Photographer Lilli Waters’ personal work is full of rich, dark, and feminine imagery. Some of her series include fantastical scenes like images from a Grimms storybook, some portray beautiful and raw pictures of women, and some explore darker themes. In her interview, Lilli explains how her childhood has influenced her personal work, confesses that she loves post-processing images (in Photoshop) even more than shooting, and talks about how saying yes to all types of opportunities has led her to a full-time career as a photographer. I am incredibly inspired by Lilli’s ability to balance doing personal and commercial work, all while running her own wedding photography business (check out the links below for more info!). I have selected some of my favorite photographs of Lilli’s to include along with her interview — but make sure to check out her website for more! Thank you Lilli! -eden
Where are you based?
What three words would you choose to best describe your artwork?
Fantastical. Dark. Feminine.
Has your childhood had a significant effect on your work? If so, paint us a picture of what your childhood was like in words? (If you have an image you would like to share, please do.)
I come from an abusive childhood, and so I think this side of melancholy has a large influence on some of my work. In saying that, I don’t want my images to come across as ‘violent’ or ‘abusive’, and this is quite important to me. I might change my mind in the future, who knows.
Have you had a formal art education?
I completed an Advanced Diploma in Photography in 2002 at the Photographic Imaging College in Hawthorn, VIC.
Was there a specific moment when you knew you wanted to be an artist?
Not really. I come from a long line of artists, including photographers and painters, and so I think I was bound to end up doing something creative. I can’t imagine doing anything else.
What was the first piece of art that you sold? How did the sale come about?
I sold Intrinsic Storms #6 at my first group exhibition for $300 at the Carbon Black gallery in 2011. I was pretty chuffed that someone else wanted something of mine on their wall.
Tell us about what inspires your work.
A lot of different things inspire my work, including daydreams, films, country air, women, traveling to new places, music (new and old), renaissance paintings, other photographers, red wine, staring at open landscapes, but mostly Nature. Most of the time I can’t escape her elusive beauty.
When you feel a lack of inspiration, how do you find it again?
Gosh do I know this question well. I tend to lose my way more often than not. I can’t force the ideas, but I consider myself lucky that I never have to. I have racked my brain when my head feels empty at times, but I think an organic process is the only way that something is going to work, and sometimes it doesn’t even then. I try not to be so hard on myself when I feel like I return to what I know and what I feel works instead of doing something more challenging, and I find shooting more and more for personal enjoy with no pressure helps with those demons. Sometimes an idea unexpectedly presents itself, but then I forget to write it down.
What materials and/or tools do you use to create your work? Do you have any favorite techniques or processes that you are willing to share?
I shoot digital mainly as I find it to be more malleable when it comes to post processing. I also shoot a bit of medium format film on my rolleiflex, and I recently bought a Pentax 67 with a couple of lenses for a bargain when I was in New York which I can’t wait to play with. I find a lot of my photographer friends find sitting at their computers during the editing process frustrating, as they would rather be out shooting. I enjoy shooting, but it’s the post-processing stage in Photoshop that I love the most, it’s where you can really work your images, and that’s where they can often take on a life of their own, or not. You can never know until you have finished.
Approximately how many pieces of art do you typically create in a year?
I’m not sure how many of my images you could call ‘art’. Depending on how busy I am shooting weddings, my aim is to always find time to photograph personal projects, whether they are small or larger projects.
How do you make money through your art? Please explain what works for you and why. (For example: selling originals or prints online or in galleries, doing commissions, working with major brands, etc.)
I make money from weddings, commissions for magazines, styling and fashion labels, as well as selling prints at exhibitions and online. I never thought I would be photographing people’s weddings, but found myself saying yes for my poor artist friends a few years ago and since then it has worked really well for me, so well that I was finally able to quit my part time day job last year. It allows me to make a living whilst being able have more spare time to work on personal work, so as long as I enjoy it and find satisfaction doing it I’ll probably stick with it.
Do you “make a living” as an artist? If not, how do you primarily support yourself?
I am fortunate enough to make a living doing what I love. I think one of the lucky things about this profession is that you are more likely to make more money from it, as opposed to being perhaps a painter or a sculptor, etc.
What have you found to be the most successful way(s) to market your art? Do you have any tips to share?
It’s hard to tell exactly where people find me, but in this day and age, there’s nothing wrong with taking advantage of free publicity on social media. I basically began posting my work on facebook, tumblr, and instagram, and a following grew from there. I’ve been really lucky that magazines and blogs from over the globe have featured my images. I think the trick is to not be afraid of posting your best work online and getting your work published whenever you can. Another important point is money. Accepting work only if it is paid work is probably the wrong way to go about it. I say yes to photographing projects for free that sound interesting, challenging, for a good cause, or because I need some inspiration, and 99% of the time, it has benefited me in some way, whether it be experience, meeting someone new or leading me to more work. If this is going to be your career, you need to live and breathe it and always be putting your hand up for any opportunity.
How would you describe the “business” of being an artist?
Unfortunately these days, taking pictures is not enough. You also have to be a receptionist, a courier, an accountant, a people person, a networker, a researcher, etc., etc. I’m not hugely social and can keep to myself at times, but getting out there and meeting the right people as well as being easy to deal with and work with is also a major factor to success. If you’re talented but difficult to work with, word will get around and no one will want to work with you. The biggest key to making your art a working business I have found, is hard work, organization, and hard work.
What is your favorite thing about being an artist?
Being my own boss and loving my job every day. I am super lucky.
Who have been your biggest supporters?
My friends and online followers. I’ve also met other women artists and designers who I have collaborated and worked with and their support has been priceless.
If you could collaborate with anyone (a person or a company) who would it be?
Annie Leibovitz and the amazing designers/ stylists/ retouchers/ assistants that she works with.
Do you collect artwork from other artists? If so, whose art do you own?
I love to collect paintings and prints. The ones I have at home are by no particular artists, just works I have collected from different places. I have a beautiful oil painting of red poppies, I found it ripped and sad in an Antique shop and had it restored, I love it as it is so colourful. Another beautiful print I have is ‘Burmese Pearl’ which was painted around 1900 by Sir Gerard Kelly. She sits above my desk and reminds me of my mother as a young woman, who is from Thailand. Some other of my favourites include two Tintin prints, a wolf illustration as well as an orchid print in my bathroom, both drawn by my mother, Artist Mali Moir, and Art left to me by my Grandmother, including old prints of women, plants and Art magazines from the 60’s which she insisted smuggling in from the States because they were considered too ‘pornographic’ to be published.
Do you have any current obsessions, art or non-art related?
I don’t quite have enough money to support it as an obsession, but I tend to take advantage of any opportunity to go up really high in fast planes, jump into canyons, and fall out of choppers. Perhaps my next step would be to learn how to paraglide. A dream would be to go ‘wingsuit flying’, but I fear it would not end well…
What piece of advice would you give other women who are pursuing careers in art?
I try not to let the fear lots of hard work, failures, rejection, criticism, tough competition, disappointments, and hard financial times direct my career. I don’t have children yet, but I imagine that dedicating my life to a child, for women artists, would make it hard to be in the right mind space to feel creative. When it is time to possibly have a family, this would probably be something I would have to think about working around.
I find that on the odd occasion, other people bring me down sometimes, or tell me what I ‘should’ be doing. A while back I was accused by another Melbourne photographer of ‘stealing everything’ from them and threatened in quite a nasty way, and it’s taken me over a year to stop being so angry about that. I’ve also had messages, emails and texts at early hours of the morning from strangers accusing me of being ‘perverted’ for my nude images of women. Everyone has their demons, whether they small or large, inside you or out there in the world. The demons out there will be who they are and there’s nothing you can do about that, so forget them and let them deal with their own issues. The only demons you can comfort are the ones inside you.
I like to think I take constructive criticism and healthy advice off the right people, but do it my way. My advice? It sounds cliche, but it works. Put your whole heart, love and passion into your work and enjoy it for yourself before doing it for what you think others might expect of you. Otherwise, what’s the point.
Do you have any upcoming shows, news, or things you’d like to let us know about?
I am currently working on ANJA, a project focused on Women within my community. I hope to photograph at least 41 women, similar but hopefully a progression to my previous ‘She Raw’ project. I like the idea of giving myself plenty of time to dedicate to a personal project with no deadline, as it can be surprising to see the evolution of the works. For me, this is the best way that I can grow as a photographer.
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