in 2017, Lilli shared ‘We live in a time where things aren’t made to last, and consumerism is the driving force behind our society. Objects we buy need to break regularly and be replaced for the system to keep functioning.’
Further to exploring the interesting and contemporary topics in the work, they are technical masterpieces and I decided to delve into understanding the process and inspiration behind the series. I asked Lilli the questions below:
How did you choose the subject matter for your photographic series Plastic Fish?
I'm a big lover of water and am fascinated with the beauty and complexity of plants, so it seemed like the next step for me was to attempt making a body of work exploring and combining these elements.
Where did the inspiration for your imagery come from?
This series came from a thought of “could I photograph flowers underwater?" This idea then merged with my fascination with the beauty and fragility of underwater creatures. There were many visits to markets and aquariums to find inspiration.
How did you use light and dark to tell a story in the series?
I have always used a lot of darkness in my images, though this series embraces a more vivid colour, which often sits amongst dark shadows. The colours are sometimes almost fluorescent and not quite natural, vibrant and fantastical yet somehow not at ease.
Was your commercial work an influence on how you approached Plastic Fish?
Yes. Usually I utilise natural light and focus on female subjects for my work, but I have found a new fascination with working in the studio using controlled lighting & being able to slow down the photo making process. Plastic Fish was photographed in this way and required quite an elaborate setup.
Plastic Fish is now out in the public domain. Has this altered the way you think or feel about the work?
When these works emerged, they were not at all what I had pictured in my mind throughout the preparation. Now that they are hanging in people's homes and on gallery walls, I'm glad that I took the plunge and delved into such colourful & vibrant works. Experimenting for me is almost always going to lead to mixed feelings about the work.
Is the series complete?
Yes, it was exhibited in a two week solo show at Junior Space Gallery in September. There were four works printed quite large, the largest I have printed for a show.
What are the main things that you’ve learnt about your craft through the process of Plastic Fish?
Shooting underwater involves a lot of challenges and several trips to Bunnings. I learnt that it is in fact possible to eventually get the shot with fish that swim really fast!
Plastic Fish is currently on show at The Coffs Harbour Regional Gallery in exhibition STILL: National Still Life Award 2017.