Melbourne-based photographer Lilli Waters’ new images show what we stand to lose if we don’t get our act together real soon.
In her new series, entitled Coral Lands, the award-winning Australian creative presents nine photographs of underwater life in surreal, otherworldly landscapes. For example, one picture imagines various corals (located inside giant fish tanks) with the night sky as its backdrop.
She explained: “I wanted to create little underwater fantasy worlds. I’m often drawn to darkness in my photographs and wanted to play with colour with this body of work whilst keeping a thread of darkness and strangeness throughout. With these dream-like vignettes, I want to encourage the viewer to delve into their own imagination.
“The exhibition highlights the strange beauty and acute fragility of coral, and I hope it will raise awareness of the devastating impact that humans have on our oceans.”
We recently spoke to Waters ahead of her solo exhibition to learn more about her photography. Check it out:
Tell us a little about your background. How did you get into photography? Did you attend art school or are you self-taught?
“I walked out of a really bad job in 2011 and couldn’t find any work for six months, so I took advantage of the spare hours I had on my hands and photographed my first series, Intrinsic Storms. It was the first time I had really allowed myself to play creatively with photo-making since doing a Diploma of Arts in Photography nine years earlier, where I studied film photography and darkroom.
“I’m self-taught in Photoshop, which means I’m mostly guessing and probably going about things the long way. I’m sure there are much quicker and more accurate ways of doing what I do, but I actually really enjoy the process of blending petals on a flower, even if it takes me a whole week.”
How would you describe your work?
“In my work, I often seek strange and sometimes dark narratives. I am drawn to an intermingling of haunting backgrounds and landscapes combined with romantic notions and illuminated colours.”
We read you had your work featured in Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed. We’re so intrigued! Could you tell us more about it?
“Ah, yes! Universal Pictures contacted me and wanted to display two works in Christian Grey’s apartment for the sequel films. There’s one photograph in his dining room and one in his bedroom.
“The author of the books, E L James, ordered a giant print for her new mansion in LA, and I remember writing her a hand-written note that said something like:
‘Dear E L James. This is a photo of my friend Linty, whom I drove down to the beach, told her to run around in a cheap leotard from Kmart, put a curtain over her head which I had bought from an op shop, and a $135 lobster in her hand, which we then put on ice and ate for dinner with champagne. In crazy winds which knocked my camera tripod over many times, Linty was laughing under the curtain, yelling out “This is the most crazy thing I’ve ever had to do. You’re crazy Lilli!” I hope you enjoy. Lilli’.”
Let’s talk about your new exhibition. What was the inspiration for Coral Lands?
“Coral Lands is a series of photographs constructed in large water tanks, in which unique marine creatures are arranged amongst live rock and florals to present strange and other-worldly landscapes.
“This series naturally followed on from my previous photographic series Plastic Fish, which was also photographed underwater in fish tanks. I’m a big lover of water and am fascinated with the beauty and complexity of plants and underwater creatures, so it seemed like the next step for me after the last exhibition was to attempt making a body of work exploring and combining these elements.
“I became a little obsessed with visiting aquariums late last year, peering into underwater worlds and becoming completely mesmerised by coral, such glowing magical little creatures. With this series I really wanted to try to recreate little underwater fantasy worlds.
“I’m often drawn to darkness in my photographs and wanted to play with colour with this body of work whilst keeping a thread of darkness and strangeness throughout. The colours are sometimes almost fluorescent and not quite natural, vibrant and fantastical.”
Could you take us through your creative process for the series?
“Each of these scenes has been carefully and often elaborately constructed underwater. I cleared out my whole dining room to set up a giant tank and prepared the water with live rock and daily water testing for weeks in preparation, filling up water bottles, driving an hour to the aquarium, having my sample tested, replacing the water, until the pH level of the water was ready for the live coral.
“Once the scene was set with time being of the essence, LED lighting was temporarily replaced with studio lighting. If a particular coral was open and close enough to the glass, it was photographed, and then florals which were held down by weights were then introduced temporarily and carefully placed.
“Throughout the photographic process, a focus plane merging technique was used to extend the depth of field in the works. Later in the post-processing stage, multiple layers were manually blended to create a single image, the aim being a perfectly in-focus image.
“Attempting this slow technique was quite a challenge when it was discovered that coral can and do move quickly, making the blending process almost impossible at times. Although the images have a still life quality, the reality of working with living things that move before your very eyes was both technically challenging and wondrous.”
What should people expect when they come and see your exhibition?
“Coral Lands is a series of nine large works that will be displayed around the Saint Cloche gallery space. It is my hope that this series draws the viewer into the strange beauty and acute fragility of this life form and highlights the devastating impact of humans on our oceans.”