Plastic Fish, Lilli Waters

Take five: Lilli Waters

We love art that stops you in your tracks and makes you really think, and lucky Melburnians can do just that at Plastic Fish – an exhibition that juxtaposes the wonder of the natural world with the decidedly un-wonderful impact of man-made waste. For her third solo exhibition, Australian photographer Lilli Waters has created artwork that looks like classic, still-life portraiture but contains a lurking (and very modern) danger. On the eve of the exhibition’s launch, we had a chat with Lilli about her inspiration, her process and the damaging impact of a consumerist society.

What was the inspiration behind the series?

Sometimes a body of work comes from a thought of “would this be possible?” In this case, how could I photograph flowers underwater? This first idea merged with a fascination with the other-worldly beauty and fragility of underwater creatures – now more fragile and precarious than ever due to man’s impact.

How do the photographs reference our impact on the natural world?

At first glance these images appear to be reminiscent of still-life paintings – colourful and vibrant – but hidden (and sometimes not so hidden) are manmade materials like plastic, which has found its way into every corner of our planet. The plastic itself has a certain beauty, but inherent in its presence is a darker, more destructive side.

Having worked on the project, what are your feelings on our disposable culture?

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, which is quite bizarre when you think about it. Not to be too bleak, but we are destroying the planet at a pretty alarming rate.

Can you tell us about the process of taking the photos?

Mostly I use natural light for my photoshoots. In this case, it was shot in a studio using artificial lighting and after months of planning – the series required a lot of patience and problem solving to get everything in its right place. There were many visits to markets and aquariums to find inspiration.

What message do you hope people will take from the exhibition?

The kind of art I am most drawn to generally doen’t have an obvious message and can mean multiple things. So while there was a certain inspiration behind these images for me, I’m more interested in the emotional response in the viewer.


Plastic Fish is running at Junior Space Gallery, 65 Smith Street, Fitzroy from 21 September to 4 October.