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Regulars / The Graduates 2018

Liam Waters’ physical images question what photography in the digital age can be

Words:

Josh Baines

Created largely using a combination of Cinema 4D and Corona, the works of south east London-based Liam Sielski Waters hone a distinctly experimental take on what photography can be in the 21st century.

A recent graduate of London College of Communication’s BA in photography, Liam’s work is an exploration of the uncertain status of the human body, the technology we consume and choose to co-exist with, along with the form of hypercapitalism surrounding the commodification of health. His final project, Transient Bodies explores "technological developments in fields such as biomedical sciences and other emerging fields of study have facilitated the enmeshment of technology and the body, allowing a complex semiotic relationship to form between the two, sparking a paradigm shift from our traditional notion of the human into something more malleable and uncertain,” he explains.

As a result of his subject matter, prolonged exposure to Liam’s immeasurably and inherently physical work can induce strange sensations in the viewer; when granular landscapes rub up against disembodied limbs, our minds tend to wander into odd, uncomfortable spaces.

And that’s partly what we love about his practice — there’s a commitment to a kind of gnarled and gritty aesthetic that’s shot through with a hyperreal application of hi-res gloss. Like all the very best graduate work, it doesn’t for a second scan as “work by a recent graduate”. Looking at his work in detail, you’ll sense a confidence to Liam’s image-making that belies his age.

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It’s Nice That: Why did you decide to study photography?

Liam Sielski Waters: By the end of my foundation year, I had found myself doing a lot of what you might call traditional photography work. Though there was an experimental bent, with a lot of darkroom work and digital manipulation, it all very clearly fell under the photographic medium. So the natural choice was the progress onto a BA in the subject.

I actually did my first year at Norwich University of the Arts, before transferring to London College of Communications (LCC). I had a great time at Norwich, but felt like I wanted to be part of a larger and more vibrant creative scene, in the end being seduced by the lure of London, a decision that I’m ultimately happy I made — although London’s high living costs still make me weep to this day.

INT: What was the best bit about your time at university? And the worst?

LW: Oh, this is a hard one. This will probably sound cliche as hell but being part such a large creative community in the shape of University of the Arts London (UAL) is motivating. You’re constantly surrounded by so many people doing so many different things, and there’s access to such a wide array of equipment and technology that you really can do whatever it is you desire. Even if it is batshit insane.

The worst part is that I took up smoking. The smoking area was where people radiated towards. Rest in peace my lungs.

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INT: Physicality appears to be a central focus in your work — where does your fascination with the body come from?

LW: With my work I’ve always played with physicality in the sense that I’m creating environments and objects that just beg to be touched or experienced first hand, but that ultimately isn’t possible, because they’re entirely virtual constructions. I enjoy playing with this notion of a desire to experience something that doesn’t exist within the physical world — partially due to the fact we spend so much time interacting with information and technology through a screen, enabled so many technologies that we cannot see or witness firsthand.

I always loved sci-fi books and movies that showed what the future could potentially be, and how technology can rapidly change our societies and even our biology. My fascination with the body is linked to my fascination with emerging technology. The fact that the biological and technological are becoming increasingly entwined, at such a rapid rate in which it’s hard for laws, ethics, and public perceptions to keep up, is what a lot of my work lingers on.

INT: What’s the interplay between photography and 3D work in your practice?

LW: Working in 3D is a very similar process to photography. You build a set, position objects, pick how you light the scene and set up a camera to get the final short. For me, the 3D imaging I do is an extension of what I consider ‘traditional’ photography, not something completely different. Virtual photography perhaps?

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INT: Can you describe a project you’re most proud of and why?

LW: My final degree show series, Transient Bodies, for a few reasons. There’s the fact that so much blood, sweat, and tears went into producing the imagery. I honestly felt I pushed myself a lot, in terms of concept, but also in terms of learning more and more technical skills in the 3D software I use. The project is a culmination of God knows how many years of education, many late hours watching online tutorials on how to teach myself all the software I use and so many scraped ideas and renders that never saw the light of day. I remember going out with friends the other week, and when I was — admittedly very drunk — showing someone my Instagram, just seeing the images and internally being like, damn, I really did all that.

INT: Is there a particular person who has shaped your university experience or creative outlook?

LW: I was lucky in that the majority of the tutors on my course were fantastic, but I think in particular Esther Teichmann, who I’m sure you’ll be familiar with. She was just a fantastic year leader and tutor who made my final year as useful as possible.

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INT: If you could create your dream project, what would it be?

LW: I constantly have so many different ideas and targets bouncing around my head at all times, but one thing I would love to do is create some form of interactive experience, that mixes physical sculpture and a VR experience, allowing for a new way to interact with the forms/visuals I’ve been creating. What It would ultimately be/look like, I don’t know, but being able to have the time and resources to experiment with a mixture of both traditional and emerging mediums would, for me, be the dream.

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Supported by Polaroid

Polaroid Originals is the new brand from Polaroid, dedicated to original format Polaroid analog instant photography. Find out more about their new and vintage cameras, plus film and accessories, on polaroidoriginals.com

The It’s Nice That Graduates 2018 is supported by Lecture in Progress and Polaroid Originals.