Interview with Lilli Waters



Ahead of her talks at Semi Permanent following a string of nods from the Moran Prize, SOYA, and Head On, I caught up with talented Melbourne photographer Lilli Waters. 

I really love hearing about peoples creative "tipping points". where a lightbulb goes off they change things up massively. what has been the most recent one for you?

I love it when lightbulbs go off, it doesn't happen very often and so if I think it's an idea that is, a), physically possible and b) it really makes an impression on me and stays floating around in my head for a few days, then I usually become intent on making it come to life.

The most recent lightbulb was when I saw a painting on Tumblr, I have a scroll every now and then. It was a dark painting, very surreal and I felt a real connection to it. From seeing that painting a few months ago until now, I have developed a seven shot series called 'Witness' which will be shot in October. Driving through brewing storms with dark enveloping clouds amongst black winter trees have also mustered up visions for this upcoming series.

Personal projects can have a massive career effect in any creative field, and yet they're often one of the first things to sit and gather dust when the safety carrot of a full-time job or similar is dangled. what are your thoughts on them and in particular, how have big and intense projects like she-raw continued to shape what you're doing now?

Before She Raw happened, I wasn't really doing much with my photographic career. I've worked full time since I finished high school and still am today. The 41 Women's Portraits had a profound effect on me personally as well as in my professional career, it took over my life in a very real way and was given every spare moment that I had, simply because I was loving the whole process of it and excited that I was actually building something. At the time I was single and suffering from a broken heart, so I would race home every day after work and spend the rest of the night on an image or two, and shoot the portraits on the weekends. I became a serious hermit. I think you only have so much time to do the things you want and there is always going to be sacrifices made. She Raw certainly effected my health and social life for a good year, but it was a massive and priceless learning experience for me and it allowed me to pour my heart into something. I wouldn't have allowed it to sit on the shelf and gather dust, I was far too involved. A good friend once told me that there is a time in life for planting seeds and a time in life for eating the fruit from those trees. I have enjoyed eating the fruit from those trees for a good year now and now it is time to start planting again.

You actually draw out unique character and subtle theatre from the people you shoot, whether group or individual. any insights on the process there?

I often photograph set up scenes, if I was photographing refugees in war torn villages (which is what I thought I was going to be doing but ended up not), then I would feel very different and probably extremely connected with my subjects. Even though I often get up and close with my subjects, I am always keeping a comfortable distance between us and am very aware when I may be in their personal space and I try very hard not to make them feel uncomfortable or invaded. I feel honoured when a subject that I hardly know is giving me so much of themselves, I don't know if I could do that. If I am trying to draw out a character or emotion in a subject, I start off by gently talking the subject through the scene or emotion that is in my head and I physically get down in the dirt first to show them what it is I'm after. After that, the subject often blooms and brings his or her own personality into the story.

In a nutshell, what do you want to give to the people watching your talk?

Basically, I want people to walk away feeling at least a little bit inspired from my experiences. Photography can give anyone access to building ones dreams, past, future, worst nightmares and anything else they desire. Once a seed has been planted, all you need is a creative attitude, from there it's a basic follow through of organising details and constantly questioning and growing on those ideas as the series progresses. Often the end result is images that have taken on their own life form and not what you expected at all, sometimes they can be better and sometimes they can be worse, but it's all a learning experience.

Mandatory youtube viewing?

Watch James Nachtwey's 'War Photographer' documentary. James Nachtwey has been my hero since Uni. Be prepared, you will cry your eyes out.


Check out Lilli's work at

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